A few months ago Christie’s held the first-ever auction of art created by artificial intelligence. A work of art made by a computer algorithm called GAN (Generative Adversarial Network) titled Portrait of Edmond Belamy, sold for roughly 380,000 EUR! Needless to say, the sale sparked a controversy among critics.
And because we are talking about the art world, they quarrelled over the most obvious problem, and it wasn’t the price.
The real issue was whether it’s really AI-generated, considering a human was involved in making the portrait. And thank god for such theoreticians, were it not for people like them, unafraid to ask the hard questions, the world as we know it might just burn to the ground.
But to a more serious topic, apart from the ludicrous prices, there was one real issue on Christie’s article that concerned me:
“AI researchers […] are still addressing the fundamental question of whether the images produced by their networks can be called art at all. One way to do that, surely, is to conduct a kind of visual Turing test, to show the output of the algorithms to human evaluators, flesh-and-blood discriminators, and ask if they can tell the difference.”
Despite the fact that so many philosophers, sociologists, even historians are speaking and writing about the misunderstandings of our older theories of perception, the writers at Christie’s (and I am guessing many others) are still pontificating art as some divine essence that seeps into an object and magically changes it’s value from 0 to a few million.
While I have to say, in their defence, I know of no better business model than that! At one point it’s worthless and after some magic happens (that, like most fictional stories has a bunch of illogical and erroneous storytelling backing it up), you end up with Wim Delvoye selling artificial faeces made by his Poop Machine for 1000 € a po(o)p.
It is the viewer who decides what art is. Duchamp made this point crystal clear, when he exhibited his joke (that might not even be his, according to this article). He wanted to take the genius complex out of art, to show that anyone can make an art piece, and that every artwork can be both good and bad, depending solely on the viewer who experiences it.
Still the battle of trying to clear up this problematic notion continues, and next month, a new Sotheby’s sale in London will probably just put gasoline on the dispute and AI generated art in general— hopefully making enough headlines for people to start asking the important, but hard question: “What makes something art?”.
Though chances are, we might just crown a new Picasso of Calculators and make him ad honorem before we are ready to accept the fact that art is a form of perception that lives within us not without us.
Then again, no wonder aliens choose not to visit.