Art: Brought to You by Creative Machines


In this paper, I argue that machines can create works of art. My argument is based on an analysis of the so-called creative machines and focuses on technical functions and intentions. If my proposal is correct, then creative machines are technical artifacts with the proper function to bring about works of art. My account is based on sensible conceptual connections between makers, technical artifacts, intentions, and the creation of art. One upshot of the account presented here is that we do not need a new conceptual framework or dubious assumptions about artistic agency on part of machines in order to arrive at the conclusion that creative machines make art. I will conclude the paper with some remarks regarding the artistic value of items produced by creative machines.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. 1.

    There are also machines that do a credible job at producing texts. An example is Quill by the company Narrative Science. Quill is a natural language generation platform that creates narratives that are not distinguishable from a story crafted by a human. The software takes structured data, algorithmically analyzes them and filters the material based on what is important to the user. It then creates a short narrative based on the preferences of the user regarding style and tone. The output can have the form of a news story, business reports or a Tweet (Carter 2012; Simonite 2015). Please note that Tweets, news articles, and business reports are not established art forms. Apart from that, I do not think that Quill, in its current form, produces works of art. This will become clear after I have laid out my account of when machines produce works of art.

  2. 2.

    For more on the technical details, see Hoffmann and Weinberg (2011).

  3. 3.

    For examples of paintings created by The Painting Fool, see

  4. 4.

    To distinguish clearly between biological, cultural, and artifactual functions is not an easy task. Given that this is not the focus of this paper and also not necessary for my argument, I will refer the reader to Sperber (2007), who discusses biological artifacts, non-biological and cultural artifacts, and their relation to various functions.

  5. 5.

    Particular intrinsic features are not necessary for functional features. However, without any intrinsic physical features, functional features of the technical artifact could not be realized. For a critical account of Searle’s analysis of function, see Kroes (2012, 63–69).

  6. 6.

    This does not mean that we do not also value such features in technical artifacts. The difference between technical artifacts and works of art does not reside in physical and observable features. A piece of art and a piece of technical artifact can be identical in their physical features.

  7. 7.

    Stecker distinguishes two relevant types of intentions: “On the ‘intrinsic’ type, one intends a work for a complex of regards for features found in earlier artworks without having any specific artwork, genre, movement, or tradition in mind. One might intend it for regard for its form, expressiveness, verisimilitude, and so on. Alternatively, there is the ‘relational type of intention,’ in which one intends an object for regard as some particular artwork, genre, etc. is, or was correctly regarded” (Stecker 2003,150)

  8. 8.

    Here is a possible alternative to the intentional picture: According to Davies (2015), Paleolithic cave paintings are artworks, even though there is no art-defining relation to earlier art and its makers plausibly did not possess a concept of art to begin with. For Davies, there are multiple ways in which something qualifies as a work of art. Earliest works qualify when they show “[…] excellence of skill and achievement in realizing significant esthetic goals […]” (Davies 2015, 377). I am somewhat skeptical whether Paleolithic cave paintings really qualify as items that exhibit excellence of skill and achievement. Unfortunately, Davies does not give us a hint of why early cave paintings show excellence in skill and achievement in realizing important aesthetic goals. However, in a footnote, he says that excellence of skill and achievement is a matter of degree and that it is not always clear at which point of the continuum an item becomes a work of art. So even if I am inclined to agree with Davies that some cave paintings have aesthetic features and emotional power, I think it is debatable whether these paintings are skillful works. Thanks to an anonymous referee for pressing me on that issue.

  9. 9.

    I am thankful to an anonymous referee for asking me to clarify what I mean by ‘autonomy’.

  10. 10.

    There is of course always the possibility to take the outcome of a machine that is not of an art-making kind and declare this outcome to be art. So, for example, one might take the test printout of a printer or a piece of metal welded by a factory robot and display it with the intention that it be appreciated as art. Davies (2015) third condition of his disjunctive condition would be fulfilled: Although the machine have a proper function that has nothing to do with art, the displayed items can be considered works of art because the presenter (I assume here that the item has not been modified by some human) has the intention that it is appreciated as art and does what is appropriate and necessary to realize this intention.

  11. 11.

    I borrow this distinction from Peterson and Spahn (2010) who take issue with the idea that moral agency is distributed over both humans and technical artifacts. In the debate concerning the moral status of technical artifacts a strong and moderate view can be distinguished. According to the strong view, technical artifacts can be moral agents, while the moderate view denies this but acknowledges that technical artifacts are morally relevant and have an impact on our being-in-the world.

  12. 12.

    Yet, collective production does not entail collective authorship. A product might have multiple makers, but only one author. For example, Sellors argues that authorship can be the result of collective intentional action. However, that does not mean that all the members of a group of people that is causally involved in the production of a work are also part of the collective authorship: “A caterer counts as part of the production team of a film, but performing the role of a caterer will not count this person as a member the films authorial team. (…) Although it is certainly true that a caterer is involved in a cooperative activity, he or she is not involved in the cooperative activity of producing an utterance.” (Sellors 2007, 269)

  13. 13.

    A way to delineate the distinction between artistic and aesthetic value is to say that aesthetic value supervenes on aesthetic properties and that aesthetic properties are properties that are given through perception. The artistic value on the other hand, is not directly linked to perception. The role that an artwork played historically is an artistic value in this sense.


  1. Baker, L. R. (2004). The ontology of artifacts. Philosophical Explorations, 7(2), 99–111. doi:10.1080/13869790410001694462.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Barton, S. (2013). The human, the mechanical, and the spaces in between: explorations in human-robotic musical improvisation. Musical Metacreation: Papers from the 2013 AIIDE Workshop (WS-13-22), online:; Accessed: April 28, 2016.

  3. Bretan, M., & Weinberg, G. (2016). A survey of robotic musicianship. Communications of the ACM, 59(5), 100–109. doi:10.1145/2818994.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Carter, J. (2012). Could robots be the writers of the future?,; Accessed April 28, 2016.

  5. Colton, S. (2012). The Painting Fool. Stories from building an automated painter. In J. McCormack & M. D’Inverno (Eds.), Computers and creativity (pp. 3–39). Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Danto, A. C. (1981). The transfiguration of commonplace. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Davies, S. (2015). Defining art and artworlds. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 73(4), 375–384.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Devereux, D. (1977). Artifacts, natural objects, and works of art. Analysis, 37(3), 134. doi:10.2307/3327514.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Floridi, L., Fresco, N., & Primiero, G. (2015). On malfunctioning software. Synthese, 192(4), 1199–1220. doi:10.1007/s11229-014-0610-3.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Gatys L. A., Ecker, A., Bethge, M. (2015). A neural algorithm of artistic style, www.arXiv:1508.06576.

  11. Hanson, L. (2013). The reality of (non-aesthetic) artistic value. The Philosophical Quarterly, 63(252), 492–508. doi:10.1111/1467-9213.12026.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Hilpinen, R. (1992). On artifacts and works of art. Theoria, 58(1), 58–82. doi:10.1111/j.1755-2567.1992.tb01155.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Hoffmann, G., & Weinberg, G. (2011). Interactive improvisation with a robotic marimba player. Autonomous Robots, 31(2), 133–153.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Houkes, W. (2013). Rules, plans and the normativity of technological knowledge. In M. J. de Vries, S. O. Hansson, & A. W. M. Meijers (Eds.), Norms in technology (pp. 35–55). Dodrecht: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Houkes, W., & Vermaas, P. E. (2009). Produced to use : combining two key intuitions on the nature of artefacts. Techné, 13(2), 123–136.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Huddleston, A. (2012). In defense of artistic value. The Philosophical Quarterly, 62(249), 705–714. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9213.2012.00089.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Kroes, P. (2012). Technical artefacts: creations of mind and matter. Dordrecht; New York: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Levinson, J. (1996). The pleasures of aesthetics: philosophical essays. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Levinson, J. (2007). Artworks as artifacts. In E. Margolis & S. Laurence (Eds.), Creations of the mind (pp. 74–82). Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Lopes, D. M. (2011). The myth of (non-aesthetic) artistic value. The Philosophical Quarterly, 61(244), 518–536. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9213.2011.700.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Mitcham, C. (1994). Thinking through technology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Nanay, B. (2015). Cognitive penetration and the gallery of indiscernibles. Frontiers in Psychology, 5. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01527

  23. Peterson, M., & Spahn, A. (2011). Can technological artefacts be moral agents? Science and Engineering Ethics, 17(3), 411–424. doi:10.1007/s11948-010-9241-3.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Sauchelli, A. (forthcoming). Aesthetic value, artistic value, and morality. In D. Coady, K. Brownlee, & K. Lipper-Rasmussen (Eds.), Blackwell companion to applied philosophy. Malden, Oxford: Blackwell.

  25. Searle, J. R. (2000). Mind, language and society: philosophy in the real world. London: Phoenix.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Sellors, C. P. (2007). Collective authorship in film. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 65(3), 263–271. doi:10.1111/j.1540-594X.2007.00257.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Simonite, T. (2015). Robot journalist finds new work on Wall Street. Technology review;; Accessed April 28, 2016.

  28. Sperber, D. (2007). Seedless grapes: nature and culture. In E. Margolis & S. Laurence (Eds.), Creations of the mind (pp. 124–138). Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Stecker, R. (2003). Definition of art. In J. Levinson (Ed.), Oxford handbook of aesthetics (pp. 136–155). New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Sullins, J. P. (2006). When is a robot a moral agent? International Review of Information Ethics, 6(12), 23–30.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Thomasson, A. (2007). Artifacts and human concepts. In E. Margolis & S. Laurence (Eds.), Creations of the mind (pp. 52–74). Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.

  32. US Department of Defense (2013). Unmanned systems integrated roadmap FY 2013–2038; Online:; Accessed: April 27, 2016.

  33. Verbeek, P.-P. (2008). Obstetric ultrasound and the technological mediation of morality: a postphenomenological analysis. Human Studies, 31(1), 11–26.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Steffen Steinert.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Steinert, S. Art: Brought to You by Creative Machines. Philos. Technol. 30, 267–284 (2017).

Download citation


  • Creative machines
  • Technical function
  • Proper function
  • Intentions
  • Artworks
  • Artistic value