The 2014 ACM SIGGRAPH Lifetime Achievement Award in Digital Art is awarded to Harold Cohen for his pioneering achievements in creating art through artificial intelligence and machine autonomy. Best known for his creation of the art-making system AARON, Cohen began his career as a painter after graduating from the Slade School of Fine Art in London in 1951. Exhibited widely in galleries and museums, Cohen’s work represented Great Britain in the Venice Biennale, Documenta 3, the Paris Biennale, and many other important international shows.
In 1968, Cohen was invited to be a visiting lecturer at the University of California San Diego. Within two years, he became Professor and Chairman of the Visual Arts Department. During this time, his research interests turned to artificial intelligence, and in 1971 he was invited to be a visiting scholar at the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at Stanford University. What grew out of this period of his life was AARON, a program that simulates the cognitive processes underlying the artist’s approach to drawing. The initial version of AARON produced autonomous black-and-white drawings and later incorporated color, an important element of Cohen’s creative research. In particular, he is interested in the cognitive processes behind representation that allow our vision to infer patterns and objects through line and color. His imagery is abstract, fluid, dense, and highly suggestive of natural forms. While mathematical in nature, his computer images are stylistically linked to his early paintings depicting figurative and plant elements as their subject matter.
His creative practice continues to this day, and Cohen sees AARON as his creative partner, as evidenced by his recent exhibition Collaborations with My Other Self, at UC San Diego, 2011–2012. AARON has produced original autonomous drawings in museums and science centers in the US, Europe, and Asia, including the Tate Gallery and Victoria & Albert Museum in London, Documenta 6, Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, Los Angeles County Museum, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the IBM Gallery and the Brooklyn Museum in New York, among others. Science centers that have featured Cohen’s creative work with AARON include the Boston Science Museum, the Buhl Center in Pittsburgh, and the California Museum of Science and Technology. AARON is on permanent exhibit at the Computer Museum in Mountain View, California.