Despite the tools being around for a while now, AI generated art has more recently captured the imagination of the internet and has successfully attached itself to the coattails of an evolving technology that, if nothing else, offers us a glimpse of the future. As with all art, the product of these algorithms is subject to opinion, and whether or not it’s actually any good is up for debate. But despite the fact that many critics have turned a snobbish nose up at the quality of AI generated artwork, some pieces have fetched crazy prices at auctions and have been shown in some of the most prestigious galleries around.
One of New York’s and the world’s premier auction houses, Christie’s sold one of these pieces for an incredible $432,500 as far back as 2018. Titled ‘Portrait of Edmond de Belamy’, and created by the French collective outfit OBVIOUS, the sale raised some serious philosophical questions about the nature of art itself. It mirrored similar conversations that took place following the birth of photography and its ability to capture scenes at the click of a button as opposed to being rendered by brush and paint. Is it still art when we remove the physical aspect of people making it? How do we measure the value of these pieces when they take little or no technical ability to create, save for a little prompting from a few lines of text? What is surely in no doubt is that AI and generative artists have broken down the often prohibitive barriers to creativity and allowed more room for artistic expression among those of us who don’t possess the skills to create them ourselves.
So how does it all work?
The process of creating art from algorithms is simultaneously complex and amazingly simple. The involvement of AI in generating works of art is rooted in its ability to machine-learn to depict certain images based on external inputs. The ‘teaching’ part of this process centers around feeding images of things into the algorithm until it has a working knowledge of what that thing is supposed to look like. The algorithm is then put through its paces by being presented with a set of different images and identifying which of them is the ‘thing’ you’re trying to depict. The image is then run through a series of filters or templates depending on the stylistic predisposition of the generator you’re using.
AI generated images from text use the same concept but use words in order to identify whatever it is you’re trying to recreate. In the latest iteration of the artificial intelligence art generator, you can combine keywords and blend them into a single image. This has led to a host of new generators spawning almost daily, although many are still in the beta or testing phase, including DALL-E 2, Deep Dream Generator, Artbreeder, Big Sleep, and Meta’s Make A Scene.
Are we in the midst of an AI revolution in art or just another fading trend?
Given its recent popularity (and, in some circles, its notoriety), it’s easy to pass it off as just another tech-driven frivolity. But the truth is that it’s been around longer than you think. While the AI art generator from text is gaining traction with loads of internet users in 2022, the concept of using algorithms to create art goes back a lot further than that. In fact, one of the earliest versions dates as far back as 1973, when an artist by the name of Harold Cohen wrote a program called AARON that produced drawings by following a set of carefully crafted instructions. The major difference now is the level of freedom given to newer programs allowing them to take more artistic responsibility for the finished product.
Since this isn’t the first period in which artists have sought to collaborate with programs of this nature, are we seeing the continuation of an idea with real merit? It’s difficult to make a definitive judgment at this point. Still, the fact that we’re now seeing programs dedicated to doing actual design work with a tangible creative goal, the scope for this collaborative relationship seems to be far-reaching. Whatever the outcome, a world with more beauty in it can never be a bad thing, and perhaps we should open our minds to the possibilities rather than be snobby about how that beauty comes into being.