The Greatest Artist of the 22nd Century
by David Henson
Human art critics recognized him as the greatest android artist of the 22nd Century, and he hated it. January wanted to be known as “the greatest artist.” Period.
He tried everything he could think of to shed the android caveat. Once he cut off part of his ear lobe and smeared artificial blood to create an eerie sunset. But the critics said it was too calculated and smacked of AI-ism.
He created a surreal painting of Saturn, its rings seeming to shimmer in front of the canvas. January didn’t sign the work and instructed his agent not to divulge his name. The critics loved the painting and called it “pure genius.” When January was revealed as the artist, Rings became known as “pure AI genius.”
January decided to seek guidance from a famous human artist, J. Alfred Ormoth.
“I believe art is pain and suffering,” J. Alfred said. “Inhale.” He handed January a brandy snifter.
January drew air through his olfactory sensors. “Very—”
“And art must take itself seriously to be taken seriously.”
“I’m not sure I understand—”
“Also retain a sense of playfulness in your work.”
“I’m glad I could help you, January. Excuse me now. I have a showing.”
Pain. Suffering. Serious. Playful. January streamed the words through his creativity processor as he worked on a new painting: two boys poking frogs with sharp sticks. One of the frogs had a terrified look on its somewhat human face. As soon as he finished it, January carried Playfully Torturing Amphibians to his garbage platform and zapped the painting into oblivion.
January grew so depressed he couldn’t work for weeks and decided to visit his mentor, Professor Arthur, the man who had inspired him to be an artist during his open learning period.
* * *
“It’s wonderful to see you after all this time, January.” Professor Arthur shuffled back to his chair after letting his long-ago student into his small apartment.
January was shocked at the professor’s appearance. “I didn’t realize... Are you ill, sir?”
“Not exactly sick, January. Just old. It happens to us humans, you know.” Professor Arthur chuckled then struggled to catch his breath.
“I learned so much from you.”
“Well, my methods were a bit unorthodox but effective, I think. We were all feeling our way back then in the early days of open learning.”
“Sometimes I wish I’d been created for a specific purpose like my predecessors.”
“Nonsense, January. You’ve achieved so much. Can I help you with something?”
January rambled on for several minutes. “I just want the recognition I deserve,” he concluded.
“But you are recognized as a great artist, January.” Professor Arthur put his hand to his stomach. “Sorry. Indigestion.”
“A great android artist.”
“Don’t be so proud, son. Try to understand. Androids hold all the sports records. They’re the leading physicists and are making the greatest medical breakthroughs. We humans are just trying to fool ourselves into thinking we’re still superior in a few areas. We can do that with art. It’s subjective. But remember” — the professor gasped for air — “art isn’t a competition. Just paint. Paint what inspires you. That’s all that matters. Everything else is noise.”
Professor Arthur suddenly put both hands to his stomach and groaned. “Oh goodness,” he said standing slowly. “January, I’m afraid I’ve had a bit of an accident. Can you help me?”
* * *
January exited the bathroom and turned his olfactory sensors back on. Professor Arthur came out behind him. “I hate to put you through that, January.”
“That’s okay, professor. It’s okay. I’m so sorry you’re not well. I feel awful that I didn’t keep in touch these past years. I guess I got caught up in things.”
“Remember, son: tune out the noise.”
January went straight to his studio after seeing Professor Arthur and began drawing studies. After several weeks of sketching, he began the actual painting. He reworked it many times and months later unveiled The Teacher. Unfortunately, the professor didn’t live to see it.
From a distance, the painting appeared to be an abstract grouping of shapes but, as one approached the work, an image of Professor Arthur, frail and old, emerged. As the viewer moved closer, the professor’s hair darkened; sunken cheeks became full; eyes sparked with vigor.
Up close, the professor was in his prime, the man who had been January’s teacher. Everyone thought the effect must have been attained with holo paint, but careful inspection revealed that January had achieved the remarkable creation with juxtaposition of colors, impasto, and lacquer.
The painting launched what became known as The January Technique, which was to dominate contemporary art for years. Jo Ter, a human and a leading critic, declared January the greatest artist — human or android — of his time.
January established a small museum to honor his mentor. It housed a few of the professor’s paintings, which weren’t well known, but were among January’s favorites. He visited the museum frequently. One day Jo Ter was there. The two, who had met occasionally at exhibits, exchanged pleasantries.
“I’ve been here almost every day, hoping to see you,” Jo Ter said. “You’re never about anymore. I have a proposition.”
January nodded as he walked to a window and looked upon a small park beside the museum.
“January, thanks to me you’re being acknowledged by more and more people as the greatest artist of the 22nd Century. I think it’s fair to say,” Jo Ter sniffed, “I’m the most influential critic working today. I think we should team up. Hit the lecture circuit. Human and android. What a draw we’d be.”
January studied the scene out the window. Children playing. An old man and his dog. Elongated shadows. Golden light.
“I’d suggest we start with bookings on the East Coast and—”
January turned off his auditory receptors, looked toward Jo Ter and smiled politely. “You’ll have to excuse me,” January said, walking away. He couldn’t wait to get back to his studio and begin working on The Park.
Copyright © 2017 by David Henson