People tend to think of Twitter as a frightening place filled with bad news and aggressive posturing. What if it could also be a a destination for art history? That was the idea Andrei Taraschuk had in mind when he created what he called “art bots,” or accounts intended to drop beautiful works from years past into users’ timelines.
Taraschuk, who describes himself as “a software engineer by day and an art-bot developer by night,” grew up in Russia surrounded by a family of artists. He went on to study at an art school in his home country, but pivoted away from art when he immigrated to the United States and began to work toward a degree in software development and web design. “But I felt like something was missing,” he said.
He found a way to combine his interests by looking to social media. “I thought it would be interesting if I could follow dead artists on Twitter and see their art in my timeline,” Taraschuk said. Back in 2014, he noticed that there were a few people sharing works by Wassily Kandinsky, his favorite artist, but he was frustrated that they all seemed to share a handful of his most famous works. Taraschuk wanted to see lesser-known pieces, sketches, and studies. He considered following the kind of people with art expertise who might normally post these sorts of works, but he didn’t want to have see their political opinions and commentary as well. And so, with his friend Cody Braun, a fellow software developer, he began crafting “art bots,” a list of which can be found on Taraschuk’s Twitter profile.
Braun and Taraschuk’s bots are made by creating an algorithm and a social media account. In order to consistently share new work, the bots are taught to retweet art that is similar to the output of a specific artist. For example, a David Hockney account might retweet another posts from another bot devoted to another Pop artist, like Andy Warhol. Since both artists were members of the Pop art movement during the ’60s, the bot aims to gain accuracy.
The first bots Taraschuk made shared works by two of his favorite artists, Egon Schiele and Wassily Kandinsky. Tens of thousands users now follow these accounts. Since starting the Schiele and Kandinsky bots, Taraschuk and Braun have made 560 accounts that share the works of individual artists, from the very popular (Vincent van Gogh) to the lesser known (Anna Petrovna Ostroumova-Lebedeva, a Soviet artist active in the 1900s known for her woodcuts). Most of the images are sourced from public domain collections.
He’s also made bots that are not artist-specific. Some share works from museum collections, like one devoted to the decorative arts holdings of the Brooklyn Museum. These are the sorts of objects that may not get a lot of attention, even when they are on view in the museum. On the bot’s account, however, they can be seen by a larger audience than they would otherwise normally get. Through Twitter, these objects can find a serendipitous new audience.
Part of the fun of these bots is discovering art you’ve never encountered before. Who knew that the Harvard Art Museums had such an interesting calligraphy collection, or that the Met’s Islamic Art department held such intriguing treasures as a manuscript page featuring a lizard-like creature with its tongue sticking out?
Taraschuk’s hope is that his offerings will only grow more fascinating in the future. Referring to AI models designed by Braun, Taraschuk said, “At first the accounts simply shared artworks, but over time, their behavior became more and more complex.” The hope, he added, is that the bots continuing learning—and helping to educate others in the process.