In the early stages of artificial intelligence (AI), there were much more controlled and specific applications for the technology. However, in recent years, AI is entering almost every professional sector, from the industrial to even the legal and creative.
Now, a group of artists has begun integrating the technology into the process of producing paintings. Obvious consists of a collective of artists in France who use AI to create algorithms to generate paintings, and so far 11 original works have been produced. They instruct the computer in various aspects of art history and also reinforce the learnings with lessons about creating art.
“The whole process is about humans having as little input as possible in the finished piece,” says Gauthier Vernier. He is one of three 25-year-old French men who launched Obvious in April 2017, carrying out their work from their apartment in Paris.
Making a Splash in the Art World
Despite these humble beginnings, the momentum behind the work of the artists is continuing to build. Earlier this year, one of the paintings, Le Comte de Bellamy, sold to Paris-based collector Nicolas Laugero-Lasserre for the hefty sum of €10,000.
Now, however, the biggest endorsement of the work of Obvious has come from the influential Christie's auction house, with the London-based Central London Gallery hanging Portrait of Edmond Bellamy up as part of its Prints & Multiples sale which kicks off today and continues until Thursday.
Interestingly, the artist collective made the choice to create portraits which draw upon classic forms and styles associated with centuries of representational art. Though it is not clear why this subject or style was chosen, it does the job of creating a stronger impact: one could argue that because of the link to AI, that a more modern or abstract painting would fit, but in this way it feels that maybe the artists are making the case that AI has a role to play in all art, even older and more traditional forms.
This was echoed in Laugero-Lasserre's words about why the painting appealed to him: “I just find it amazing that some young people built a program allowing the creation of an original artwork, based on a selection of the ‘bests’ from past art history," he said.
Expanding Our Notion of Art
“Everybody has their own definition of a work of art,” he says. “I’ve tended to think human authorship was quite important—that link with someone on the other side. But you could also say art is in the eye of the beholder. If people find it emotionally charged and inspiring then it is. If it waddles and it quacks, it’s a duck," explained Richard Lloyd, head of International Head of Prints and Multiples at Christie's, who sees the work as an important part of larger conversations which may be needed in the art world.
Perhaps what this means in the long term is that we will collectively need to keep redefining our ideas about what constitutes a work of art. Given the staying power of AI and its inarguable impact, this seems like a worthwhile effort. After all, one of the most compelling features of innovative technology is that it forces people to reassess many aspects of their environment--and for artists, AI may be just the little push that is needed.