At Hyperallergic, An Xio asks whether Google Autocomplete poetry is beautiful:
I wrote recently about micropoetry on Twitter, and how social media enable new forms of expression in the tradition of short form verse (especially Japanese verse). And @horse_ebooks, that spambot-turned-performance-art-project, has inspired not a little bit of poetry during its long existence.
These are all great examples of social media poetry, but what about poetry composed socially and accidentally? Google’s search suggestions have often been used to illustrate the collective biases of a given culture, collective algorithmically based on the most common searches.
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But what about poetry? Could our collective searches generate beauty too? I, and presumably 60,000+ others, have been intrigued by Google Poetics, a Twitter account consisting of found poetry from Google search terms. It’s been going for over a year now, and each collection surprises with its simplicity.
Xio’s question made me think, first, that while accidents can be (and often are) used in art, there is no such thing as purely “accidental” art. Even John Cage’s coin toss compositions are directed by the initial design (the decision to toss a coin) of the artist. And if too much is left to chance in art, it runs a greater risk of being incredibly boring.
Second, and related to this, while a number of art movements developed theories of artistic creation that made a lot of hay of technique—such as automatic writing in surrealism, for example—it is not so much the technique itself that is responsible for the beauty or value of a piece (though it plays a role) but the mind of the artist and how he or she uses a particular technique.
So it is here, I think, with these Google Autocomplete poems. Are they beautiful? Well, some of them are surprising and touching. But while the algorithm is responsible for the surprising juxtaposition of words and phrases that express the sometime painful absurdity of life, the words and phrases are created and selected by real people. Replace these words with numbers or with less interesting words and the beauty disappears.