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Portrait by AI program sells for $432,000

26th October 2018

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Portrait by AI program sells for $432,000 (

Portrait of Edmond Belamy, AI painting by Paris-based art collective called Obvious
The painting, called Portrait of Edmond Belamy, was created by a Paris-based art collective called Obvious [and] was produced using an algorithm and a data set of 15,000 portraits painted between the 14th and 20th Centuries.

With said algorithm comparing its own work to those in the data set until it could not tell them apart. But taking a look at the what appears to be deliberately “unfinished” work some may assume the AI needed to put its virtual glasses on, presumably being somewhat short sighted.

But of course getting attention not because of any particular arte (artistic technical skill) or ingenio (artistic talent or idea) but because it’s a first portrait by AI to go under the hammer at a major auction house:

“AI is just one of several technologies that will have an impact on the art market of the future—although it is far too early to predict what those changes might be,” said Christie’s specialist Richard Lloyd, who organised the sale.

With the feature page on Christie’s site posing the question of whether “artificial intelligence [is] set to become art’s next medium” (

But surely AI and programmers behind the algorithm should be considered the artist and not the medium, in the same sense in that although novel and new in his Abstract Expressionism, gloss enamel paint was still Jackson Pollock’s medium. The real medium of course being the dreaded digital, with artists still struggling with the “oh, it’s digital” reaction in the minds of some seemingly oblivious that the majority of all art and illustration they do see in their day to day looking at virtual content on smartphone life outside of a gallery is and has been for some time been the product of said digital medium.

And who the hell is “Edmond Belamy”? Seemingly something of a gothic fictional creation according to the label. But had it not been a first by AI then perhaps rather than fawning over it it’d simply be dismissed by art establishment as creation of unashamed, inauthentic nostalgia drawn not from life and without use of real models like Jack Vettriano, Scottish painter of chocolate boxish The Singing Butler, Britain’s best-selling image derided painter of “dim erotica” (Wikipedia).

Updated 23rd April 2019

With Auntie’s Technology of Business reporter Eleanor Lawrie suggesting “to be honest, it’s a bit rubbish” in a seemingly delayed analysis and asking “ Is this portrait really art?” and does it matter if “people are prepared to pay for it?”

Could a computer ever create better art than a human? (

Algorithms have already created artworks, poems, and pieces of music, but are they merely mimicking rather than creating? Cognitive neuroscientist Romy Lorenz says a lot depends on how we define creativity.

If creativity means finding completely new ways to solve problems, then AI has already achieved that, she argues, citing Google’s DeepMind subsidiary.

DeepMind’s AlphaGo AI program having beat Ke Jie, the world’s number one player of Go, an ancient and highly complex Chinese board game by mastering “ innovative strategies within days” back in 2017 leading the question of “is art more than just creative problem-solving?” to be asked.

“These algorithms are amazing—they can do more and more. But there will always be things us humans want to put in. It’s the power of the sensibility and intentionality of the human brain—that’s what is hard [to recreate].”

Dr Lorenz points out that true artistic creativity differs from creative problem solving in that it requires a shift in perspective that machines do not appear to have the capacity for.

But perhaps however the art market cares not as much for the creativity but more for originality anyway, I mean, when no name AI’s are producing a portrait-a-day its likely the pricing will be more relative to stuff hand-painted surrealist pastiches available at any Sunday craft fare with the only “problem solving” being concealing a patch of young Timmy’s felt pen mural artistry on the wall. And it does invite the question of whether AI rather than being just artistic savants could learn that “shift in perspective” in a similar way to which children learn rather than or born with an understanding of not only societal mores and expectations to gets them what and where they wish to go with it.

But should an AI prodigy do so over time, could ten digital copy then be made each able to churn out work with that “power of the sensibility” and would that then prompt a constant shift in perspective of our sensibilities to exclude it?

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Illustrations, paintings, and cartoons featuring caricatured celebrities are intended purely as parody and fantasised depictions often relating to a particular news story, and often parodying said story and the media and pop cultural representation of said celebrity as much as anything else. Who am I really satirising? Read more.

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