What is an artist? Kris Verburgh on Axel King – Publicist, Doctor and Science Journalist

What is an artist? Simply said: someone who makes art. But even this simple definition is undermined by the project Axel King by Belgian Leroy Brothers.

Axel King is some kind of evolutionary algorithm that produces art. On a web platform users can upload pictures and messages. The best works are selected and mashed-up into new graphical artworks, or better said, a concept of an artwork. This project is named Axel King, and he guarantees many paradoxes.

A first paradox is the Creator vs. Inspirator one. Before Axel King the definition of an artist was simply someone who makes art. A painting or a sculpture were created by the hand of an artist, a creator. In the case of Axel King the art is a collective creation. A merging of creative ideas from different souls. So Axel King is not the inspirator of his art, as it is the users who are submitting content. Strangely enough, it is still him who is the creator of the art produced, as without him the artworks would not be produced at all.

Then there is the Craft vs. Creativity paradox. Before it was not sufficient for an artist to only have a good idea: he had also to execute his idea into the real. The artist had to be skilled enough to translate the images and concepts floating in his head by painting them onto a canvas or to carve them from a marble rock. But with Axel King, this is now past, as the received content is mashed up into new artworks through computerization and then produced, not by Leroy Brothers, but by selected workshops.

Furthermore, Axel King creates another strange paradox of Reality vs. Virtuality. Where are the artworks produced? In the virtual reality or in the tangible reality? The works are sent in, selected and mashed up via computer, then they enter our reality through the workshops who produce the final artworks.

Finally Axel King creates another paradox: Copyright vs. Authenticity. Who finally holds the rights on the artworks? An artwork that is a merging is from different pictures and messages created by different people, which are then selected by a digital community to be produced by workshops…

According to the known definition of ‘artist’, Axel King is no artist. He makes art nonetheless. Axel King is an attack on the old meaning of artist. Now, in the begin of the 21st century, the idea of artist has to be rethought. This is how Leroy Brothers create not only art, but also new perspectives.