The painting “Portrait of Edmond de Belamy” made by artificial intelligence recently sold for $432,000 at auction—more than 40 times its expected sale price of between $7,000 and $10,000.
The painting, which was sold by Christie’s in New York City, is the first piece made entirely of AI to go up for sale at a major art auction.
A Paris-based art collective known as Obvious created an algorithm known as General Adversarial Networks (GANs) to produce the painting. The group inserted data on approximately 15,000 portraits that were painted between the 14th and 20th centuries. The algorithm analyzed the data and then churned out its own creations.
The art collective also incorporated the use of a tool called the Discriminator, which discerned the difference between human-made art and AI-generated art. Once the Discriminator could no longer tell the difference between the two types of art, Obvious decided to test if the AI-generated work was good enough to sell to collectors.
“Today, it’s not about algorithms that are replacing people,” Hugo Caselles-Dupré, a machine learning Ph.D. student and member of Obvious, told Motherboard. “In the future, we might have to be careful about this, but today, they’re more like a tool. We really wanted to showcase a concrete example of what these AI tools can do.”
In addition to the “Portrait of Edmond de Belamy,” the algorithm produced 10 other portraits of made-up people. Belamy is described by Christie’s as a portly man, possibly of French origin, and a man of the church.
It’s unclear whether this sale will start a new trend in art making and buying, but Christie’s specialist Richard Lloyd believes it does.
“It may not have been painted by a man in a powdered wig, but it is exactly the kind of artwork we have been selling for 250 years,” he noted.
“AI is just one of several technologies that will have an impact on the art market of the future — although it is far too early to predict what those changes might be. It will be exciting to see how this revolution plays out.”
Christie’s is open to changing technology and how it may affect the art industry. Earlier this year the auction house held a symposium on the role of blockchain for artists and collectors. AI will likely become a topic of discussion at future conferences.