A Robot Made This Painting And It's Very, Very Good

Science | By Julio Childress | September 23, 2018

We're living in an age where computers are able to do more and more complex activities. Some of these activities are work related that already threaten to put your average person out of work. We've all seen self-checkout lanes in stores. That's just a small example of how the computer age is seeing humans replaced by computers.

There are certain areas of expertise that many people don't feel that a computer could ever replace. The general concept of art is one of those areas. Does a computer even have the emotional capacity to create art? That leads to a hot debate about what art truly is. Does it matter who or what created it if it connects with you?

From computers writing scripts, to editing movies, we're seeing a more and more blurry line as to what we're willing to give to the machines. A group of French entrepreneurs have startled to dabble in this question of whether machines are capable of art by writing an algorithm to create paintings.

The Painting Algorithm?

The team of French entrepreneurs have created a computer algorithm meant to create new paintings in the style of old master like Rembrandt. These paintings aren't copies of existing paintings, rather new works based off of a certain style. As you can see from the pictures of their painting 'The Count of Belamy,' it doesn't have the most elegant brush strokes, but the story behind its creation might be enough to elevate it to high art. It was put on display at Christie's in New York set at $7,000-8,000.

One of the founders, Hugo Caselles-Dupre, had this to say: "We are artists with a different type of paint brush. Our paintbrush is an algorithm developed on a computer." Along with Gauthier Vernier and Pierre Fautrel, Caselles-Dupre founded the group that created the algorithm, Generative Adversarial Network (GAN), which generated new paintings based off a database of 15,000.

The Painting Sold!

Everyone buys art for different reasons. Sometimes it is because the specific piece speaks to the person, in other instances it is due to the story behind the piece. 'The Count of Belamy' sold the painting for around $10,000 to a collector by the name of Nicolas Laugero-Lasserre, who had this to say: "In the beginning, I took them for crazy people. And finally, are they crazy, are they genius. We'll see."

Flautrel had this to say about the blurry quality to the painting: "The visual is not the only thing that comprises the final portrait. All of the message, and the artistic process to get to the visual, are also important, even more than the final product. The fact that it's not yet perfect, I think is logical because it's a technology that is still very new, and to have very good results, we need significant calculating power, that for now we don't have in this small apartment."

What Do Other Critics Say?

Seeing as though art is one of the most human activities, it's a hard pill to swallow that a computer algorithm could create a truly great work of art. Nicolas Laugero-Lasserre was astonished to find out that the trio of founders didn't know anything about art. Their lack of art knowledge is one target for criticism of the program, as well as the idea of a machine creating art being offensive to some. Painter Robert Prestigiacomo had this to say: "If there was no anger from Picasso, 'Guernica' would never have existed. If modigliani were not in love with his models, his nudes would be dull and uninteresting."

As the technology gets better and better, the questions about what makes art will only get harder and harder to answer. What do you think? Can an algorithm make art?



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