The Machine Makes Art with the Human

By: Noemi Flores Dimas


Could one think of an artistic relationship between man and machine that goes beyond using the latter as merely a tool? Has the machine become an artist? In this essay a possible answer will be proposed starting with a problem of the human condition. It has been argued many times that today's human is a machine. A machine that lives in an accelerated routine, who does things as a duty, who automatically eats, sleeps, works. That no longer thinks or feels and almost doesn't breathe, even today it has been thought that the diseases that devastate us are mainly caused by stress, by that pace that doesn't pause. So: have humans already become machines? and what does this have to do with art?

Well, first it is convenient to think about man and machine, definitions in which we will not delve much. The Royal Spanish Academy (RAE, 2017) defines a machine as an "Artifice to take advantage of, direct or regulate the action of a force or set of combined devices to receive a certain form of energy and transform it into  more appropriate one, or to produce a determined effect. "(RAE, 2017). While De La Mettrie in his book Man Machine, makes two important references, the first one claims that "The human body is a machine that sets in motion its own mechanisms: living image of perpetual movement." (De la Mettrie, 1961, 38) and the second is almost a poem in which he describes the moment of a dream but also a part of the soul, "[...] the soul becomes softly heavy with the eyelids and is immersed with the fibers of the brain: it becomeslittle by little paralyzed with all the muscles of the body. These can no longer support the weight of the head; that (the soul) can not sustain the burden of thought [...] "(De la Mettrie, 1961, p.39) with these references, De la Mettrie defines man as a composite of two: machine and soul. Where the machine is the body and the soulm the mind and sensitivity. To clarify this we would have to quote almost all of Mettrie's text, however his key points have been established. I would like to say then that man/woman can really be a machine, not exactly through his/her body as Mettrie mentions, but through his/her mind. This means that man/woman lives automatically and has left behind the ability to move by his sensitivity, to be guided through the soul that Mettrie indicates.

According to the previous paragraphs, I think of proposing a piece of generative art where the role of our actors is exchanged, the human as a machine and the machine as an artist. It is important to know that generative art can be defined as: "Any artistic practice where the artist uses a system, such as a set of natural language rules, a computer program, a machine, or other inventions of procedures, which can be set to work with some level of autonomy contributing to or resulting in a complete work of art. "(Galanter, 2003, p.4)
In this case, my proposal is about a massage chair. A massage chair is quite a new object. It was invented for the stressed man, for whom doesn't have much spare time. The chair itself is an autonomous system, it works through an automatic programming, knows what to do and with what intensity, for how long and in what way, you just have to activate it (just like any machine).
However, it is not a massage chair if it's not massaging someone, therefore, if the chair does not massage, then it is not generating anything, then: when can it generate? Obviously when a man/woman sits down and lets the chair do its job, the only thing he/she should do is turn it on and sit down. After a while, it is very likely that the person in question relaxes, the chair stimulates the sensory part of the user, he/she returns to himself/herself as another person and suddenly, when he/she gets up, it will become the work of art of the chair, the chair will generate in this user an artwork.

Man/woman is a machine (taking into account the descriptions that we attached to each term a few paragraphs ago) that needs to be de-machined, he/she needs to return to being a human. It can sound very naive for another machine to help him/her do this, however it is the environment that he/she has created. Humans themselves have created artificial lakes, artificial beaches, and all kinds of things merely for their enjoyment, it is not so farfetched to think that a massage chair can create a piece through a stressed user. It is like a vicious circle, the chair itself is a piece of art, it is an object created by humans for humans, but it does not realize that the chair also generates a new human at all times. We could even speak of a sort of sculpture, because it molds the users (literally) and thus they end up being a new self, they end up with a little less machine in themselves, it may or may not be called a work of art and artist but the chair certainly produced a new being.

This brings us to the debate of our text, can the machine be an artist and humans the  raw material?, from the perspective of the machine and generative art, yes, from the perspective of humans, no. Because until now it has not been known of any machine that acts by itself and that is completely autonomous, like us. In El País (2017), an online newspaper, there is a text that calls into question the creativity of a robot:
"Can a machine write poems? The question expands beyond the verses, to art in general. Are there, or can there be, artist machines? [...] The question is whether what they do is truly creative. And that depends on what we understand by creativity or what kind of creativity we're talking about. "(El País, 2017)

It is not only the automation that differentiates us from machines, but the sensory part. Even so there have been characters who have tried to create machines with a soul. Taking generative art as a basis, we could say that, yes, machines have all the power to be artists because even though their creativity is automated (in the sense that they respond to the algorithms they contain), let's say that we also respond to a form of algorithm we call social code. It may be that generative art is the path of the machine to become an artist and that our massage chair is a sculptor, because it is not creating a simple object, it is provoking emotions and sensations in its own work (us), that gives account of the infinite variations and processes that a generative art object should have.

A very innovative example of this discussion is the composer Lamus, a computer capable of creating music without the help of humans, the only thing that Lamus has is basic knowledge about music, musical theory of composition, among others. From this, Lamus has composed its pieces, and it is not that it even needed inspiration, which would be a huge example of the mystery about the creativity of a machine. Although, should we talk about creativity depending on their standards or ours? In this case the machine has become an artist, probably without a soul, but it is an object capable of creating another object with complete autonomy.

In conclusion, this text suggests that generative art may be the path (perhaps not yet correctly established) for the machine to become the artist. However, we should continue with the debate between artificial intelligence and human intelligence, which differentiates us from the machine and what makes us special compared to it and everything else. The idea of becoming creator and giver of life beyond the instincts that nature has given us has been planted in the ego of man. In this game of becoming God and giving life to others, humans also feel an immense fear of being overtaken and conquered by their own creation. A moral-philosophical discussion could arise questions regarding the values of humans and their eagerness to create, at the same time as questioning their knowledge about the spirit, soul, conscience, then we can ask ourselves: do we need machines with a soul ?, is the machine truly the future of humans? In the field of art the machine begins to be fully explored, and with Lamus we can understand that it is an example of the cancellation of the machine as a tool, but as a completely autonomous being. But thinking about all the devices that we have created (like the massage chair), how many of those objects can make us their work of art?



De la Mettrie, J. (1961) El hombre máquina. Buenos Aires: EUDEBA

Fangul, S. (2017) “¿Puede una maquina pintar como Picasso?”, El Pais, 19 de Abril. Disponible en: [Consultado el 13-05-2018]

Galanter, P. (2003) What is Generative Art? Complexity Theory as a Context for Art Theory. Interactive Telecommunications Program. New York University, New York, USA.

Hipertextual (2012) Lamus, el ordenador capaz de componer música clásica. Disponible en: [Consultado el 13-05-2018]

Lobato, J. (2014)  “Arte generativo: antecedentes y perspectivas”, La hoja de Arena. Disponible en: [Consultado 13 - 05- 2018]

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