Digital Artist Fabin Rasheed presents "The Augmented Artist"

Explorations of AI Art — Episode 16

Beth Jochim, Director and Co-Founder at Cueva Gallery. Twitter: @_bblurred

 "True Creativity happens when such an AI engine works together with a human being, thus assisting and augmenting the human. It's a play, or a dance between the AI and the artist." – Fabin Rasheed


 [Fig.1] "Emphaty" courtesy of Fabin Rasheed. At the top left, AI art used as an inspiration, at the bottom right the physical painting where shapes, color palettes and style have been suggested by AI. 


 Over time the concept of creativity has been explored by different disciplines such as cognitive science, philosophy, education, technology, economics, linguistics, psychology, and neuroscience — just to mention a few.

What does creativity mean and how does it work? 

Creativity is generally accepted to be an occurrence that involves unexplored and imaginative ideas turning into reality, or the formation of a new physical object of great value. In both cases, it is something that requires a manipulation of what is our mental and spiritual pool of resources recombined in unexpected and unique ways.

Creativity works mysteriously and its genesis is not completely clear. It can be part of our personality or something that presents itself in a given situation or context that is out of the ordinary. It does not have a single manifestation, and it can be found inside of everybody in some form.

When we find the words creativity and Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the same sentence, the question becomes intriguing. In recent years, we have seen AI applied with success to different kinds of art, for example from music, to film-making, to design and visual arts. At the same time museums, galleries, AI experts and computing artists are debating if AI can or should be creative, how far the boundaries of creativity could be pushed, if its role would be merely of assistance to the artist, or if one day AI will become an artist in its own right.

AI can learn to mimic the training data reaching great results and going beyond, returning something that can be surprising and perhaps sometimes unsettling. In the work of German artist Mario Klingemann, for example, this is called the Francis Bacon effect. Anyway, AI applied to visual art does not have to be only unsettling or a machine hallucination. Indeed there is a great space for collaboration and new forms of interaction between humans and machines that many artists are nowadays exploring.

If AI artists can get inspired from the human world, can a human artist get inspiration from AI? This is the question that Fabin Rasheed, an India based artist, designer, innovator and technologist working in the intersection of creativity and technology asked himself. His awarded works, featured in multiple international venues, revolve around creating tools for creativity and using technology to augment creativity and make art, spanning from Artificial Intelligence to AR/VR, from Gestures and Voice to Generative arts.

Our conversation ranged from the concept of creativity to the role that artificial intelligence can play in the visual arts, up to the possible role that the contemporary artist can have in our society and passing through the concept of augmented artist. 


 [Fig.2]"Differential" courtesy of Fabin Rasheed. On the left, AI art used as an inspiration, on the right the physical painting made by the artist.

    Beth: Could you tell us a little about your background and what pushed you to pursue AI art?

      Fabin: I started off as an electronics engineer who then learnt programming. My interest in the area of creativity kept growing since childhood and I eventually went on to learn Design professionally. Bringing both the worlds of creativity and technology together, I have always tried to push boundaries either through creating innovative tools or by making art. I found peace making things by exercising both the left and right sides of my brain together. My career has gone through innovation labs and research centres like Xerox, Adobe etc. where I invented new expressions of creativity. Art itself has been a core part of my creative expressions for a long time, but it's recently that I started taking it mainstream. 

      My interest specifically in AI stemmed from the advent of neural style transfer algorithms. I saw people experimenting with a new form of creation using these algorithms and transferring styles of famous artists into their own work. I saw this as a fresh mode of expression and my curiosity led me to dive into learning and pursuing AI art.


        Beth: What are art and creativity for you and what place do they have in your life?

          Fabin: One of my all time favourite lines is from a movie called Rockstar which goes like this : “It is a different type of life that makes a human an artist. There is one element that is common to all the well-known artists, painters, writers and other geniuses… and that is Pain”.

          From my childhood, I was a person who innately had developed many walls, differences, barriers, distinctions, separations and segregation in every aspect of my life. I used to consider ‘that’ different from ‘this’ and 'that' better than 'this' and that’s how the course of building walls went. But life had a different treatment for me. Life started tearing down these walls one by one. With each broken wall came immense pain and immense learning. Over the course of time I found myself becoming more and more unified with everything, becoming kinder, gentler and empathetic. At the same time I noticed my creative horizons expanding. Art is where I found solace in- expressing some of my greatest learnings through it. There is an immense treasure that’s hidden within each one of us. To find this, we need to remove all the layers that are hiding it. Through most of my works I try to share how this can be done and what is awaiting. Creativity and its expression thus holds supreme importance in my life and I feel that’s what makes life worth living.



          [Fig.3] "Pearl" courtesy of Fabin Rasheed. At the top, AI art and at the bottom, the painting made by the artist and inspired by AI


          Beth: What do you think is the value of AI art?

            Fabin: AI can either be used as a tool or as something which collaboratively helps humans create. Just like any new technology, it’s exciting to work and explore new forms of expression through AI. But what is it that makes it different? I sometimes drive a thought experiment on this: If there was a super God-race before us who “developed” us - humans and all sentient beings - how would they feel when they saw a Mona Lisa or a Starry Night? Will they feel proud? Will they be intimidated and scared? And most importantly, will they accept it as original? And parallelly, what exactly is then an ‘original’ to them?

            Traditionally generative art which relies on sets of instructions have produced predictable outputs. Even when the artist creates it, they have an idea of what the output would be. But this is different for AI art (similar to when we experiment with nature’s elements). The feeling in AI art is like teaching a child how to draw and letting the child create something by itself. It gives a sense of surprise, a pride and often hitherto unseen expressions. I feel there is great value in that. And every time an AI works in tandem with an artist we see an explosion of creativity not seen till date.

              Beth: Your work revolves not only in enhancing creativity through technology, but also in creating tools for creativity. Can you tell us more about this?

                Fabin: Yes, I feel some of the best artists create their own tools and use them to create art. I have worked previously on multiple projects which involved finding new forms of creative expressions. For example, I created one of the first sculpting tools - MakerStudio - in AR for mobile devices. At Adobe, I got the chance to present one of my tools - brushes for drawing animations, called Brush Bounty - to 12,000 creatives at Adobe Max ‘18. I also created Ameyt World - a block building app for AR which lets you make 3D models easily and publish in AR. One of my recent projects was on AI brushes, where I created a bunch of tools to create art using AI. 

                Most of the time, when I create a tool, I also make art with it. I do this with 3 points in mind - concept, process and aesthetics. And each of my art has a varying degree of each of these points. The tool covers most of the ‘process’ part. I then focus on either ‘concept’ or ‘aesthetics’ or both. One more thing to note here is that I do not plan much, I let my heart take the lead and the rest follows.

                [Fig.4 e 5] Some examples of AI art that has inspired Fabin Rasheed to paint "Punch" and "Ugly"


                  Beth: You have launched a project called "The Augmented Artist". Could you elaborate on this and explain to us what it is about?

                    Fabin: An Augmented Artist is one who gets his inspiration or is assisted by technology, especially Artificial Intelligence. Rather, AI augments the human artist.

                    Through the practice of meditation over many years, I started digging into the roots of a thought – how does a thought arise? A thought comes as a feeling (for a lack of a better word). This feeling is very raw and interpretable. Based on our experiences, we will have an immediate insight from this “thought-predecessor” or we could further interpret it to get different meanings. For eg. Imagine you had the “feeling” of an oblong white humming sound. (Yes shapes, colors and sounds together). You could immediately associate it to an aeroplane’s wings if you just had taken a flight, or on further interpretation you could associate it with a walkway in the factory you are working at. These “thought-predecessors” are usually images, sounds, touch sensations or any other sensory sensations. How we interpret and which sensation we give priority to, is what turns out to become a thought. The thought then becomes action and so on and so forth. One could argue that Freud’s Free Association was an immediate interpretation of these thought-predecessors, which often gives an insight into one’s psyche. This also relates to the basis of Rorschach's tests. Largely, when we dream, we see a series of these thought-predecessors and we interpret and associate in our own ways. Since the interpretations are based on our experiences, we feel that dreams are relatable. In fact interpretation (or wrapping your head around) is largely how we go about life and learning, generally.

                    In 2019, I collaboratively developed an AI bot which creates AttnGan based imagery from poetry. This poetry was generated using GPT2 from a dataset of millions of Haikus. The images were styled using neural style transfer and was autonomously posted one image a day for one year on social media. This was in-fact my first venture into AI art. I immediately realised that the bot was just a generative engine which created art based on pre-existing data. The amount of “originality” it had was limited to the dataset. But true creativity happens when such an AI engine works together with a human being, thus assisting and augmenting the human. It’s a play, or a dance between the AI and the artist.

                    And that is exactly what I did. I used the generated imagery and poetry as seed ideas or thought-predecessors to create my own physical versions of the art. It wasn’t about just remixing the generated image. Freud’s free association or other such concepts rely on not contaminating these seed thoughts with other thinking. It's the fresh, immediate interpretation that gives an insight into the psyche. For the augmented artist series, I created the artworks based on such immediate interpretations - The imagery that came in my mind was the thought-predecessor which led to a free association imagery which I then painted. Thus, the augmented artist series is a 6 image series of such paintings - a beautiful collaboration between the AI and an artist - with varying senses of aesthetics and conceptual depth between the pieces.


                      Beth: Do you think traditional artists could become more interested in experiencing AI in the future?

                        Fabin: As long as they are open to learning and change, yes. In fact there are a lot many tools these days which allow anyone without prior engineering experience to create art using AI technologies. The only prerequisite is a general understanding of how things work. Rather than just adopting a trend, one should try to have conversations with the inner meanings of some of these AI algorithms. One easy way to do this is to draw analogies with human learning. For example, a Generative Adversarial Network (GAN) consists of a Generative part which generates and a Discriminative part which evaluates and judges. Similarly in our psyche we have a part of the mind which loves to do or create unabashedly. Parallely, we have a part of our mind that judges and warns, says “no”, or says “be careful” or says “OK, this is good”. It's a play between these dual forces that help us operate and create effectively. GANs are one of the most creative AI algorithms. So when you use it, can you think of how the machine learns and creates? Can you draw parallels with human learning and then could you as a creator use it to create unique expressions? These questions could help anyone go beyond in AI art.

                        [Fig. 6] "Ugly" by Fabin Rasheed, inspired by AI and hand-painted. Acrylic on paper.


                          Beth: What do you think is the possible role of the contemporary artist?

                            Fabin: In a world with increasing barriers and closed mindsets, what is it that we can do to make things more open. How can we break down barriers? How can we do that without creating more barriers? Historically whenever a wall or a barrier broke down, a different barrier, a differential came in its place. Can we as humans think holistically and go beyond creating such barriers, inside or outside us? By pointing a finger and saying someone is wrong, aren’t we creating more barriers, more differentials? Can we instead think of why that someone is doing something and find a better solution for both? Can we encourage dialog rather than debate? We are all in the same boat, but can we as artists make others realise that and row together? The time for transcendence is at hand. Why go in the historically repeating loop of duality saying one is wrong and another is right? Why not accept, unify and transcend. Art can create revolutionary change. Can we as contemporary artists create it? ∎

                            To follow Fabin:

                            Twitter: @fabinrasheed

                            Instagram: @nurecas


                            [1] Can AI Enhance Human Creativity?  From Cueva's blog


                            [3] An Augmented Artist, Fabin Rasheed on Medium

                            About the author: Beth Jochim is the Creative AI Lead at Libre AI, and Director and Co-Founder at Cueva Gallery. She works at the intersection of technology and arts. She is actively involved in different activities that aim to democratize the field of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, bringing the benefits of AI/ML to a larger audience. Connect whit Beth in LinkedIn or Twitter.

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