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Can computers be creative? Artificial Intelligence is taking over the Art industry, and leaving many

An up and coming artist is taking the world by storm, and the best part is, it’s a computer. That is correct, artificial intelligence is not just taking over people’s jobs, but they are now changing the scope of art forever.

For the first time, Christie’s Art Auction company will be auctioning a painting which was completely created by an algorithm. Yes, an algorithm! The piece, Edmond de Belamy, created by the machine Obvious, is set to be auctioned off in the Prints & Multiples this October. The painting depicts a visual of a fictional, working, man who is possibly French in an abstract way. It looks like an 18th century portrait however, it connects modern technology with those styles of the past.


“Every industry has a high demand for AI capabilities – especially question answering systems that can be used for legal assistance, patent searches, risk notification and medical research.” ~ SAS


Artificial intelligence, AI, is the process of teaching computers to perform human activities. Humans train the machines by feeding massive loads of data for it memorize and then replicate. Artificial intelligence has become such a faddish that it has formed a presence among several industries. From medicine to retail, and now art, AI is influencing our society in more ways than we could have ever imagined. People used to think that this development of technology would replace assembly line factory workers, but little did we know it would spread its reach all the way into the artistic realm.


Hugo Caselles-Dupré, Pierre Fautrel and Gauthier Vernier, the French collective behind this portrait, have been hard at work trying to combine artificial intelligence and art. This painting proves that there is a future for this genre of art. The three masterminds behind what they call Obvious, have used a process they call GAN to accomplish this extraordinary feat.

General Adversarial Network, GAN, is an algorithm the collective formed that has two main components. They are called the Generator and the Descriptor. As do all processes which involve artificial intelligence, the GAN software starts by overloading the machine with “data” or art in the case of this experiment.

For Obvious, the researchers fed up to 15,000 portraits from between the 14th century and the 20th century to the Generator. The Generator then digested and memorized the data, which allowed it to create its own original image from the knowledge it gained from these visuals. The goal of the Generator is to create a new image that tricks the Descriptor into thinking that the visual was made by a human, and if that is accomplished then the algorithm has succeeded.

“We mixed human-generated art and art from machines, and posed questions — direct ones, such as ‘Do you think this painting was produced by a machine or a human artist?’” ~ Ahmed Elgammal (Director of the Art and Artificial Intelligence Lab at Rutgers University)



Who is the real artist here? The machine itself is the signature we see in the bottom right corner of the portrait, yet is it possible for a machine to be creative? The French collective behind the Edmond de Belamy portrait says it is up to the viewers to decide. While they created the software that has produced this visual, the machine itself that took the data to create this completely original portrait.


This is crucial when thinking about the future of all of art. This portrait is not the only piece that has been created by artificial intelligence. Researchers in the Art and Artificial Intelligence Lab at Rutgers University have also been experimenting using different software to create artworks, and while we are just talking about visual art, who’s to say it won’t expand to other genres of art.

Right now, we see the products of AI and what it can create in the physical realm of art, but it could apply to even more. Think about the performing arts for a second: could artificial intelligence learn the role of lighting and sound engineers? What if the next time you went to a Broadway show the leading actress came out with her back to the crowd, started belting the first note of the opening song, spun around, and in front of you there was a robot, not a human performer. I know that is extreme, but who is to say that these sorts are not possible.


One of the main reasons that the arts are so popular is because of the experience that people take in from them. They trigger feelings and reflections, which is something that arts managers focus on when selling their pieces and performances. It is all about providing a consumer with an experience. It all comes down to the real question, can a computer fulfill this with its art?

Artists put feelings, passions, dreams, and so much more into all the pieces they create. Art can be appreciated not only for its physical state, but for the whole process by which an artist created it. When you watch a dancer drip in sweat, utilizing every muscle in their body, you don’t just appreciate their movement, but also the work ethic that has made them capable to dance. During a visit to a visual arts museum, you are mesmerized not just by the painting in front of you, but also by the vision that the artist had, and the incredible detail that they went through to make their piece of art. An algorithm, on the other hand, lacks the human spirit and more importantly emotions to connect with a viewer.

It is exciting to see what is to come this October and how the world will respond to the Obvious portrait. However, at the end of the day, I think it is safe to say that artificial intelligence cannot compete with humans. Machines can produce pieces, but they do not have the feelings to create a piece.

Maggie Nowakowski is a current student at Miami University.

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