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Christie’s sells its first AI portrait for $432k (theverge.com)
187 points by monkeydust 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 139 comments

The main article on this is https://www.theverge.com/2018/10/23/18013190/ai-art-portrait..., which predates the auction.

We changed the above url from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-45980863 to one that has a bit more info.

Twitter thread from the author of the original algorithm: https://twitter.com/DrBeef_/status/1055285640420483073 (worth reading the whole thread, the art collective reply)

GitHub link: https://github.com/robbiebarrat/art-dcgan The README was last edited 6 months ago and contains the bolded text: "When using any outputs of the models, credit me. Don't sell the outputs of the pre-trained models, modified or not. If you have any questions email me before doing anything."

Oh gosh, he even links an issue where one of the guys who sold the painting (Hugo Caselles-Dupre, hence the username Caselles) literally asks for help setting up.

So Hugo asks for help with setup because he can't get it to work, and Robbie (original author) replies "working on a rewrite of the codebase, should be soon" while Hugo keeps pushing for updates. Turns out it's trickier than expected so Robbie says "sorry, might take longer". Hugo's response?

> "Ok, really disappointed. Could you at least provide the code for the 128x128 Gan in Keras ?"

He's literally sitting there for months pushing for poor Robbie to do the free work for him so that he can try to profit from it.

Maybe they really did make a lot of changes to the model. But from the conversation in that issue thread and the striking similarities between the painting and the other ones that Robbie had made over a year ago, it doesn't feel likely to me that that's the case.

Hopefully some justice will come out of this situation.

As an aside, according to his bio Robbie's only 19 (and already doing this level of research!). Sad to see younger researchers being taken advantage of like this.


It's hard to see where anyone is being 'taken advantage' of here. If you put your code on github with an open license, you are letting people to have their way with it. This is like if Tim Berners Lee were mad that Google 'stole' his internet and made a lot of money off it.

Also the DCGAN architecture is from Chintala et al, and that itself is based on work by Goodfellow et al. Where does this end? Does Robbie Barrat 'own' the DCGAN NN architecture now?

I think the "taken advantage of" thing is more about the crappy way they behaved on the Github issues ("really disappointing") etc than the idea of using his code.

Of the whole thing, this is what struck me as distasteful. Manipulative and degrading.

The French kids owe the Stanford kid like half to all of it.

The French "kids" are 25y afaik.

Average peoples sense of entitlement when it comes to exploiting others freely given work probably comes as no surprise to anyone who has ever put anything open source up on Github or anywhere else.

> If you put your code on github with an open license, you are letting people to have their way with it.

And enough people don't understand this for it to be a problem.

Edit: Removed bad phrasing.

> In fact, making your code free for everyone to use probably is hurting the web,

It's the main reason there is a widely used public web rather than it, if it succeeded at all, being another academic niche tool alongside gopher.

Well, assuming that's true, it has little-to-no impact on how things should be going forward. The web is very clearly here to stay. At the very least people who want credit and payment for their work should not be encouraged to use OSI licenses.

Licenses aren't retroactive. If you don't want people making money off your stuff (yes, even with direct copy-and-pastes), use CC-BY-NC or similar, not the BSD License.

I feel like this screencap posted by Obvious was the most illuminating part of that twitstorm: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DqVdWJSW4AAOtXD?format=jpg

The truth comes in as a quick afterthought, "and of course to finance our research on art and ML".

The whole discussion is meant to elicit "a pass". Dishonest.

If Obvious hadn't been successful with their goals, Robbie would not (and did not) care a bit that his work was being used. It only became contentious when they were able to raise a lot of money. It's funny.

Well, obviously. Robbie said in his Github readme: "When using any outputs of the models, credit me. Don't sell the outputs of the pre-trained models, modified or not. If you have any questions email me before doing anything."

I feel for the guy, but keep in mind: just putting some text in your readme does not create a legally binding contract.

Reminds me of Infiniminer vs Minecraft, or GNU vs Linux. Or, especially, the Box2D creator asking Rovio to credit Box2D in Angry Birds. (Did they ever do so?) It sounds like Obvious at least attempted to give credit, but were ignored by the media.


Interesting. Considering the readme is the first thing the person sees on the github link and nothing about the license itself precludes other contracts, could the bolded text in this context be considered a verbal contract? Or at least enforceable as such?

Edit: Actually, there was a change to the license surrounding pre-trained models and sales back in June, so it's even baked into an obvious contract. A lot of the licensing conversation here is somewhat mooted by this.


Obvious references "the collection", which presumably includes the piece auctioned at Christies, in a DM to Robbie in April, before that clause was added: https://twitter.com/obv_ious/status/1055352403837497344

The interesting thing is that you cannot copyright computer-generated images.

I guess open sourcing things is less fun when someone profits off your work. DrBeef seems to have learned this the hard way.

I have sympathy for the author's frustration but they open-sourced their work under a very permissive license.

It sounds comical that suddenly something becomes valuable because you hang it in a gold frame, make minor modifications to it and ascribe it some symbolism. But that is exactly how contemporary artworks are done.

If you go to exhibits and auctions, it is not uncommon to see highly valued work that requires little sophistication to produce. The days you would woo the art world by technical mastery alone are (mostly) over. This story fits in the greater trend and there might be a bit of a culture clash.

I'm inclined to think that the general public underestimate contemporary art and the art world overestimate its superiority over the more conventional works. Whether it is for better or worse, I will leave you judge of that.

> I'm inclined to think that the general public underestimate contemporary art and the art world overestimate its superiority over the more conventional works.

I really like your framing of this and agree wholeheartedly. I think it really comes from contemporary art’s focus on abstraction and meaning within context. The combination of focus on abstraction and meaning while requiring the viewer to understand the context in which a work was made makes it very inaccessible to all but those who have the time and knowledge to develop that understanding from. This makes it very inaccessible to general audiences. Alternatively, so often the depth of the meaning/context and the effectiveness of the abstraction are quite underwhelming in reality but overly celebrated by the art world.

I disagree.

If you spent two minutes rolling some white paint on a white canvas because your "abstract message" was about the void of space, it's not profound, you're being an ass.

Conversely if you spent at least five hours stippling black spots on a white canvas in the image of some obscure shape, because you had a concept in your head, and it took a considerable amount of effort, THAT is a profound piece of work.

The art world isn't full of bohemians with time and knowledge who've developed understanding of abstractness. It's full of pretentious, bored, rich people. Huge difference.

> if you spent at least five hours ... and it took a considerable amount of effort, THAT is a profound piece of work.


Art is purely expression. It doesn't matter how long it takes you to express what you're expressing. Pollock may have just splattered painting on a canvas. But it was still a true expression. John Cage made a composition where the orchestra doesn't play any notes. But it's still an expression.

And an expression can be boring and trite, and we can judge it for being such.

The fact that rich people are willing to pay for some bland expression does not confer anything but monetary value to it. It doesn't become less garbage.

"Art is what you can get away with" – Andy Warhol

And an expression can be boring and trite, and we can judge it for being such.

Sure, but that in itself doesn't make it any less art. Saying "I find this art boring and trite and consider it garbage" is fine. Saying "I find this boring and trite and thus it's garbage and not art" is in my opinion not a valid argument.

Pollack made beautifully balanced chaotic patterns, not merely spilled paint.

Cage made a recording of an audience waiting for music. The audience was the work, not the orchestra.

What part do you disagree with? It sounds like you're agreeing fervently with the parent & GP comments...

That said, effort isn't generally what makes or breaks art, either in the gallery / collector world, nor among artists. Very, very few stippled paintings that took more than 5 hours of work are considered profound in any way. It's been done already.

Maybe you meant to imply skill, but skill isn't that important to art history either. Somewhat important, perhaps, but not generally in the top 3. Concept and narrative and novelty and luck all outweigh effort and skill, even among unpretentious skilled poor artists.

> The art world isn't full of bohemians... it's full of pretentious, bored, rich people.

I'd be careful to qualify that statement. There are lots more poor artists than rich people. When you say "the art world", if you're talking about Christie's and Sotheby's, then yes there are rich people. My personal "art world" is full of artists, and I don't pay attention to the stuff the auction houses are auctioning.

> The art world isn't full of bohemians with time and knowledge who've developed understanding of abstractness. It's full of pretentious, bored, rich people. Huge difference.

That's something one might conclude about the "art world" if their only impression of it is from hearing about high profile auctions of weird paintings sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars, which fits nicely in the general "rich people do the darnedest things" category of trivial news. Sure, someone with the right name can probably spit in a napkin and buy a car for the money, but in my experience this is a minority overwhelmed by people that can't even support themselves with their art, much less justify the cost of enjoying expensive works of art anywhere but in a gallery.

I know many artists with vastly different approaches to expression, none of which are rich, most of which also have to work day jobs to make ends meet. I don't think any of them would regard a white-painted canvas as particularly interesting.

In that case accessibility would be enhanced by the artist writing down the meaning and context. But I take it that artists are loathe to do that because they fear that explaining it would make it lose it's mystique, kind of like how explaining a joke ruins it, so you basically end up with what amounts to elaborate inside jokes. OTOH, it probably helps drive up the price when the rich buyers feel like they're part of the secret in-group.

Artists almost always write an extensive explanation of what their work means.

It's got to the point of satire:


Err... the great majority of artists do no such thing. Do you have any idea of how many people do some sort of creative work as a hobby?

made makes it very inaccessible to all but those who have the time and knowledge to develop that understanding

Most halfway decent art galleries and museums are pretty good at providing very readable summaries of the exhibits they're putting on. Spending just 10-15 minutes reading the introductory text the museum provides is often all the background knowledge you need to gain a much greater, if not appreciation, then at least understanding, of what you are looking at.

Robbie had first mover advantage to enter the art world but apparently chose not to, or was less successful. The general story of most tech is that the original creators are too focused on their work to identify how to wrap it up for profit.

IIRC, isn't art used as a tax dodge these days? That and a giant influx of money from countries that don't historically buy a lot of art (e.g. China)

YC actually funded a company that does art investments! Arthena, YC W17. Not sure about tax stuff but it's definitely becoming popular as way to make safe investments, given that paintings by well-established (dead) artists don't tend to lose value.


You know, arts and bitcoins are alike in this way.

How exactly would buying art work as a tax dodge?

I know in France, there was a "solidarity tax on wealth" which was a yearly tax on assets over 1.3million euros. Artwork was exempt from this. This changed in the end of last year and I think it's just based on real estate now.

An interesting video on free ports https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vsA_L1t4vXY

What highly valued work that requires little sophistication to produce have you seen at exhibits and auctions?

Fountain (The Urinal) by Marcel Duchamp. He didn't make the urinal. He found it, decided it was good enough, and got it into an exhibit. There you go.

Erased de Kooning is a much more obvious example. The artist erased a drawing from another artist, resulting in a mostly blank piece of white paper.


I think there is an important difference between art that people will go to see in a gallery, museum, or in public, and art that is bought at auction. I have no interest in seeing AI generated paintings either at home or in a gallery, but I would go to an art museum specifically to see Fountain by Duchamp. Fountain encourages people to appreciate the world around them by taking an everyday readymade and probably overlooked object and placing it in a gallery where they can see it more fully.

What's fun about Fountain is the the original has been lost, so you can only see a, "recreation" of it. Since it was initially just a found object of a mass-produced item, this wasn't a problem - but still, Duchamp could sanction "official" replicas.

Ah, love it.

Also fountains usually have some sort of water works going on. Could be that Duchamp was asking people to piss on the Readymade! I'm sure a few have.

The work of Art is the act of putting it up for auction on Christie's. That's what makes it a conceptual piece that is being discussed.

People often mistake art for a form of labor production. They expect that labor has to have been performed to create value. But that all changed in the early 20th century.

I really feel bad for Dr. Beef, this must really hurt. But according to the twitter thread ( https://twitter.com/DrBeef_/status/1055285640420483073 ) they didn't use the pre-trained models. In any case pre-trained models are labor, not end product. They simply trained them from scratch. Possibly on the same input set.

Even if his license was more strict, they still could have just rewritten the same code and it would have escaped the licensing. Should the original GAN paper ( https://arxiv.org/abs/1406.2661 ? ) be given artistic credit here ? What is authorship in this context ? There is a whole chain of people furthering things and doing labor and making decisions.

Yet nobody has even mentioned the original artists whose works were used to train the model. Would it be different if they were living artists ?

In what way is a GAN essentially different than photoshop copy and paste of elements ?

"...they still could have just rewritten the same code and it would have escaped the licensing."

I may be misinterpreting your intent, but this seems disingenuous to me. I can't go look at the Linux kernel, then 'rewrite' [the same code] with my fingers and keyboard to escape copyright ownership of Linux kernel contributors.

I can rewrite code that implements a described process. Or code that implements a described interface. If this was your intent, I'll take the blame for misunderstanding. But I caution the use of phrases like "the same code" when you actually mean new code that implements the same process.

Somewhat related: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Menard,_Author_of_the_Q...

> narrator/reviewer considers Menard's fragmentary Quixote (which is line-for-line identical to the original) to be much richer in allusion than Cervantes's "original" work because Menard's must be considered in light of world events since 1602.

I mean new code that implements the same process. But in reality I mean people who take code and rewrite it just enough to obscure where it came from. It is totally disingenuous and immoral and all too common.

This article has by far my favorite explanation of GANs for image generation:

  To generate the image, the algorithm compared its own work to those in the data set until it could not tell them apart.
Amazingly succinct, lay-person friendly, and still pretty accurate.

"The painting, called Portrait of Edmond Belamy, was created by a Paris-based art collective called Obvious."

Hopefully the person who wrote the code, freely shared it and even helped them to get it running will see some of that ridiculous windfall:


It isn't required by the license, but it is required by the primate fairness sense. A donation to the open-source project would be appropriate.

Alternatively, the Obvious collective will be now and forevermore tagged as non-contributing leeches. Which will likely not tarnish their enjoyment of their $144k each before auction fees and taxes, but might discourage future AI/ML developers from releasing under such a permissive license in the future.

> Alternatively, the Obvious collective will be now and forevermore tagged as non-contributing leeches.

Exactly. It doesn't sound like they are afraid of this but they really should be. Nobody will want to buy the next artwork of a collective with that reputation.

I do wonder how many art collectors who would be interested in such pieces would know or care. To me the sale was due to the way it was promoted and sold rather than any merit of the piece itself. Outside of particular tech story comment sections and who've seen the Twitter threads I'm not sure it's going to be some big controversy.

The people who pay fortunes for framed art don't know or care about open source licensing.

Unfortunately I do not think this is realistic. When somebody puts code out for free, without any binding restrictions on its use, they should not expect to be privy to profits generated from that code. Often times they'll struggle to even receive credit.

I don't say this because its my personal view -- every open source project I've used I try to contribute to in one way or another, and actively ensure that the author's receive fair credit even when their license does not require as such. But my view is based on reality. There are many people that are not like this. You give them something and they will simply take it. The actual creator or provider of what was given will be out of their mind before nightfall. Or in a work environment you may see people work themselves to death trying to get ahead only to find out that the person one notch ahead of them on the hierarchy had been happily taking credit for everything they were doing, and reaping all the accolades for such.

This is something that I think people should consider much more carefully before deciding to make their code freely available. You may indeed make society a better place, but there's a very good chance that you will receive no credit, let alone reward, for your role in it. If you consider that acceptable then take it a step further to consider that somebody else will, not infrequently, end up taking credit and reward for your work. If people were naturally driven to always want to reciprocate with reasonable value, the history of our species would be rather different.

This could be something great if the author of the original algorithm and datasets was given proper credits.


I think that people don't seem to understand that most open source licences don't require attribution. If you have released your code according to a licence, what right do you have to complain that people are using that code in accordance with that licence?

In this case though, it looks like Obvious did set out to attribute the original GAN author and Christie's have omitted that.

> what right do you have to complain that people are using that code in accordance with that licence?

It’s not legally required to credit the author of the original code, but it’s a jerk move not to do so, especially if the work is primarily not your own.

All it does is discourage developers from releasing things open source, which is very bad in the long run.

> but it’s a jerk move...

What on earth are you on about!? The author has every possible opportunity to set out whatever he wants in the license. If he wants anyone who uses it to name their firstborn after him he can put that in there. If he doesn’t then there is absolutely no issue or nothing jerk-like of anyone who follows to the letter he license the author decided to use.

It’s up to the author to specify what he wants, and as long as users follow the license that’s their right.

If you want a license that only allows non commercial usage to be unattributed but requires attribution for commercial usage... then use such a license. Don’t just put it up under a permissive license and rely on calling people jerks when they literally do what you specified and gave them license to do.

> all it does is discourage developers from releasing things open source...

Great! Developers who don’t want others to use their software under an open license shouldn’t be releasing it under an open license in the first place! You have all the control as a creator, don’t give it away and then complain that you gave it away like it’s someone else’s fault for using the license you gave them.

Is it really that hard for you to understand what the GP was saying? A jerk is somehow who, while not breaking the law, acts like..a jerk. They seem to think being able to get away with something somehow makes it OK. (e.g. bullies, trolls etc) Society relies on most people not acting like jerks most of the time. You seem to be saying, if someone follows the letter of the law, they possibly can't be a jerk. I guess you have no use for the word, as I don't know who it could then possibly apply to.

I hear an increasing amount of talk as if ethics is or can be entirely contained within law, as if behaving legally is all that can or should be asked of us as humans. I don't know if it's the pervasive influence of lawyers and corporate 'culture' or what. In that "greed is good" etc mindset, 'being a jerk' isn't a bad thing, it's merely not being a sap, using your freedoms, using accepted business principles etc. Your whole comment smells of that total absence of ethics, beyond obeying the law, i.e. no ethics. Sorry if I misunderstood. Maybe your "What on earth are you on about!?" etc was exaggerated for rhetorical effect, and not what it seemed - having no clue why someone might call it 'a jerk move', or feel it was unfair/rude/graceless/exploitative etc.

The point isn’t that it’s legal or not. It’s that the creator -expressed his wishes- for how his work would be treated when he chose his license.

There’s nothing unethical about respecting people’s freely chosen and publicly expressed wishes.

Well, it seems to me that's stretching the meaning of words well beyond breaking point. respecting? It sounds like it was uninformed 'consent' doesn't it, like he didn't understand the licence. I get the feeling it's very hard for experts in this area to relate to people who aren't, especially without trying at all to do so, and they come over sounding like unfeeling Vulcans.

Jeez,we're going to berate people who get ripped off because they're 19 year old art students that didn't consult a lawyer before releasing their art project?

OP did berate a 19 year old for not grasping the consequences of his actions. IMO this kid's actions are to be expected, the kid is 19 and does not have a critical eye for licensing. I doubt he would have needed a lawyer to choose a more appropriate license.

This is the same trap I see 40-somethings falling into time after time, acting like AGPLv3 is evil while complaining how their (non-copyleft, open source) projects are widely used, extended and not contributed back to by those that use them. If your building a totally new platform in an area with no existing tools, strong copyleft is not a bad choice.

But the creator has the freedom to choose any license they like, any at all. They chose a very permissive one.

Why is it being a jerk to engage in a behavior that someone freely gave their blessing to?

> All it does is discourage developers from releasing things open source, which is very bad in the long run.

Is it, though? In terms of keeping a health job market, I'm somewhat skeptical that offering things license to allow even commercial usages for free is necessarily a long-term good for me.

Next time you leave your headlights on and someone helps you jump start, remember that you're not legally obligated to thank him or her. Most people don't seem to understand this.

An appropriate analogy in this case would be someone putting up a sign that explicitly says that nobody has to thank them, then getting mad that nobody thanked them.

This dude set up a "this is for free" sign and then some other dudes just swooped in saying "we'll take all of this" and then just replaced the sign with "$500k".

The problem with this is that it disincentivizes the sharing mentality. Nobody wants to be the guy who gets taken advantage of, yet everyone benefits from free sharing of knowledge. And then once in a while you have dudes who swoop in and make everyone look stupid and make them re-think whether they should ever share their findings with others again.

Obvious could make this right if they wanted to. Yet they are standing their ground on Twitter, it seems.

>This dude set up a "this is for free" sign and then some other dudes just swooped in saying "we'll take all of this" and then just replaced the sign with "$500k".

This loses the important nuance that them swooping in and slapping a price tag on their own use of the implementation doesn't deprive anyone of access to the original on the same terms they were able to access it.

No one has lost anything in this scenario.

>The problem with this is that it disincentivizes the sharing mentality.

Personally, I feel arguing over how people make use of freely shared knowledge does more harm a culture of sharing than usage of said knowledge, even when that usage pushes right up to the bounds of what is allowed under whichever license.

Well the author lost trust in the community, he is modifying his licenses and maybe won't make it open at all next time. So perhaps not that far off from the analogy

As someone who works in creative coding as an artist and has worked in advertising (where this happens a lot) I feel deeply sorry that someone made so much from this artists work they happily put out into the world, I’ve seen this happen time and time again.

This is a really horrible life lesson that licenses matter and if you create something it’s important to think through yourself how to make money off it and do it yourself (and think hard if you care about that because caring retroactively is too late), before you set it free because if you don’t do it then someone else will and honestly you only have yourself to blame because the reality is you didn’t want to put the small bit of extra effort required to make money off the thing

>you didn’t want to put the small bit of extra effort required to make money off the thing

I agree with you, except for the words "small bit". As an inventor, with a few issued and pending patents under my belt, I can assure you that bringing an invention (software or hardware) to market is no small feat.

For me, concieving of crafty algorithms or a new device is the easy part. Even writing a patent, whild time consuming, is straight forward. However, getting people to buy said inventions and establishing an efficient "supply chain", for me, is the excrutiatingly hard part. For some, this part comes naturally, and it's the act of invention that is tough. For a lucky select few, they are talented at both. Still, the requisite investment of time and money is generally not small.

It has nothing to do with the object of sale but mostly with the fact that it's Christie's effort.

Try to sell identical thing on eBay for $10 and watch the world making fun of you at zero bids.


I don't have much sympathy for the sellers profiting off open source code without apparently any intention of contributing back even a little, but it's clear that the 400k valuation is not a direct outcome of the code quality - after all you can make litteraly millions of painting from the same "author" for bucks each. The 400k come from the marketing skills of the sellers (or, if you're less generous, from the fact that they're probably very well connected to the right people in the art market).

The results are so amateurish though. What’s with those nasty deconvolution artifacts?

How will you know a computer did it and not an amateur unless it looks crappy in a very specific way?

It clearly marks it as early, and as the work of a computer in the public's mind. We'll fondly think of these nasty deconvolution artifacts as retro in the not-too-distant future.

My thoughts exactly, those artifacts!! Ugh.

An art photographer had a show where he presented his original photos of... other famous photographs. Lovely controversy about what is an original photo.

It's just what a segment of the art world does - mess with the definition of the art world. Look at Banksy's million dollar shredder.

I could see someone paying for the novelty of one of the first well-known AI paintings, but I can imagine supply and demand economics will drive prices way down as more high quality AI art floods the market. Good time to get in though while supply is still low and demand is high.

Is this even good quality? I imagine this is just the novelty.. and even that is quesionable to me.

The real feat for me isn’t in using this open source model to generate this painting, it seems to be convincing anyone that this was worth $432k

> winning bidder wished to be kept anonymous

I wonder if this is a marketing stunt, or an effort to increase the visibility and legitimacy of AI generated art.

Purchasers of controversial artwork often chose to remain anonymous at least initially. There's nothing unusual about this, and discussing it with friends we all assumed it would sell 1) for much more and 2) to an anonymous buyer. Nothing unusual about it.

The artwork should have been generated during the auction itself, with individual bids being seeds into the generative process. The bidders would contribute to the next generation. You wouldn't know what the final product would be. But, you'd own each of the steps in the process, not just the final image.

You heard it here first!

The next logical thing is to sell a computer and a large 4K monitor that creates a new painting for you every day

And you can do that for $2000, which is $430000 cheaper than that one painting.

An interesting phenomenon is happening vis a vis the art market. Very rich tech buyers are catapulting the value of artists (and, I guess, AI collectives) that aren't really participating much in the "contemporary art" discourse. I look at current art shows all day every day from all over the world and have never heard anything about these people. It's the same with the various "crypto artists."

For $400k you could buy a dozen works by some really influential artists. But there's a big pool of money willing to buy work made by some 25 year olds that is totally disconnected from any broader cultural apparatus related to art. I'm fascinated, and wonder how the art world will respond. Clearly there is money to be made.

Is it an actual painting or a print?

It's printed on canvas, the AI did not paint it literally, it is digital art; it's not an actual painting.

If you wanted, you could print your own!

It looks like paint-on-canvas to me, but without a zoomed-in shot (perhaps from an angle other than dead-on) it's hard to tell whether it actually is paint-on-canvas or just a printed image that looks like one. So... dunno.

"Here's the code to the network they copied. If any of you guys want to make a quick $10,000 from my work, now is the perfect time." Oh man he's going to be more than upset about the price this got sold at :S

I'd buy art (and listen to music) generated by an AI, but I'll admit that I think some creative products lose a bit of their essence when not created by humans.

We know math and science can be found within art: measures and half measures in music, the golden ratio in painting, etc. Optimizing for these mathematical properties seems a bit like cheating for lack of a better word. There are many musicians and artists without classical training that encounter these attributes on their own, and manipulate them in different ways. I think part of the reason why the arts are such a great platform for human creativity is because of this.

>I think some creative products lose a bit of their essence when not created by humans

That debate goes way, way back. In 1966, a researcher at Bell Labs used a computer to generate an image in the style of Mondrian. The images were presented to 100 people; not only were test subjects unable to identify the computer-generated image, but the majority liked the computer-generated image better. The computer-generated art is now in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's collection.


I believe the essence is this: The computer creates some number of pieces, from which a human selects the one that is shown.

Brian Eno quote about a related field: music "The great benefit of computer sequencers is that they remove the issue of skill, and replace it with the issue of judgement"

>I think some creative products lose a bit of their essence when not created by humans

Does they though? I bet in 10 years, if you walked into an art gallery, you'd still be drawn to certain pieces and not others regardless of wether they were created by human or AI.

As AI improves it will get ever closer to that "hand-made" look to the point we probably won't be able to tell, especially with something with as much intrinsic variety as creativity. In fact, if AI is trying to copy a "human style", we might be able to define how narrow or broad our range of creativity really is.

I think there are (at least) two parts to evaluating a creative product. The aesthetics and the context around it. I think AI will do a wonderful job of generating aesthetically pleasing art, but could an AI generate something like Guernica? when you look at Guernica you can feel the pain and trauma behind it, when you learn that Picasso was compelled to create it after Guernica was firebombed it adds something special to the final product.

At it's current state I have doubts about AI's ability to create new movements in art as well, a lot of the AI floating around there is very good at "coloring within the lines". If I watch a video of NFL highlights on YouTube I will be recommended more NFL highlights, where is the discovery? A fundamental challenge for AI art is can it create new genres. Could an AI create Jazz? How about Hip-Hop which has some Jazz elements. Could an AI create cubism? Guess we'll have to see.

You could feed a machine with context, on top of feeding it with existing imagery, or any kind of additional data you can imagine. A more sophisticated version could scrape a certain amount of "drama" for instance. Input from different news sources could be programmed to affect art style. You could enable artistic "moods" based on a set of random parameters. Each new source of data would affect its ability to generate new content. Given the fluctuating definition of art, I see no reason why AI wouldn't be able to generate original artworks in the future and trigger human emotions in the process. A new machine-generated artistic movement sounds much more complex but may well happen further down the line.

I fully agree. I believe that AI will be used in the future to pump out aesthetically pleasing, but "meaningless" art. The type of art that would be hung on a living room wall to bring the room together.

I am skeptical how much art by AIs will actually feature in museums and exhibits. High-caliber art is very reliant on its emotional context and the message that the artist is trying to convey with the piece. However, I could see AI art featuring when an artist invents a new algorithm or new AI-based technique. Again, going back to the context of the artist and the piece itself.

I'll never understand a bat and they'll never understand me: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/What_Is_it_Like_to_Be_a_Bat%3F

This is a sad story. But Everybody needs to get some lesson from this case if they publish their work as open. The open source licenses needs to update for machine learning models.

Related: I know the authors used a DCGAN implementation (a pre-trained model, it looks like), but is it known what their approach for up-scaling the generated images is? In art generation I've seen GAN output of 128x128, e.g. that is then upscaled with a super-resolution network. Is something similar being done for the "final painting", or is the GAN somehow efficient enough to do large-format output in a decent training time?

I don't know exactly what was used to upscale here, but Progressive Growing of GANs[0] was a breakthrough last year that proved at least 1024x1024 was viably producable.

The short explanation is: Train and freeze the most basic layer of the model progressively to "let the network" understand higher resolution concepts one piece at the time, and avoid mode-collapse.

The network architecture illustrating this a bit better is shown on page 3 of the paper [1]

[0]: https://github.com/tkarras/progressive_growing_of_gans

[1]: https://arxiv.org/pdf/1710.10196.pdf

I think they’ve upscaled using Lanczos resampling and have then done wavelet deconvolution - the thing is furry with artefacts, and looks just like when I push an astronomical image too far.

You can use neural style transfer algorithms to upscale to a decent resolution, if you use style image similar to the DCGAN generated output.

I almost see artifacts on painting, similar to simple NN algorithms like https://cs.stanford.edu/people/karpathy/convnetjs/demo/image... produce.

That’s why hand-made artifacts will soon be back in force through a new generation of more savvy art dealers, this hopefully being good for a startup or good enough for lifestyle businesses in the coming decade.

Imagine yourself writing a javascript library to do some mundane thing then releasing it as GPL and then somebody made a slightly modified copy of it and licenses it to google for 5M a year.

The generally held opinion on this is that that would never work, because Google has no reason to pay 5M a year to something that is available to anyone for free. The keyword is "slightly modified" here which implies that the modification is trivial. If the modifications are not trivial, then all bets are off of course.

Proof that money cannot buy taste

I'd like to see the first AI self-portrait.

I wonder if the person who bought it will sue for damages when the AI program is inevitably used to spit out millions of similar portraits on demand.

Why would or could they? It's a digital print created by a computer algorithm. Computer algorithms can't own copyrights, so you can print your own.

Drill and uninspiring

Needs more shredder.


LOL at the signature on the painting

All I can say is "follow the money"... I can see someone paying for the AI program, but not for one of its digital outputs. I'm guessing this is an internal purchase for the news story.

I doubt this. It is more likely just a very wealthy person wanting to buy the first artwork completely done by an AI that hit a major auction house.

That is news, the fact that it is in the news automatically adds to the cache around the piece. That makes for a solid art investment.

The work could have been literally anything so long as it was generated by a computer. The art here is convincing people the algorithm = AI.

Color me extremely unimpressed. I just can't believe someone would pay that much for something... so visually mediocre. When you look at how GANs work, they are incredible for what they are (especially StackGAN / GANs conditioned on some input)... but I just don't think there's any real creativity - or for that matter, intelligence - in GANs yet.

Maybe that's what attracted the buyer, that this is an early work of AI art.

“AI” meaning what exactly? The real work of art here is convincing the buyer this algorithm is meaningful.

I have the same impression. It reminds me of the infamous “Ecce Homo” from Boria.

Other style transfer AIs have produced much more spectacular results without blurring the image.

It's one of the first work of art by an AI. Think of how much this fact alone will increase the price of the painting in 200 years.

Except it really isn’t - it’s an output of an ML algo designed for one task, which I’d hesitate to call AI.

I had my portrait painted by a robot with a camera and some variety of edge-finding DSP at the London Science Museum in about 1990 - and they touted that as “AI art”.

Also - what about Conway’s game of life? Is that not art?

There is a difference between price and value: an art collector may buy a ‘work of art’ for a ridiculous price, hoping that someone else will buy it for an even more ridiculous price. However, the speculations of art collectors do not determine the actual value of the ‘work of art.’ And it seems that very few people outside of the art collecting business actually value AI generated artwork (that’s probably why it was expected to sell for only 10k).

Ehhhh, but is it really a "work of art"? That's what I take issue with.

Surely anything successfully sold as a work of art at an art auction by an auction house famous for selling works of art de facto becomes a work of art.

That was my point. The fact that this is the first piece that is recognized as a work of art AND was sold at a high price will only make this piece increase in value as time go on.

Then we completely agree.

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