Hanno Rauterberg in conversation with Christian Möller

Pixels on canvas: creative machines challenge our image of human beings. (Zoonar.com / Max)

Algorithms count our steps, analyze our musical tastes or our performance at work. And now you should also paint, write poetry, compose? Art critic Hanno Rauterberg shows what this dream reveals about our time.

An artificial intelligence (AI) completed Ludwig van Beethoven’s Tenth Symphony, which the composer left as a fragment. Stuttgart mathematician Theo Lutz published computer-generated poems as early as 1959, for which he fed a computer with words from Franz Kafka’s novel “Das Schloss”. New York auction house Christie’s auctioned off a painting believed to have been created with the help of AI for more than $ 400,000 in 2018.

Creative potential of machines

In his book “The Art of the Future”, art critic and cultural journalist Hanno Rauterberg brings together many more examples of how the creative potential of AI is currently being experienced. Is a new era in art history starting with digital technologies? Can we even speak of art if – as in the case of the painting auctioned at Christie’s – it was not a person who decided, but a machine, what the work should look like?

The Parisian artist group “Obvious” reportedly introduced 15,000 paintings from the period between the 14th and 20th centuries in a program that generated a portrait of a fictional man. The software on which the process is based, however, was programmed by another artist and made available for free, according to Rauterberg.

With that alone, the work creates a very exciting confusion: who can be considered as its author? The programmer? His program? Or the group of artists who used it to create a specific image and brought it into the art market?

The privilege of freedom of goal

For Rauterberg, this kind of uncertainty is what makes computer art so special. AI and art – at first glance they don’t go well together: “Computer programs are actually there to solve problems, and art is more about discovering problems or seeing them where others don’t see any problems. “

Machines have long fascinated artists, says Hanno Rauterberg, because technically and soberly, they seem far removed from all traditions. (dpa / Sven Simon Agency)

In addition, art is characterized by the privilege of “doing something that is initially of no use”. The classic definition of the Enlightenment philosopher, Immanuel Kant, states “that artists are liberated from the resolute thought of modernity and are allowed to do something which, in that it is aimless, fulfills a purpose.” “

The digitization of life as a pleasure of art

But that’s precisely where the motivation of big tech companies to get involved in artistic experiments with AI can begin, Rauterberg speculates. One of the goals of companies might be “that they want to exaggerate naked, machine-like rationality” so that in a way “computers themselves become aimless”.

This opens up an attractive change of perspective for the public: “We no longer have to question what is happening there, the total digitization of the world, but we can also appreciate and accept it as a work of art. art.

The “dream of the creative machine” has a long history in 20th century art, says Rauterberg. Various currents had already worked to overcome the aesthetics of genius, subjectivity and empathy before digital technologies were available for it.

Shutdown of consciousness

Surrealism tried various methods to keep individual consciousness out of the creative process. Constructivist artist and Bauhaus professor Lázló Moholy-Nagy, on the other hand, preferred to appear in a mechanic’s costume and had high hopes for a reorientation of art characterized by technical sobriety:

“He announced: everyone is the same in front of the machine, because the machine knows no tradition, and therefore a new world spirit could emerge from standardization and serialization.

In our time, creativity has become omnipresent – on the one hand as a promise to be able to be fulfilled, on the other as a new requirement in the profession, where more and more people are called upon to contribute creatively and creatively. . In this context, Rauterberg recognizes in the attempts to create creative machines, fantasies and aspirations that go beyond the realm of art.

In bed with the smartphone

Our image of self as autonomous individuals who think for themselves and act independently, is reaching its limits as AI penetrates all areas of life and shows us how predictable we are. People use smartphones to monitor their sleep to see if they are recovering well. Others use an app to test if their voice shows signs of depressive traits.

The image of man that we have cultivated – based on the philosophy of the past 250 years – is increasingly giving way to a point of view like that of historian Yuval Noah Harari, according to Rauterberg: “He says that we are really just organic algorithms, and the individual is like a tiny chip in a huge system. For many developers in California’s Silicon Valley, this is exactly a positive vision: the reconciliation of people, nature and technology, as romanticism wanted.

Whether it’s a utopia or a horror scenario: in attempts to make AI creative and thus give it human traits, Rauterberg recognizes a hint of this readjustment of ourselves.


Hanno Rauterberg: “The art of the future. About the dream of the creative machine”
Suhrkamp Verlag, Berlin 2021
195 pages, 16 euros

Also in this issue of Being and Strife:

Commentary: Voting decision and illusion of knowledge – the fatal feeling
Do we really know what we think we know? In the election campaign in particular, it becomes clear that we often do not make decisions based on good information, but for completely different reasons. Philipp Hübl thinks about our illusions of knowledge.

Philosophical places: Tullia d’Aragona and love in Florence
Only purely spiritual love is the source of the divine: this is how some Renaissance thinkers saw it after Plato. Philosopher Tullia d’Aragona, on the other hand, wrote a plea for desire and sensuality around 1550, which continues to have an impact today. Constantin Hühn reports from Florence.