Artificial Intelligence and What It Means for Art Now


Last year, the inaugural Christie’s Art and Tech Summit arose in London featuring an in-depth discussion on the subject of blockchain in the arts.  Christie’s Education and Vastari, their co-curator of the event and a major player on the London art startup scene, brought together over thirty tangential art, tech, and crypto professionals to explore how blockchain could be effectively used within the industry.  This summit broke barriers between competitors, served to enlighten investors and business owners alike, and sourced expert opinions from those that see the blockchain blueprint in the future.  The full seven and a half hours are available for view on YouTube, courtesy of the hosts.  This year the summit has moved to New York City and its focus is on artificial intelligence.  “The A.I. Revolution” is not just an event that many in the art world are looking forward to (June 25), it’s a necessary conversation and its existence is pure anticipated proof of the potential A.I. has to impact our industry. 

  So, What exactly is artificial intelligence?  As far as this article is concerned, A.I. is using computational analytics in order to train the computer to work with data to create a proposed output— whilst working with a bit of human feedback and tweaking.  For a more varied definition of A.I., check out this Forbes article to start you down the rabbit hole.  This means that different processes of machine learning are being adapted within the art world context.  Machine learning is at work when you can classify, model and merge large datasets together in order to find relevant insights.  Whether there is a set goal or whether you are just looking at anything the data will tell you, there is so much potential and countless opportunities for divination.   (Check out this link to R2D3’s interactive design experiment to visualize some concepts of machine learning) 

    A.I. has had a big moment in the art world this year when, on October 25, 2018 the first A.I. work of art sold at Christie’s for a smashing $432,500—completely exceeding estimates of around $10,000.  The trifecta behind the creation of the work was a French collective called Obvious.  The headlines continue when it was revealed that the code used to create the work was largely borrowed from German artist and Google Arts and Culture Resident, Mario Klingemann.  In this article published by The Verge, Artnome founder Jason Bailey provides his expert opinion on the controversy.  We’ll talk more about Artnome in a minute…

     Mr. Klingemann’s career is incredibly impressive.  In addition to the aforementioned, he taught himself computer programming in the early 1980s, has spoken at international conferences, his work has been shown at MoMA and the Centre Pompidou among others, and he co-runs a space just North of the Schwanthalerhöhe neighborhood in Munich. Not just one “painting”, but a mesmerizing A.I. portrait creator machine entitled Memories of Passersby I—Klingemann’s original work— was introduced to the public months later and auctioned at Sotheby’s during the Contemporary Day Sale in London.  I highly recommend watching this video promo by Sotheby’s in order to better understand this new face of A.I. art. 

   The bidding for the piece closed at 40,000 GBP.  How can we even start to compare the price differential in this equation?  The sole static piece mentioned previously sold at over eight and a half times the amount of Mario Klingemann’s contemplation of the visages of men and women that came before.  A forever loop of new creations that possibly start to break down the long criticized narrow demographics of Western portraiture.  The difference wasn’t a matter of press or promotion, in fact numerous publications floated the news of its day on the auction block such as Bloomberg, Fast Company, The Value, The Times and more. I would say that this is a case of both competitive advantage at being the first, and a passionate, smart purchase by the current owner of Memories of Passersby I.

     Let’s continue on the micro level of machine learning.  Jason Bailey, previously identified as the founder of Artnome and self-identified Chief Nerd of Art, focuses on the world of digital art and art analytics.  Bailey is a pioneer on using machine learning in order to find insights about artists and their work, and has become an established presence in the field—as a moderator and panel speaker at talks around the world.  His top-down data-driven approach to combining quantitative and qualitative information about artists and his bottom-up approach to working with digital artists and individuals in the art meets tech space makes Artnome a go-to.  My personal favorite is last year’s article Quantifying Abstraction in Art: Mondrian, where Bailey uses image analysis to chart a path towards minimalism and abstraction throughout Mondrian’s career.  If you’re new to Artnome, this introductory article will set the tone and blow your mind. We’re big fans at Art World Insights. 

    In a recent post, published a few days ago on May 26, 2019, Bailey discusses the future of A.I. art through mass appropriation and remixing, as well as explains some of the digital tools that are available to artists working today.   Well, artists in this case refers to those that are tech-savvy enough to be able to access these technologies.  Reading Mass Appropriation, Radical Remixing, and The Democratization of AI Art, makes me think of a world in the not so far future where it becomes more and more common to use code to make visual decisions and create an artistic language and replace traditional material and techniques training with data training on large visual datasets.  ** Spoiler Alert -- the incredibly well-put association with Erased de Kooning Drawing by Robert Rauschenberg brought it full circle for me. ** We are incredibly excited to see the continuation of machine learning being used to create artwork, and for the artistic concepts that are able to reach beyond the process and apply their metaphors to reveal themselves. This really is the next turning point in Contemporary Art how we know it today.

bethany woolfall