Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Creativity and Cognition 2009 conference, 27-30 Oct, Berkeley, CA

Off to California to attend the 2009 Creativity and Cognition conference. I'm presenting my PhD work to date at the graduate symposium on the first day then have the rest of the conference to look forward to.  Will record my thoughts here after the conference.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Conceptual art

In a discussion about how you could place a value on a piece of art, I've been introduced to "conceptual art". This is when the artistic process is of far higher importance than the end-product itself; in fact the end-product becomes almost irrelevant - merely a side-effect of the process being executed.

Sol LeWitt defined Conceptual Art in "Paragraphs on Conceptual Art", Artforum, June 1967, as:
In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.
If assessing how creative a piece of conceptual art is, solely by evaluating the product, then there are two negative consequences:
  1. The primary intentions of the artist are ignored (the artist is more focussed on how the art is made than what the result is).
  2. The level of creativity presented will probably be underestimated, especially if the art results in producing something that might seem commonplace outside the context of that art installation.
For example Tracey Emin's unmade bed, no matter what your opinion of it as a piece of art, was intended to have greater significance than just to picture a dirty bed.

Another example is Duchamp's Fountain (1917): an exhibit of a urinal, entitled 'Fountain', by Marcel Duchamp. With this piece, Duchamp intended the focus to be on how it was interpreted as the choice for this artwork, rather than the physical object itself.

Duchamp submitted the Fountain to an art exhibition for the Society of Independent Artists, where every submission would be accepted and exhibited. Duchamp's submission sparked a debate with the judging panel (of which Duchamp was himself a member!) as to whether this was in fact a piece of art. Eventually the Fountain was included in the exhibition but hidden from sight and Duchamp resigned from the Society board.

Since then though, the Fountain has been judged the most influential modern art work of all time. Who was right, the 500 art experts who made this judgement or the panel who rejected the Fountain as not being a piece of art?

While I don't intend this post to express that the creative process is far more important than the creative product, for me this is interesting evidence as to why process is as important as product.

There is an interesting discussion on the philosophy of conceptual art at Schellekens, Elisabeth, "Conceptual Art", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2009 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

A ground truth for creativity (or lack of)

My officemate and I had quite an interesting discussion yesterday as to whether there is a 'right' or a 'wrong' answer to give, when you assess how creative something is.

Different people come up with different assessments, based on a whole range of factors such as their expertise in that domain, their knowledge of the process by which creative products are produced, personal opinion and bias according to their tastes, and the amount of time and effort which they give to the assessment.

Part of my work involves a computational system which produces so-called creative behaviour and then assesses how creative that behaviour is, as part of feedback into refining the creative process. (I shall discuss this work in more depth in a future post, when it is further developed.)

How do I test whether the system 'works', i.e. whether its behaviour could be deemed creative and its self-assessment of its own creativity is accurate? There is no ground-truth for creativity; in fact this lack of ground-truth is the central research problem I am addressing! To test its performance against other creativity measurements is to test one theory against another rather than testing the model against real life.

So lets test the model against real life - compare its judgements of creativity to judgements made by people. If there is a large crossover and agreement between machine and people, then the machine is making a good job of approximating human assessment of creativity: the only guide we have to follow at present.

Next problem: what if my system is proven to perform well against some 'right answer', coming up with a satisfactory evaluation of the creativity present in the system - does this mean my system is also 'right'? I would say no, it is not coming up with a universally correct assessment: because no such universally correct assessment exists. We can approximate what a number of people would collectively decide about a system or item's creativity, and aim to match the consensus of opinion. More often than not, however, someone will disagree...