Which Famous Paintings Are The Most ‘Creative’? This Formula Might Have The Answer

ahmed elgammal

Salvador Dalí’s unique paintings might be explained by his eccentric personality; Wassily Kandinsky’s eye for color might be explained by synesthesia. We tell these stories about artists because the idea of the creative genius is appealing, but might creativity be a more formulaic process than we’ve imagined?

Ahmed Elgammal, associate professor of computer science at Rutgers, co-built an algorithm to quantify creativity, ranking art history’s paintings based on their originality and impact. The findings weren’t entirely surprising; Mondrian, Malevich and others whose works are mostly composed of geometric shapes ranked higher than Pissarro, Cézanne, and even Picasso, whose works often build upon or subvert more traditional figures and subjects. George O’Keefe’s flowers — more abstract representations of the objects than have been popularly depicted before — ranked higher than Degas’ Parisian city-dwellers.

According to the formula, the artists who’ve spawned the most creative paintings of all time include Edvard Munch (of “The Scream” fame), Chuck Close, and M.C. Escher.

But, the algorithm isn’t perfect — in order to successfully judge creativity, its creators first had to choose a definition for the word and run with it. Rather than focusing on say, psychological creativity, or the creativity of individuals, they stuck with determining whether specific works were historically significant. The factors considered were whether a piece was “original” and “influential.” So, just because “The Scream” is judged more historically impactful than “Starry Night” doesn’t mean Van Gogh was a less creative thinker than Munch.

The goal of the study, according to Elgammal, was to build a machine that could judge the significance of an artwork the way a learned human might. He told The Huffington Post in an email, “the ultimate goal of the AI research is to make machines that have perceptual, cognitive, and —> Read More