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TEACHING GUIDES


The Art of Science: Aaron the Artist


For the first time in human history, a robot is painting original art. Abstract painter Harold Cohen began programming his robot Aaron more than 20 years ago. Today, Aaron turns out original paintings, mixes paints, colors portraits, even cleans its own paint pots! Frontiers takes you to watch the robot at work in its studio. As for theoretical questions, like "Is it art?" and "Whose painting is it, Harold's or Aaron's?", you'll have to judge for yourself.

Curriculum Links
Related Frontiers Shows and Activities
Introduction: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Robot
Activity: Making a Painting Pendulum
Mini Activities: Brainstorming About Art and Computers



CURRICULUM LINKS


ART


COMPUTER
SCIENCE


artificial intelligence, expert systems

PSYCHOLOGY


creativity

TECHNOLOGY


programming, robotics




RELATED FRONTIERS SHOWS AND ACTIVITIES

Robots Alive (Show 705): Mazes and Squiggles Robots Alive (Show 705): Almost Human



INTRODUCTION: PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A ROBOT

Aaron, the first robot in history that creates original paintings, is the result of 23 years of research by Harold Cohen. Aaron evolved from a few rules about generating simple shapes to a program capable of composing complex figures. The program draws autonomously, relying on its own knowledge, using a branching structure of rules and feedback paths that tell it how to proceed. Since 1974, Aaron's systems and artworks have been exhibited worldwide. Aaron's paintings have even been auctioned on the Internet. You can see photos of Aaron at work, plus some of its paintings, at www.scinetphotos.com/aaron.html.



ACTIVITY: MAKE A PANTING PENDULUM

Pendulums are often used to make sand art designs. Your challenge is to construct a pendulum that will sprinkle sand in a design. Here is one idea that worked. Can you modify this design or think of another way to build a pendulum?

OBJECTIVE

Think critically about and design an autonomous tool that sprinkles sand.

MATERIALS
  • 2 meter sticks
  • empty gallon jug
  • scissors
  • string or twine
  • 2 chairs
  • play sand (use colored sand if you wish)
  • large piece of construction or other paper
  • sheet of plastic to catch any excess sand
PROCEDURE
  1. Set up the meter sticks between two chairs as shown. (Or figure out another way to set up the basic pendulum.)

  2. Fill the jug with sand. Keep the cap on until you are ready to start the pendulum.

  3. Attach the jug to the meter sticks.

  4. Place the paper underneath the pendulum.

  5. Take the cap off the jug of sand and push the pendulum. What design is made by the sand?




MINI ACTIVITES: BRAINSTORMING ABOUT ART AND COMPUTERS
  • When Harold Cohen was first programming Aaron, he took his clues from the way young children learn to paint. See if you can find examples of the sequences in kids' art, as described on Frontiers.

  • Cohen's robot raises complex issues about the nature of art. Do you think the works created by Aaron the painting robot are art? Who is creating the art, Cohen or Aaron? What constitutes "art"?

  • Work with a team to figure out and list all the information Aaron would need to know, if you wanted to program the robot to paint landscapes instead of portraits.

  • Aaron is a "highly evolved expert system." Find other examples of expert systems, such as those used in medicine and manufacturing, for example.





 

Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
Sponsored by GTE Corporation,
now a part of Verizon Communications Inc.