Art for Non-Artists
Last semester, one of my professors mentioned Google’s Deep Dream within a list of computer programs that use artificial intelligence to do normal human activities — like playing chess, Go, or Atari Breakout — better than any human can. It’s been decades since a world-class chess player first lost to a computer, so I’m not surprised by computers that can predict winning moves based on the rules of a game. But Deep Dream stood out from the list. Instead of winning games, or doing anything else that I’d expect from a computer, it creates art.
A few years ago, a dress embroiled the Internet in a fierce debate over its true colors. Was it blue and black? Or white and gold? This simple photo made countless people question their grip on reality. It’s disturbing to realize that the colors we see, indisputable in our minds, are different from others’ perceptions — and that they may be blatantly incorrect. We trust our eyesight, above all our other senses, to guide us through the world. But optical illusions like the dress reveal glitches in our vision, suggesting that it’s far less reliable than it seems.
A few weeks ago, I got takeout for dinner with a friend, and we decided to brave the cold and eat outside in the Yard. We wound up at the temporary outdoor art installation in Tercentenary Theater, “Autumn (…Nothing Personal),” that was taken down at the beginning of October. The installation was a pocket of warm light in the Yard’s late-night darkness, illuminating our faces softly as we sat down on the wooden benches. We ate and talked quietly, catching glimpses of other people coming and going through layers of glowing yellow plastic tubes.
I’ve spent countless conversations defending abstract art — paintings like a red line slashed over a blank white background, or shapeless layered scribbles and splatters, or multicolored boxes suspended across a canvas. The kind of art that makes people scoff and conclude that “any child could have made it.” The kind of art that I, too, used to consider boring, pointless, and overly simplistic.