19 October, 2018

Artwork Created by AI in Auction

A little while ago we wrote an article about this portrait of Edmond Belamy heading into an auction. Created by artificial intelligence, it marked a new era for art.  

Well, it sold. For £337,000! What an extraordinary amount for an artwork painted by AI.

A burning question remains. Can AI even be considered an art medium? If so, what does this mean for the art market? Can AI even be creative?

Before we get into that, how does it all work? 

How Does an Algorithm Paint?

A Paris-based collective called Obvious asked themselves that question and developed an algorithm using GAN.

So, GAN is comprised of two networks, a generative network and a discriminative network. They work together to complete conceptual tasks.

During the process of creating a painting:

  • The generative network creates the image.
  • The discriminator network will judge if it's art.

To enable the discriminator to be a judge, it needs to understand what it's looking for, so it processed a data-set of 15,000 portraits dated from the 14th-20th century.

The algorithm went back and forth until an output was perceived as art by the discriminator network which in this case was Edmond Belamy.

Edmond Belamy - The AI Portrait

First impressions? For an algorithm, this is quite remarkable and yes it looks half-done but still impressive.

Trying to piece together the portrait is the fun part but Edmond is wearing dark clothing with a white collar which may suggest he works for a church? As a scholar? Professor? Poet? Works close to a King or Queen?

If you look closely at the placing of the painting, you'll see that it's not central, it starts from the left-hand side. The facial features are hard to interpret and there are parts of the painting still untouched. 

How would you describe Edmond? Is this a conceptual work? The painting doesn't mean anything because the question of whether AI is an art medium is the subject.

Can AI be Creative?

The whole point of this study is to show that algorithms can be creative or at least resemble it. 

Portraits are hard to paint because of the detail required, so why didn't they draw a plant pot? Or a stick man? Well, portraits demand creativity because of the different facets of a human face which is the ultimate test for AI.

The portraits are no Mona Lisa so it's inevitable that a degree of distortion would be present. The distortion is the result of the discriminator looking at the features of those 15,000 images and not the whole thing. 

So, AI can be creative because it realised how art had changed over time and then taught itself to be forward thinking.

So when a painting via AI is created, who owns it?

Who Owns an AI Painting?

In the case of Edmond Belamy, the algorithm is used as the signature which means they are the author. However, if you open it up to debate then two answers are viable.

An artist who creates a painting is the author but this case is unique because even though a human wrote the algorithm, they did not create the portrait because the algorithm did.

That doesn't answer the question. 

If the author is the person who had the vision then they are the author. In this case, it would be the Paris-based collective because they designed the algorithm.

Final Words

The goal of the project was to show that an algorithm can be creative by creating a series of portraits of the Belamy family.

What this means for the art market is still unknowable because a whole family was painted. Could there be more on the horizon? Perhaps a better version has been created? There are more questions!

Will AI become an art medium? It will be difficult to convince the purists but a contemporary audience is a different matter. This collaboration between man and machine shows that art is heading in an interesting direction.

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Artwork Created by AI is Heading into an Auction
Artwork Created by AI is Heading into an Auction
Artwork Created by AI is Heading into an Auction
Artwork Created by AI is Heading into an Auction