Are Computerized Art Critics the Way of the Future?

Aubrey Williams, Death and the Conquistador (1959). Photo: Tate, London.
Aubrey Williams, Death and the Conquistador (1959). Photo: Tate, London.

Art critics, beware: your job might just get outsourced to a computer.

Novice Art Blogger offers succinct analysis of abstract works from London’s Tate, via Tumblr. “I’m experiencing Art for the first time,” says the artist-created critic-bot. “Here are my responses.” It’s the brainchild of British-Colombian artist-reseacher and Prix Ars Electronica winner Matthew Plummer-Fernandez.

Forget cynical guides to sounding like you know what you’re talking about (see Do We Need A Guide to Talking About Art?). If a bit of computer programming can become a passable critic, surely anyone can. But the Novice Art Blogger has a ways to go.

Take, for instance, its response to Aubrey Williams’s 1959 oil painting Death and the Conquistador, above:

A close up view of a pizza with one looking at it or it is depicting a pizza that is ready to bite of a large bowl. I’m reminded of a pizza, decorated to look like an angry bird.

It’s more like a child’s stream of consciousness than the thoughts of a trained opinionator. It’s repetitive and it makes a reference to a popular game that is probably unintentional (to the degree that a bot can be said to have intention). But there’s something charming about its efforts.

Asked by Dazed if the bot ever gives bad reviews, Plummer-Fernandez responded: “No, I think the bot is simply articulating what it interprets; there is something very noble about that, that it is not passing judgement. However it has a childlike naivety that it gets away with; completely missing the intentions of the artist and calling a serious war depiction a pizza would probably be offensive coming from an expert art critic.”

There’s a consensus that critics don’t have the power they once did. (Speaking of which, you might notice that the novice’s avatar is a classic 1955 image that photographer David Seymour took of critic-connoisseur-collector Bernard Berenson while he was inspecting a canvas with a magnifying glass.) Critics have regularly appeared on Hyperallergic‘s list of “most powerless people in the art world.” A more staid voice has joined the chorus too: “The critics are out of the game,” the New York art adviser Todd Levin recently told the New York Times. “These days it’s dealers and collectors who build value, and artistic value has become conflated with price. That’s the problem.”

No word on where the Novice Art Blogger comes down on artnet News’s 30 Art-Writing Clichés to Ditch in the New Year.


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