Auction house Christie’s has sold its first AI-created “painting,” a portrait of a fictional man created by an algorithm. The portrait sold for nearly half a million dollars, raising questions over what is considered art. The image is “signed” by the artist with a cursive script featuring the algorithm used to generate the piece.
Plans to auction the AI-generated work were first announced in August, that announcement being joined by a long essay exploring the nature of art and whether something created by a computer can fit into the category. The work was created by a collective called Obvious that trained its AI using 15,000 painted portraits.
The work has spurred ample discussion — and a few fears — over whether machines can truly create artwork and what constitutes art. Though a machine can learn to imitate what it learns from human paintings, it can’t — at least for now — form its own ideas and express its own emotions through it.
In its estimate, Christie’s had expected the painting, which is called “Edmond de Belamy, from La Famille de Belamy,” to sell for between $7,000 and $10,000 USD. That figure was far exceeded, though, with an ultimate sale price of $432,500 USD.
In a blog post, the auction house said that it is the first of its kind to offer work generated by an algorithm. The man featured in the portrait is fictional, as is the entire “Belamy” family the piece is named after. An essay exploring the idea of AI-based artwork can be found here.