Data Is The New Pigment

Artists have always innovated, and digital art is the next iteration.


Calypso Newman


October 12, 2023

Data Is The New Pigment

Rock Badger is working with organisations to demonstrate the extraordinary potential of art, when combined with AI, blockchain, and other technology, to create new business models and increase consumer engagement. We connect digital artists with businesses that wish to stay at the forefront of innovation.

Artists have always innovated, and digital art is the next iteration.

Since the beginning of humanity, artists have been at the forefront of technical innovation. The earliest artists, responsible for cave paintings and engravings, began creating around 40,000 B.C. The cave paintings at Lascaux, southwestern France, are the most impressive example of artistic innovation of the age. Depictions of animals like lions, bears, horses, bison, and bulls unfurl across the walls - the creatures that roamed the plains of the Dordogne. Exploring novel techniques to create these images, neolithic artists delved into the earth, ingeniously extracting compounds to transform raw elements into pigments, creating a variety of new colours, including red ochre, yellow ochre, white and carbon black, and making them into a paste with various binders (water and vegetable juices). These artists then developed tools such as hair or moss to meticulously craft animals’ shapes and used twigs to create linear forms. Other surfaces were covered with paint spraying from the mouth or through hollowed-out bones, distributing the pigments like an airbrush. Since Lascaux, the role of the artist has been to innovate - to take everyday objects and use them to create outstanding beauty.

Undeniably, the artists of Lascaux developed both materials and modes of art that were extraordinary and innovative. Yet these are skills remaining and developing throughout the evolution of art. Egyptian jewellers melting quartz pebbles and plant ash together, creating glass for amulets and beads. Greek ceramists extracting clay, using a potter’s wheel to form the shape of pottery, then painting it and firing it in a kiln. Renaissance architects and painters utilising mathematics for linear perspective and science for anatomical accuracy. Eadweard Muybridge pioneering photography to capture animal locomotion. Right up to Sol Le Witt and conceptualism b writing instructions for installers for his Wall Drawings creating an algorithm that can generate an infinite number of variations of the same work.

Digital artists are at the forefront of developing digital technologies such as algorithmic code, data, artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing as tools. Embracing these new technologies and allowing them to create novel artistic expression. Lifeforms, the exhibition by digital art collective Universal Everything, has created characters who are continually generating, evolving, and transitioning. These characters respond to audience movements and randomly change form, style, and garments in a generative video fashion show. The result? No one sees the same exhibition, a clever play on the idea that nobody views art in the same way. Just as our ancestors would have each seen the gallop of the bulls across the flickering walls of Lascaux as a unique and subjective experience.

Universal Everything used generative software to create the lifeforms, designing the computational systems that grew characters, plants, and abstract forms, “yet personalities emerge by themselves.” Lifeforms' technical experimentation around motion is not new. The exhibition is inspired by decades of visual culture, from the futurist’s depiction of the body in motion to Eadweard Muybridge’s 19th-century film experiences - each artist innovates for their time.

Refik Anadol views AI as a tool available to artists. He employs machine learning and data sets, which creates intricate, colorful, and living forms that tell visual stories. At the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) his work Unsupervised asks: what would a machine dream about after seeing the collection of The Museum of Modern Art? Responding by training a machine learning model to interpret the metadata of MoMA's collection. The machine is creating new forms that could exist in the archive but don’t, expressing all the paths not taken in the history of modern art. The result? Anadol is making AI do something different that it is not meant to do: dream and speculate an imagination of a machine.

“Quantum work is where the future is,” comments Pindar Van Arman, a pioneering digital artist whose latest work reimagines reality through the lens of quantum computing. A lifelong innovator, in 2005 he was designing autonomous painting robots (using deep learning neural networks, feedback loops, and computational creativity) to help him create. Quantum Faces is his latest feat: faces procedurally generated by quantum computers, formulated into an image with artificial intelligence, and then painted by a robot. Van Arman is, just like the Neolithic cave painters, giving creative meaning to new tools.

It is paramount that we do not underestimate the role of artists as innovators. Yesterday’s artists were creating pigments from the ground - today’s artists are embracing data, tomorrow’s artists will undeniably utilise tomorrow’s technologies. So what is one of the artist's many roles? To infuse new technologies with meaning, demonstrating their potential for transformative and creative expression. Artists are the vanguards of progress and can define the future, leading us to new pigments and limitless possibilities of artistic expression. It is time for artists to be acknowledged as the true innovators and the forefront of the technological revolution.



@VanArman (Twitter)

Related Posts