Computational Aesthetics: the beholder needs eyes?

Computational aesthetics is a subfield of Artificial Intelligence, concerned with the computational assessment of beauty in domains of human creative expression  which bridges science and art.

As an emerging and new interdisciplinary field, the seed of today’s Computational Aesthetics can be traced as far back as 1928, when American mathematician George David Birkhoff proposed the formula M = O/C where M is the “aesthetic measure,” O is order, and C is complexity. In the 1950s german philosopher, writer, and publicist Max Bense together with French engineer Abraham Moles created “Information Aesthetics” a short-lived but influential attempt to establish a mathematically rigorous aesthetic theory based on objectification of perception. This effort to bridge philosophy, psychology, aesthetics, sciences, and art theory was influenced by Wiener’s cybernetics, Shannon’s information and Communication theory and Peirce’s semiotics. Their theories were widely spread among German and French designers and artists during 1960, but some artists objected that such art and its assessment were not “natural.”

But today, considering the the rapid advances of digital technology, we can’t deny that computers play a useful role in aesthetic evaluation and simulating human artists in order to understand our appreciation of beauty. Therefore Computational Aesthetics, as a subfield of Artificial Intelligence, can be helpful for the assessment of beauty in domains of human creative expression like music, visual art, poetry, and chess problems. Such technology can be more reliable and consistent than human evaluation, which is often subjective and prone to personal biases. According to researchers Yihang Bo, Jinhui Yu and Kang Zhang two main aspects of Computational Aesthetics are “Aesthetic Measurements” (mixing machine learning, pattern recognition, computer vision) and “Generative Art” (including fractal art and abstract painting modeled with Neural Networks).

Kang Zhang, Stuart Harrell and Xin Ji argue that visual arts and computer technology could complement and assist each other in new and emerging interdisciplinary areas known as computational aesthetics and aesthetic computing. By bridging computer science, philosophy, cognitive science  and the fine arts through analytic and synthetic investigation this scientist aim to show how using computational rules for encoding aesthetic principles and specific styles (expressed in graphs, shapes and spatial positions) can be used to create grammars like those of artist and designer that are programmable and executable by computers

For Stefano Kalonaris -a creative technologist, musician and researcher-  the field of Computational Aesthetics is the theory, practice and applications of aesthetics in computing. He finds two different ways to approach it, one is to consider the aesthetic value that a computational process or computational product (an algorithmically generated artwork for example) holds for a human; the second is concerned with the ability of computational systems to judge the aesthetic value of their own or someone else’s creative product. As artist and teacher Phillip Galanter explains, the first one is related with the aesthetics of the Digital Arts, the latter with Artificial Creativity or the modeling of computational processes that achieve creative tasks. While in one mode of aesthetic evaluations are expected to simulate and predict human notions of beauty and taste, the machine version can be viewed as an aspect of meta-aesthetic exploration which involves standards created by software agents in virtual world that may seem alien and disconnected to human experience.

As we can see research in Artificial Intelligence can be help us generate new forms of scientific knowledge, and the current deployment of Deep Learning algorithms in the art world today may be seen as the ultimate “Gesamtkunstwerk” or total artwork. For some people like me, designing artificial systems that are not only products or tools but collaborators or even artistic creators, is the ultimate frontier in the creative processes.  And in this journey Computational Aesthetics can help us not only creating synthetic methods that can make applied aesthetic decisions in a similar fashion as humans can, but it can assist us in reevaluating our preconceptions of what artistry is… because, who says that the beholder needs eyes to appreciate beauty?

*(Pictures: Frieder Nake,"Hommage à Paul Klee 13/9/65 Nr.2" &

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