Review of Patrick Tresset: Human Traits and the Art of Creative Machines | Leonardo/ISAST

Review of Patrick Tresset: Human Traits and the Art of Creative Machines

Patrick Tresset: Human Traits and the Art of Creative Machines
by Ryszard W. Kluszczyński, Editor

Laznia Centre for Contemporary Art, Gdańsk, Poland, 2016
205 pp., illus. b&w and colour. Paper, 35,00 zł
ISBN: 978-83-61646-73-0

Reviewed by: 
Robert Maddox-Harle
December 2017

This publication accompanies the exhibition Patrick Tresset: Human Traits organised by the LAZNIA Centre for Contemporary Art in Gdańsk as part of the Art+Science Meeting Project 31 May – 14 June 2015. Of all the publications I have reviewed for Leonardo (ISAST) over the years, this book exemplifies more than most the Leonardo objectives of exploring and developing the symbiotic connections between art, science, and technology: “Leonardo’s writings are a testament to his love of art understood as a scientific endeavour (p. 104). In a nutshell the book discusses the process of a robotic-computer machine literally drawing human portraits from its observations of a human model, often as part of a gallery exhibition.

Patrick Tresset a French (London based) artist, “...develops theatrical installations with robotic agents as actors. His [Tresset’s] work uses computational systems that aim to introduce artistic, expressive and obsessive aspects to robots’ behaviour (p. 204). Tresset, originally a painter, has made the transition to working with robots as a way to explore human behaviour and specifically the nature of “mark making” and how humans perceive others. Hence we have the extensive discussion in the various essays concerning the power, history, and importance of drawing over and above painting and the other visual arts. At present Tresset’s ‘machine artists’ are reacting to observations rather than learning in the true sense of AI and neural network development. Tresset plans to explore these latter computer processes in the near future.

The book is richly illustrated with both colour and black & white images, together with a list of contributor’s biographies, no Index, and seven highly informative and well researched essays as follows:

  1. Machines Like Gods. Introduction to Reflections on Creative Machines and the Art of Patrick Tresset.
  2. Artistically Skilled Embodied Agents
  3. Paul, Successor to AARON
  4. Drawing – in Praise of Inspiration? Some Remarks on the Long History of Drawing
  5. What are you looking at when you look at an image? And what are you thinking about?
  6. Human Traits
  7. Robots, Nostalgia and Loss of Control. In Conversation with Patrick Tresset

The book is bilingual in Polish and English, all titles are bilingual and the essays are arranged with the left column of each page in Polish with the right in English. One minor criticism is that the English text is very light grey on white, semi-gloss paper this makes it difficult to read even with good lighting.

The first chapter by Kluszczyński gives a good insight into Tresset’s work:

“The particular value and sophistication of Patrick Tresset’s work stems not only from the status achieved by its products – which are both its subjects and objects, its works and authors. These values derive also from the hybrid weave of various trends and artistic forms that come together and distinguish it: drawing, kinetic art, cybernetic art, robotic art, generative art, performance art, interactive art, installation art, [and] conceptualism.” (p. 36)

The last chapter with Özden Şahin, In Conversation with Patrick Tresset, was most enjoyable and further helped understand Tresset’s motivation, background, and modus operandi discussed in the other essays.

There are some highly contentious claims made in some essays. An example in the second chapter has Deussen quoting Pignocchi, “...[he] argues that an observer can not only recover the artist’s high-level overt intentions, but also ‘all the mental states – conscious or not, propositional or not – that have played a causal role during the production of the work’” (p. 51). Whether Deussen really supports this ridiculous, preposterous claim is not at all clear, but he appears to do so. Ludzkie also quotes Pignocchi’s “hypothesized” claims when discussing the analysis of drawing whether by an autonomous machine or human being (p. 165).

Chapter Three discusses AARON. This is starting to become a little passé now, even though it was ground breaking many years ago:

“[E]xamining Paul, a robot created by Patrick Tresset (in collaboration with Fréderic Fol Leymarie), and AARON, a programme developed by Harold Cohen, side by side reveals considerable differences between the two, ranging from the installation components and technologies used, to the dynamics of the procedures or generating and transforming visual representations and their stylistic distinctiveness, to particular intentions and interests that guided the makers of the two drawing systems.” (p. 73)

The chapter on Drawing by Purc-Stępniak is quite a fascinating account of the history of drawing from which I learnt some very interesting facts; unfortunately, it is a little too long and reads like a college history lesson, a valuable addition to the book nonetheless.

I feel this book is a “must read” for all artists, computer scientists, researchers, and students interested in both the history of artist robots and in the immediate future of machine intelligence and especially creative machine intelligence.