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Shaping the Spectrum: Optics & Tech Redefining Art & Design

1st Jul 2024

Creatives and technology have been in dispute for a considerable period, with artists, craftspeople, and other artisans criticising computerisation and electronics for stripping jobs and eradicating imagination from the globe. But, as systems have progressed, some forward-thinking individuals are putting aside their differences and adopting innovations like AI and automation. Here, we explore how optics-integrated tools are assisting in the art and craftsmanship field.

a humanoid robot painting a picture


In areas like photography, optical components have perpetually stood at the forefront, empowering photographers to seize the true beauty and enchantment of the environment surrounding us with their ability to greatly improve aesthetic elements and ensure these visual storytellers capture the ideal shot. However, today, they’re entering the industry in entirely new and different ways.

At February’s Surface Design Show – an event for architects and interior designers – conversations centred around the amalgamation of emerging Digital solutions, such as the metaverse, gaming, and artificial intelligence (AI), with the design realm. What’s more, discussions also revealed that substrates related to optics are serving as sources of creative influences, with Dichroic Glass/Filters providing chromatic inspiration, and the metaverse delivering a rich source of trending foresight. 

a set of Knight Optical's dichroic filters in a foam box

Robots: Dynamic Artistry

A striking illustration of cutting-edge tech in the arts sector is Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s ‘Can’t Help Myself’ exhibit, commissioned for the Guggenheim Museum. Enclosed by transparent acrylic walls and situated in the middle of a pool of thick, dark-red fluid, the Kuka industrial bot uses visual-recognition sensors to detect when the liquid has spread too far, prompting the robotic arm to shovel it back into place by applying one of 32 pre-programmed movements.

a four-legged yellow robot

Robots as Partners Collaborations

Boston Dynamics’ Spot, well-known in markets ranging from construction to policing and who we’ve talked about many times previously, has ventured into the visual arts domain. For Polish-American Fine Artist Agnieszka Pilat, Spot is the perfect studio assistant for her as she merges ingenuity and engineering by collaborating with the robot dog to produce art. In a recent interview with the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), Australia, Agnieszka discusses a piece she has produced with three of the mechanical canines, likening her interaction with them to working alongside young children, similar to her approach with AI. Further explaining the reasoning behind her art, she mentions that growing up in Poland, tech provided hope, hence its employment as a medium [1]

Elsewhere, US-based Jeff Koons is another creator recognised for the incorporation of robotics in his artwork processes. In 2019, ‘Rabbit’, a 41-inch, stainless-steel cast of an inflatable created in 1986, set a record as the world’s most expensive work by a living artist, selling at Christie’s for $91.1m. Koons employs robotic 3D-carving techniques in his creations, such as Scultorob, a 7-axis system for milling and turning operations on models and prototypes made of resin, wood, and light materials [2].

Additional crafters are leveraging bots, too. One application example is within Carrara marble-carving projects, where they’re completing duties in a matter of days that would typically require months. Robotor, for instance, combines stone-working and tech to sculpt statues at a commercial grade, scale and speed, resulting in highly accurate art pieces [3].

Replicas of Real-Life Artists

a mechanical statue avant-garde Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama in front of a buildingWhen considering the integration of tech into the fields of art and design, one notable alliance springs to mind: The partnership between high-end fashion name Louis Vuitton (LV) and avant-garde Japanese Artist Yayoi Kusama, renowned for her iconic ‘dot’ art and often hailed as ‘the princess of polka dots’. 

As part of the esteemed association, which took place last year, LV unveiled an enchanting fusion of artistry and innovation. Lifelike engineered clones of Kusama were strategically placed in storefronts in Paris, London, New York, and Tokyo locations. The mechanical avatars, seemingly infused with the essence of Kusama herself, appeared to meticulously paint dots on the window, captivating passersby with an engaging and mesmerising performance.

The collaboration, which formed part of a collection of ‘dot’-painted luxury accessories and products, served as a testament to the ever-evolving relationship between tech and artistic expression. By seamlessly blending pioneering robotics with Kusama’s signature aesthetic, LV not only honoured the artist’s legacy but also redefined the boundaries of traditional art displays.

See the window display here

Robotic Art Critics

Further challenging the limits of invention, is Berenson, a robotic art critic, featured at an exhibition at Paris’ Musée du Quai Branly in 2016. Adorned with a top-hat, scarf, and blazer, the distinguished bot employed AI to document visitors’ review of art and cultivate its own preferences. Utilising a camera in its eye, Berenson captured reactions, which were subsequently shared with a computer to fine-tune its responses built on the feedback received [4].

Art-ificial Arrangements 

Eight years on from Berenson’s presence at Paris’ Musée du Quai Branly, and AI is making its mark in the art sphere via alternative diverse avenues. An example comes from Montreal firm Iregular’s interactive installation ‘Faces’, which harnesses AI to monitor the facial features of participants positioned before a screen. It then harmonises and aligns these traits to craft a continuously evolving 3D portrayal of a singular digital entity.

AI: Transforming the Museum Experience

a humanoid robot with a tablet screenLooking past the exhibits and artworks, AI is reshaping the way art enthusiasts interact with museums and displays, too. Premises throughout the globe are taking on the technology to gain insights into guest behaviour, enhance experiences, and gather data to drive footfall and shape future endeavours. Pepper, the humanoid robot, exemplifies the trend, deployed across various venues to facilitate tasks such as overcoming language barriers, offering warm greetings to guests, and guiding viewers through the facility and its exhibitions.

In spaces accommodating AI, there’s usually capacity for augmented reality (AR) too, and the museum landscape is embracing this movement. Cultural institutions like The British Museum are offering AR-guided ‘tablet tours’ tailored for UK schoolchildren, enabling students to identify objects, discover concealed information, and engage in activities that unveil the ancestral context of objects. By optimising interactivity, these initiatives foster greater interest in historical artefacts and the subject of history itself.

Optical Components Influencing The Artistic and Design Arena

As the lines among AI, bots, and art continue to blur, there’s an increasing position for optical components in the art and design world that reach beyond photography and into the disciplines of sculpting, fine and digital art and even enhancing visitor enjoyment in the very galleries that house these masterpieces.

With an abundance of robots, cameras, sensors, and other optical technologies at our disposal, artists and designers are exploring new realms of creativity. From using robots to create high-precision artwork to incorporating advanced camera systems for interactive installations, the possibilities are limitless.