Vladimir Suvorov

Vladimir Suvorov: ‘Artificial Intelligence Will Have its Place in Art.’


YEREVAN — I met Vladimir Suvorov, the founder of Van Der Bot, at the Armenia Art Fair of Contemporary Art, held in the end of May. What he presented was beyond imagination — a contemporary robot artist named Van Der Bot, who creates art. Thinking with artificial intelligence, painting with robohand and interacting as a human, it combines modern technologies with classical artistic tools, making physical works reflecting a current age.

Suvorov is an engineer by profession, a businessman and technology expert, who has patents under his name and articles. He worked for US EMC company (now Dell-EMC) and was a lead researcher in AI lab in Russia. Vladimir, from St. Petersburg, has Armenian roots, who has long wanted to visit Yerevan and now lives with his family here.

Vladimir, it was interesting to see Van Der Bot, and observe how its arm uses oil paints and brushes to turn any photo into a piece of art. But the question is: why?

Actually this is a very common question. There are many people who think of themselves as artists. We even found data that says 38 percent of people think they are artists, but only 1.5 percent of them can paint. So with our robot we want to fill that gap. To be an artist or to start painting you don’t need anything, but to show this to your friends and colleagues and get their admiration, you definitely need some skills. Our typical costumer is a businessman, a self-established person. He has a job, a family, everything in his life, but he thinks he wants to create something and to leave a mark in history. But he cannot paint. Of course, he can go to some art classes and study, but that takes lots of time. So he sees in our robot a way to express himself to go into the business with art, gather his friends around that work, use the robot for the education of children. This is something people want to bring into culture. Someone said: you are selling a dream. You are buying a Tesla not because you want the car to go, but to buy something really great. This is the same. Some people say that this cannot be considered art. In that case I remind them about photography. You click the button, and the device gives you a result, which can (or cannot) be a piece of art. We give a picture to our robot, that he turns into a painting. Another field is the music. We hear the music with electronic synthesizer, electronic guitar, and you hear the music from the acoustics, not just from the instrument. This is the technology that comes into the transmission. Can you say that this is not the music that human produced? We do not substitute the human, we give the instrument to the human to express himself, like the art is more about the concept, what you want to express, but not about the skill. You may have a great dream, but not skills to transfer it. So we are just giving an instrument to express his idea. And third example I can bring-the human should distinguish any object or text made by robot versus something done by a human. Here we tested even the painting. We brought professional artists and asked them to draw a triangle. And then the robot drew the same. Many people failed to guess what was painted by a human and what by the robot. Of course the triangle is a simple object, but we can take our painting to other artists and ask if they can draw like this or ask who did that. So it is the context you bring.


Many famous artists have assistants. Do you think your robot can act as painter’s assistant?

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Definitely yes. Also we have had a couple of cases of collaboration, when we take a painting of a fashionable painter and re-drew it and also this painting, by the way, was sold even higher than the original one. We see that the robot can paint the contours and the artist can paint the details. So we see this cooperation as one option and also from this Art Fair we saw that many artists would like to collaborate with a robot. Also all our professional painters on our team would like to use the robot to express their ideas. So the Robot can assist the painters, as today the computer can assist a composer in creation of music. But since the Robot is quite expensive, so far we have not sold it to the artists. Our typical customer is a guy who buys a Tesla, but who also has a desire to paint.


What are the art critics’ opinion on Van Der Bot’s works?

We have about 30 articles about our art, mostly from journalists, and most of them are positive. When I came to project, my first idea was people will disapprove Robot’s paintings from the art perspective, that the technique is bad and this is corrupt. But most people found it great, the artists found it cool. Some say: is he going to substitute us, yet the others say: this is the future. No professional painter said that this has no soul or something like this, just ordinary people said that Robot’s painting cannot be art. It is pretty nice to have this discussion, there are different opinions and we are OK with them. The art is always a discussion!


He created many celebrities’ portraits. What has been the response?

Topics: AI, Robots

Yes, we have portraits of Angelina Jolie, Elon Musk, etc. We texted them in Instagram, but we have not dared to reach out to them and suggest they buy their portraits. We actually started painting people since November last year, now we are working on portraits of some billionaires.


What is the next stop? Might it happen Van Der Bot will start paint without any photo?

Technically it is super easy, as they can do it in one day. One option is to attach a camera to the field and command the robot to paint. Another way is to have some generated images, which is also easy. This is already in the art space, there are lots of generative images, one of our customers is doing this exactly and trying to paint them with our robot. For the Van Der Bot perspective I would say we would rather go into the collections of our painters and collections of other people. It will be super great if, for example, Elon Musk or somebody else will gives his collection using our robot. That will be the next step to show that everybody can paint, everyone can be an artist. This is something that is like the motto of our company.


Do you think art in the future belongs to artificial intelligence?

I would say it will definitely find its place. There always will be artists, all-human works, as there was for centuries, but the artificial intellect will also have its own place in the art field.


Please tell us how your company found itself in Armenia.

I was always fond of Armenia, because I have relatives of Armenian blood, whose ancestors escaped from Turkey, moved to Abkhazia and then went to Russia. I always wanted to visit Yerevan. Now I have been here since March and I am very happy. Most of our staff is here, they are mainly from Saint Petersburg, some are in the US and Russia.


And what do you tell about your life in Armenia?

I enjoy it a lot! Actually I have not seen a huge difference, except that I live in a much nicer place, in a house. Every day I go play football with my children in a nice field, you can see roses everywhere, I hope soon to go and pick up some mulberries and apricots! And I hope to find a good school for my kids here.


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