The first-ever work auction of an original work of art created by artificial intelligence , ‘Portrait of Edmond de Belamy’ , was sold at Christie’s New York 25 October, when it reached (with premium) $432,500 or 43 times its original estimate after a lively bidding contest that lasted for more than six minutes.
According to Christie’s catalogue description, the painting is one of a group of portraits of the fictional Belamy family created using artificial intelligence by a Paris-based collective called ‘Obvious’. Its members, Hugo Caselles-Dupré, Pierre Fautrel, and Gauthier Vernier, explore the fields of art and artificial intelligence using a set of algorithms that goes by the acronym GAN, which stands for “generative adversarial network.”
According to Caselles-Dupré, the algorithm used to create the work is composed of two parts: “On one side is the Generator, on the other the Discriminator.” The system was fed with a data set of 15,000 portraits painted between the 14th century to the 20th. The Generator made a new image based on the set, then the Discriminator searches to find the difference between a human-made image and one created by the Generator. The aim is to fool the Discriminator into thinking that the new images are real-life portraits, until a satisfactory result in produced.
Leaving aside aesthetic or philosophical considerations, intellectual property lawyers the world over must be rubbing their hands and rolling up their sleeves. Robert Barrat, a 19 year old artist and programmer at Stamford University, California has already complained that Obvious have borrowed his code to create this work without properly crediting him. The work relies on thousands of images and the question might also be asked if Obvious obtained all the necessary image licenses where they may have been required? The work attracted a hefty price and might also raise interesting questions as MLD5 (Fifth Money Laundering Directive (2018/843/EU)) is implemented – after all this is a work that could be transferred and created digitally online, without having to pass through the scrutiny of customs. Who (or what is the artist) is the artist and how does he or it stand in relation to Artist’s Resale Rights? We hope to have an article in our Winter number looking more closely at some of these issues.