Art and technology: an oxymoron of our day? The AIs that have learned have to paint like the great masters. Artificial intelligence (AI) is an indispensable help and support in our daily life. Just think of the virtual assistants integrated into our smartphones or smart speakers that follow our instructions or respond to our requests. Let us also pause to consider the dynamics of online searches or shopping sites, which are increasingly personalized in the suggestions they offer and calibrated based on our data or the basis of previous purchases and inquiries.
AI has also had many broader applications, including safety mechanisms for our cars, medicine, agriculture, and cyber security. Could AI ever take man’s place in more creative, emotional, and exciting activities like art? Could artificial intelligence, as Henry Ward Beecher put it, “dip the brush into one’s soul, and paint its very nature in its paintings”? Some would immediately answer no, but there have already been examples of AI art creations in recent years. In 2016, an algorithm “studied” over 300 works by the Dutch artist Rembrandt, to the point of conceiving a job that precisely reproduced his style.
Thus was born “The Next Rembrandt” originated from an idea of Bas Korsten in collaboration with institutions and IT companies. How can we fail to trace this work of a man of the 17th century, on a monochrome background, a three-quarter portrait to the painter from Leiden? The clothing is typical of the century: black coat and hat, white collar. The choice of colors, attention to detail, and direct gaze all refer to the artists’ portraits worldwide. In 2018 the painting entitled “The portrait of Edmond de Bellamy,” created by artificial intelligence, was sold in the famous Christie’s auction house.
For the first time, a work created by artificial intelligence was put up for sale in one of the most prestigious auction houses in the world. The portrait represents a man, in dark clothes and a white collar, with soft edges. His face also has sketchy, undefined lines. The background is two-tone, and the tones are dark and melancholy. The “author’s signature,” the algorithm that generated it, stands out at the bottom right. Another example is the 2019 installation called “Memories of Passerby I.” The installation was created with an antique piece of furniture and two rectangular screens. Inside the cabinet was a PC that built faces independently using a database of works of art.
The projected images change, evolve, and turn into few stalks, thus generating unique portraits, and every spectator who approaches the installation benefits from a unique and original artistic experience. In 2020, however, Denis Shirayev began to use AI to “renew” some of the most famous paintings in the history of art (From “The Lady with an Ermine” by Leonardo da Vinci to “The Birth of Venus” by Sandro Botticelli, from “Girl with a pearl earring” by Jan Vermeer to “Self-portrait” by Frida Kahlo). The faces of these famous works were reworked by AI using the most widely used WEB platforms and social networks as a database.
Whether we like the original or the reworking of the AI more is our choice, but certainly, the process of modern re-adaptation of the same is fascinating. Looking at these works, it is legitimate to ask some questions: who is the author of this painting or this installation, given that behind these creations, in addition to AI, there are sure computer scientists, engineers, systems engineers, and programmers? With this creative modality, is it possible to establish a link between the author and the work of art? Can an AI be satisfied with their creative work or derive gratification from it, as Vincent Van Gogh said, “absolutely for my pleasure”? And compared to those who enjoy such works, how exciting can an algorithm be a work of art created?
Can this type of “creation” communicate to the viewer the torments, doubts, second thoughts, and corrections that have always guided the creative gestation of artists? An exciting debate on these issues is present in the text “Art And Artificial Intelligence Be my GAN,” written by the aesthetic scholar Alice Barale and published in October 2020. The book collects observations and comparisons by many scholars on GAN ( Generative Adversarial Networks ) and its applications. Of course, there are many questions, and it is impossible to provide answers. Fortunately, as Luciano De Crescenzo states, “the question mark is the symbol of good.” So we continue to ask ourselves questions, questions, ethical and philosophical dilemmas: only in this way will our search for answers always be fueled by curiosity, open-mindedness, and the desire to understand.