This Robot Writes Better Than Most Art Critics

“There is a lot of elephants in the river but also there is a lot of elephants in the river.”

Robots are getting better at writing. In recent months we’ve heard about robot journalists, robot business reporters, and robots who are learning to caption pictures online. But can a robot ever capture the profoundly human experience of art, an endeavor to which art critics devote their lives?


The answer is an ambivalent yes. Novice Art Blogger, created by British artist Matthew Plummer-Fernandez, is a Tumblr on which a robot criticizes art. “I’m experiencing Art for the first time, here are my responses,” the bot writes. Displayed under each of the works in question, including pieces by Sarah Lucas, Damien Hirst, and Richard Smith, is a few-sentence summary of the bot’s reactions to the piece. The bot first describes a visual attribute of the piece and then attempts to provide insight into its significance or its perception of the work. The results are disarmingly poetic and strangely adorable.

The robot’s response to Sheep B by Menashe Kadishman, made in 1979, provides a good example. The piece shows a field of sheep drawn over blue paint. This is what the bot has to say about it:

That’s a fairly meaningless set of sentences, particularly taking into account that the drawing features zero elephants. But it’s no more esoteric than your average Art In America column. Plus, there’s a certain lyricism about it–it’s not hard to image it appearing in a poem. The comparison of the blue sheep to elephants in a river draws out certain qualities of the painting–its blueness, the shape of the animals–that I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. It’s effective writing. Since art and criticism are often metaphorical anyway, these inaccurate descriptions actually add to the experience of viewing these pieces.

The robot offers a fresh perspective that people could not easily imagine on their own, and what is the point of criticism if not to do just that? This is both exciting and terrifying. It seems that what some have feared about the future of journalism may be true: insight can be automated.

[via Waxy Links]

About the author

I'm a writer living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Interests include social justice, cats, and the future.