Could a computer be the next Picasso?
Famous painter Pablo Picasso is quoted as once saying “Computers are useless. They can only give answers”, and for some time this may well have been considered true. Today, though, a collective made up of friends, artists, and researchers known as Obvious is challenging this idea with the creation of art by the way of Artificial Intelligence (AI).
The collective states on its website that it began producing art around a year ago when it discovered an algorithm named Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) which are “Machine Learning algorithms that generate images”. Put simply, it is a set of rules which allow computers to create images based on information fed to it.
And following the world’s first auction last week at Christie's auction house in New York, AI art has been thrust onto the world stage, with a landmark piece having sold for a record-breaking US$432,000 (£337,000), over 40 times the estimated value of US$7,000-US$10,000.
The piece of art named ‘Portrait of Edmond de Belamy’ is the end result of the system being fed with a data set of 15,000 portraits, painted between the 14th century to the 20th. The portrait itself is a smudge of black surrounded by blank canvas which depicts a stout man dressed in a black garment with a white collar and is uniquely signed at the bottom with the algorithm used to create it. The buyer was an anonymous phone bidder.
Co-founder of Obvious collective Hugo Caselles-Dupré observed: “This new technology allows us to experiment on the notion of creativity for a machine, and the parallel with the role of the artist in the creation process. The approach invites the observer to consider and evaluate the similarities and distinctions between the mechanics within the human brain, such as the creative process, and the ones of an algorithm.”
He added, "We wish to emphasise the parallel between the input parameters used for training an algorithm, and the expertise and influences that craft the style of an artist. Most of all, we want the viewer to focus on the creative process: an algorithm usually functions by replicating human behaviour, but it learns by using a path of its own."
The sale marks the first time that a piece of computer generated artwork has been sold at auction and the overwhelming success and interest from buyers indicates that AI artwork may well have an interesting future ahead of it beyond last week’s auction.
Was the buyer merely interested in being the first to own such a piece, or was the purchase a savvy investment decision, or perhaps the phone bidder held a deep level of admiration for the piece itself and wished to hang it in their home? Whichever one (or indeed a mixture), the price achieved garners respect for AI art.
Following the sale Obvious put out a statement describing it as “an exciting moment” and that “our hope is that the spotlight on this sale will bring forward the amazing work that our predecessors and colleagues have been producing.”