portrait of edmond belamy
Pierre Fautrel, 25, one of three in a French collective named OBVIOUS that produces art using artificial intelligence stands next to a work of art created by an algorithm titled ” Portrait of Edmond de Belamy” (estimate: $7,000-10,000) at Christie’s New York October 22, 2018 which will be included in the Prints & Multiples auction in New York October 23-25.

Technology has changed things in our lives immensely over the last couple of years.  In some cases, it’s safe to say that technology has made aspects of our lives worse, but that’s not always the case. A painting that was created by artificial intelligence sold for $432,000 at an auction in New York City.  The piece, known as “Portrait of Edmond Belamy”, is the first artwork that is made entirely by artificial intelligence that has gone on sale at a major art auction.  It was expected to only bring in about $10,000, so to say that the $432,000 that it went for is shocking, is a bit of an understatement.  Is it just me, or is anyone else stuck on the fact that this painting was created using artificial intelligence?

I do have to admit that my thinking can be linear in ways.  I tend to compartmentalize things and not have the ability to think outside of the box.  This isn’t always the case, but if you know me then you know that my “creative” side lacks a bit.  Which is why, when I think of art, I tend to think of traditional methods – and artificial intelligence doesn’t fall into that “traditional” category.  That’s not to say that this isn’t brilliant.  Because I honestly think it is.  But wrapping my brain around it is another matter.

The painting was the work of a type of algorithm known as Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs).  This was developed by a Paris-based art collective known as Obvious.  The group fed the algorithm a data set of about 15,000 portraits painted between the 14th and 20th centuries.  A Generator portion of the algorithm used its understanding of those many pieces of art in order to start creating its own images.  This is where it becomes blurry for me.  As I said, I like to compartmentalize.  So at what point is it no longer art, but a technological discovery or advancement?

In my opinion, artists are brilliant.  But so are those who have the ability to come up with new ways to use technology – or develop the technology itself.  So in that respect, I can see these two areas merging.  But is art not creating something of your own?  Again, maybe that’s just the way that I think about art and not its actual definition.  Maybe there is no definition of art because that would be counterintuitive.

Another part of this system, the Discriminator, was tasked with determining the difference between the human-made art and the art being produced by the Generator. This process continued until the Discriminator could no longer tell the works apart, at which point the art collective decided the work was good enough to sell.  And maybe this is how we differentiate art from technology?

I really like this idea because it pushes boundaries.  Not just my own (but admittedly, that’s happening), but in general we are starting to blur the lines around traditional thinking, and that is a way to make society smarter and stronger in many ways.  This particular portrait was one of 11 in a series of non-existent people.  As of right now, Obvious Art is selling the other portraits for 10,000 euros on their website, but given how much the Edmond Belamy sold for, they may want to rethink that price.