Painting Fool at CUBRIC

The home of one of Europe’s most powerful MRI scanners has also become the home of the world’s first virtual artist in residence, as an autonomous computer artist takes its place amongst researchers at Cardiff University’s Brain Research Imaging Centre (CUBRIC).

Cardiff University reports The Painting Fool, a computer program and aspiring painter on a mission to be taken seriously as a creative artist in its own right, is being “inspired” to paint works of art based on the work of the CUBRIC staff. It will be fed information such as dream reports, research papers, emails, tweets and brain scan images and will create new pieces of art every day from what it learns about CUBRIC. Staff and visitors to the centre will be able to see each day’s creation being painted in real time on a screen in the foyer.

The residency started with a collection of portrait images of the CUBRIC staff and paintings inspired by dream reports that were collected by researchers in the Neuroscience and Psychology of Sleep Laboratory. During its time at CUBRIC, the Painting Fool will attempt to learn from the work of the scientists as it produces art that will help them see their work in a new light and engage with the public. It is also hoped that the software will use its interactions with the staff to improve itself. It will learn from its successes, failures and interactions. The residency, which is funded by Wellcome, will culminate in an art exhibition in Cardiff, at the end of 2018, where people can come and see the pieces and learn more about the work of CUBRIC and the human brain.

Professor Derek Jones, Director of CUBRIC, said “We’re very excited to be hosting the world’s first virtual artist in residence. And it’s very fitting that as the home of some of the world’s most sophisticated neuroimaging equipment we should collaborate with a unique computer artist that is pushing the boundaries of computational creativity research. As we attempt to unravel the mysteries of the human brain, the Painting Fool will document our work while improving its own ‘brain’. We hope the Painting Fool will produce art work that will allow a wider audience to engage with the important brain research taking place at CUBRIC.”

Professor Simon Colton, creator of the Painting Fool, said “It’s a real thrill for myself and The Painting Fool to be working with the amazing scientists at CUBRIC. I’ve seen first-hand the inspiring and life changing research they are undertaking. This is also an amazing opportunity for The Painting Fool to transition to the next level in its artistic development. This will be the biggest project it’s ever been involved in, and as far as we know, we are breaking new ground with the first ever virtual artist in residence, as The Painting Fool will operate largely without my help for a year! A main aim of The Painting Fool project is for it to be taken seriously as an artist independent of any human involvement (especially mine), and this will be the first serious test of how close we are getting to success in this respect. But more than this, the project will lead to wonderful new artworks through which we hope there will be better public engagement and outreach highlighting the awe-inspiring work going on in CUBRIC, and the real benefits to medicine and society that their work is bringing.”

The painting fool has been built to exhibit behaviours that might be deemed as skilful, appreciative and imaginative and its work has been exhibited in many real and online galleries. One of its most recent shows “You Can’t Know my Mind” was set up like a photo booth where attendees could sit down and get their digital portrait in the mood The Painting Fool adopted after reading news articles. It created some surprising results. Some portraits were bleached out and grey when the software was “depressed”, others had bright swirls when the software was “happy.”

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