DARCI: A Computer With Great Taste


Friday, December 16, 2011

DARCI DARCI (Philip Graitcer)

To make art, a computer first needs to understand what art is. 

A group of computer scientists at Brigham Young University is attempting this by feeding their program images by the thousands and describing those images. Digital Artist Communicating Intent (she goes by DARCI) recognizes about 2,000 adjectives so far, including terms like peaceful, scary, and dark. The goal is to teach DARCI to pick out those visual qualities in artwork — and ultimately, to write algorithms modeling creativity for artificial intelligence. 

Last month, the team took DARCI out for a spin at the Conference on Creativity and Cognition in Atlanta. They invited artists to put their work on a thumb drive, upload to the program, and be judged by DARCI. The program scored works according to simple criteria, which were kept secret; the accepted work was displayed in a temporary exhibition at the High Museum.

Several experienced artists had their work rejected; so did George, age six, who was skeptical of the algorithmic curation. “I can’t believe a computer can do it, because there's never good art or bad art — there's different types of art,” he says.

BYU professor Dan Ventura says their effort wasn’t much different from the normal operation of the art world. “Whenever you enter art into a juried show, you're often not told what the criteria are,” he reasons. “Somebody is going to make a judgment about your art and decides whether you get in or not. And DARCI is that someone right now.”

→ Teach DARCI how to associate adjectives with images


Slideshow: DARCI evaluates art

Philip Graitcer

Brigham Young University computer scientists Dan Ventura, David Norton, and Derrall Heath (from left to right) are developing a computer program that analyzes artwork — Digital Artist Communicating Intent (DARCI). By feeding DARCI thousands of images and adjectives, the programmers are teaching the computer program to recognize specific visual qualities.

Philip Graitcer

Last month, the team brought DARCI to the Conference on Creativity and Cognition at the High Museum in Atlanta. They invited artists to upload their images to be judged by DARCI. The program scored works according to simple but secret criteria; images scoring over 70 out of a possible 100 were "accepted" while lower scorers were "rejected." The accepted work was displayed in a temporary exhibition at the museum. The image on the laptop screen, submitted by Kellam Mattie, scored a 73.

Mattie Kellam

DARCI gave another piece by Kellam Mattie a 78.

Gina Deininger

DARCI gave artist Gina Deininger's triptych of female figures a 20, making it ineligible for the exhibition.

Gina Deininger

Deininger's abstract map was also rejected by DARCI.

George Mattie

Reporter Philip Graitcer's six-year-old grandson, George, scored a 24 for his paper collage portrait.

Philip Graitcer

Programmers fed DARCI an image of Pablo Picasso's "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" (1907) — it was also rejected with a score of 26.

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Philip Graitcer

Comments [5]


I think a computer can have a need for art. Or at least this program can. A computer and its software or other programs are very different. We all live such dynamic lives with so many possibilities, things to do, places to see, etc. But this program only has one thing to do, make and analyze art. Plus its world compared to ours is infinitely smaller, so it pretty much has only one need and I fulfills that, otherwise it would break and those wonderful programmers would have to debug for more endless hours. If it works=TRUE, if it doesn't=FALSE. TRUE also means its happy.

Jun. 01 2012 11:52 AM
Peter from Boston

While I think it is possible to program a computer with vast numbers of human responses to vast libraries of visual imagery, from which it can pull the closest analogues of a specific image, and call this "analysis of artwork", to me it's still a mile wide and an inch deep. The emotional response to an artwork is produced by that specific image, not by a partial match to some other image.

Jan. 16 2012 04:52 PM
Peter from Boston MA

Sure, a computer can create art, provided there's someone there to call it art. Recall that Picasso and others incorporated "found objects" into their artworks, and Marcel Duchamps exhibited a urinal as art, "because I say it's art." Although a computer has no emotions or aesthetic sensibilities, it can certainly execute algorithms to produce audio and/or visual output which is stimulating to us emotional and aesthetically-sensitive humans. Think of all those gorgeously-convoluted fractal patterns that only a computer could generate. I'm no computer wizard, but I can imagine many things I could tell a computer to do to generate patterns or images that would surprise and please me, including telling it to incorporate random actions over which I had no control.

Jan. 16 2012 04:12 PM

Human's have a need to create art. It is a way of making sense of the world. Can a computer have a need for art?

Dec. 21 2011 05:40 AM
wa1nkq from Madison NH

As both scientist and professional artist, I am convinced that creativity requires self entertainment. Thus, the question: can a computer entertain itself?

Dec. 17 2011 03:38 PM

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