Artist+AI: Figures & Form in the Age of Intelligent Machines
Scott Eaton, Fall of the Damned, 2019 © Scott Eaton
Scott Eaton’s debut exhibition, Artist+AI: Figures & Form in the Age of Intelligent Machines, is an exploration of the synergy between the human hand and Artificial Intelligence within the creative space. Eaton’s work is an amalgamation of his training in drawing and sculpture practice, brought together with his extensive experience as a digital artist and animator.
Eaton, who received his masters degree from the MIT Media Lab and subsequently studied academic drawing and sculpture in Florence, offers an exploration in the way new digital technologies can augment the human creative process. He does this by creating and training an AI assistant that, having performed enough comparisons of line drawings and photographs, becomes a collaborator in the creative process.
This Gold Circle showcase inlcudes a brief interview with Scott Eaton, who offers his insight into the way he trains and collaborates with AI, its influence on artistic decisions, and the potential of AI within the creative process.
What was the idea behind starting this project?
I stumbled across a small AI demo on the internet about three years ago that sparked my interested in the creative potential of these new technologies as art tools. As I began to experiment with the technology the results were deeply compelling and have kept me engaged ever since.
Figurative art has been a primordial means of creative expression by humans, for humans. What drove your decision to train and involve AI in the process?
The AI works as an extension of my vision and aesthetic as an artist. I compose the entire process from end to end, from photographing models in the studio to hand drawing the final creations, but AI works as an important, and sophisticated enabler, in the middle of the process.
Can you describe the process of training your AI assistant?
In the training process, my assistants learn their ‘craft’ by continually comparing different visual representations – in this instance my line drawings and my photography. After millions of views, they gradually begin to understand how to transform a drawing into something photographic, and eventually they learn to faithfully produce figures. At this point they become capable collaborators in the creative process.
How is the subject of each image decided? Is the contextual framing of the images driven by you or the AI assistant?
Entirely driven by me. In this show, each image is produced with my drawing as a starting point. These become the inputs to the neural network, which then translates, or ‘paints” it, into a photoreal, or perhaps surreal work.
You highlight the distinction between ‘autonomous agents’ and ‘art assistants'. Why is that and how do you ensure the AI stays on the side you choose?
I am interested in controlling, and augmenting, the human creative process, and AI has tremendous potential for this. As autonomous agents though, I don’t believe they are capable of creating true art - they have no feeling, no human context, no human experience to draw from. They may be able to create a facsimile of art, but at its core it would be hollow.
Is an AI assistant more than a tool?
Presently, no. They are very sophisticated tools, but do nothing without my input and direction. The results they produce, however, are sophisticated enough that I tend to refer to them as collaborators in the creative process.
Are your creative decisions for each piece influenced at all by the assistant’s capabilities?
Yes. As tools, they have certain affordances, meaning capabilities to do work, whether it is rendering my figures into painterly representations or creating three-dimensional form. My ambition for a piece of work take the capabilities of my tools into account when planning the execution. So yes, they inform the execution of the work and so, I supposed, influence the conceptualisation of the piece as well.
Do you foresee a point in time at which the assistant will gain the agency needed to drive the creative process?
In the near-term no, but in the long term, quite possibly. AI will become very good at mimicking what humans do, and as a result will likely be able to mimic the creative process. But if you consider the purest definition of art as the incarnation of human inspiration - inspiration informed by a lifetime of emotions, experiences, and perspective - then machines will miss the mark. This being said, they will have the ability to inspire us with new creative possibilities and broaden our horizons. This a little bit of the wonder I have experienced working with these tools thus far.
Has your experience of working with an AI assistant changed your view of figurative art?
Not my view of figurative art in general, but it makes me consider the emergence of new possibilities for the representation and abstraction of the figure. Since the beginning of human artistic endeavour we’ve used whatever tools available to us to create figurative work, it is something innate to being human. We’ve evolved as social creatures and this compels us to create and also emotionally respond to anthropomorphic representation, regardless of its level of realism or abstraction. AI tools will step in as the latest technology employed in this artistic continuum.
Scott Eaton (b. 1973, Washington) is an American artist, designer, and photographer. His work explores the representation of the human figure through various mediums – drawing, sculpture, photography, and generative AI. Eaton received his masters degree from the MIT Media Lab and subsequently studied academic drawing and sculpture in Florence, Italy.
Eaton is one of the pioneering artists in the field of digital sculpture and his work combines a deep understanding of human anatomy and traditional sculpture techniques with the power of modern digital tools. Eaton worked for many years as an animator - his clients include Pixar, Disney, Sony, Microsoft, Warner Bros.
In recent years he has focused on creative technology, anatomy, and art, collaborating on project with artists and institutions including Jeff Koons, Mark Wallinger, Elton John, the Royal Academy, the BBC, and the London Science Museum. Eaton lives and works in London.