A Portrait of the Artist as a Generative Adversarial Network

Edmond de Belamy, from La Famille de Belamy
“The shadows of the demons of complexity awaken by family are haunting me. Everything was so simple back then.”
Generative Adversarial Network print, on canvas, 2018, signed with GAN model loss function in ink by the publisher, from a series of eleven unique images, published by Obvious Art, Paris, with original gilded wood frame
S. 27 ½ x 27 ½ in (700 x 700 mm.)

On Thursday, October 25th, Christie’s sold the “Portrait of Edmond Belamy” for $432,500.

What’s the news? The portrait was painted by an artificial neural network living on Github, Christie’s had estimated a price between $7,000 and $10,000 before the auction, and the story has captured the public’s imagination and created a lot of controversy. Why? Because it’s a knock-off. Well, sort of:

the misunderstanding surrounding this AI portrait is the perfect mirror for where we are currently at in our collective understanding of AI as a society. ―Artnome

I don’t know why but this story reminded me of Potato Jesus. Maybe it is because the painting styles in both portraits are similar: a dark nearly monochrome blurred image. (You’ll forgive me. I’m not an art expert.) Or because, in both cases, we are talking about an ―eventually successful― amateur’s inroad into the sacred temple of Art. Or, well, because an old woman spoiling an old painting and a neural network massaging pixels do not seem so different. What a promising couple of artists!

Art should provoke, disturb, arouse our emotions, expand our sympathies in directions we may not anticipate and may not even wish. ― Joyce Carol Oates.

And, voilà, I have managed to paraphrase and quote two Joyce’s in this post. ReJoyce!

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