What appears at first glance to be a painted portrait of a man is, its creators say, the work of an artificial intelligence trained on artwork. The “painting” will be sold as art by the auction house Christie’s, making it the first work created by an AI algorithm that is sold by the auction house. The issue has raised questions over what can be considered art.
According to Christie’s, the portrait features the fuzzy likeness of “Edmond Belamy,” a fictional man imagined by the artificial intelligence. The piece is titled “Portrait of Edmond Belamy,” and it is signed not by the AI’s creators, but with the algorithm below in cursive script.
The portrait will be offered in October as part of Christie’s “Prints & Multiples” sales on behalf of Obvious, a collective out of Paris that produced the AI. The team trained the artificial intelligence with 15,000 painted portraits created from the 14th to 20th centuries. Using that data, the AI produced its own artwork, the portrait of a fictional man.
This raises the question over what can be considered art, a topic that Obvious has discussed at length in a post on Medium. Though artwork created by a machine can appeal to human viewers, the team points out that the AI can’t express its own emotions with the artwork like a human artist.
The image going up for auction is only one created by the AI, which produced other portraits for members of the fictional Belamy family. What kind of effect artificial intelligence may have the future of art is unclear, but in its post, Obvious points out the criticism that surrounded the camera upon its invention, including one proclamation that “painting is dead.”