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Through Art Market & You, Art From Us provides you Analysis, Opinion and Factual Reports regarding the current on-goings of the Global Art Market. In this article, we explore AI in art

A portrait of Edmond Belamy is up for auction at the Christie’s Prints and Multiples Sale, slated between 23 – 24 October, 2018.

The most fascinating aspect of this portrait is that it has been created by artificial intelligence. This means that neither the sitter of the portrait, Edmond Belamy, nor its artist ‘exist’. The algorithm that created the work was designed by a Paris-based collective called Obvious. The group, who identify themselves as ‘friends, artists, and researchers’, consists of three members, including Pierre Fautrel and Gauthier Vernier.

The pre-sale estimate of the work is between $7,000 – $10,000. Christie’s is the first auction house to offer an AI generated artwork for sale. While the art world waits with bated breath, we explore the impact of digital art and AI art on the market.

Understanding Obvious’ Algorithm

The Portrait of Edmond Belamy was created when Obvious fed in open source images of 15,000 portraits, originating between the 14th and 20th centuries, into their AI system. The system functions at two levels. Firstly, it generates a new image based on the data feed. Secondly, it discriminates between a work made by human hand versus one made by computer.

Artificial Intelligence & The Issue of Authorship

The Belamy portrait is made by AI. While the program code has been designed by humans, humans are not the creators of the artwork itself.

Typically authorship dictates three aspects of a work – ownership, copyright and value. These three aspects are interlinked. The copyright and ownership of an artwork rest with its creator. This means that the artist has the sole rights to reproduce the work. This subsequently impacts the value of the work on the market – the more famous the artist (‘owner’), the greater the value of her art.

In an AI driven market, the dynamics between value and authorship are disrupted. To make matters worse, there has been no precedent set for the value of AI generated works in the past. The Christie’s sale will therefore be a defining moment in art history and in the market for AI art.

Copyright law (in the US, UK and India) covers both computer code and art. It is doubtful however whether it would protect art that has been created by a computer. A major concern regarding protection of intellectual property in AI generated art is that copyright, as we traditionally understand it, cannot be granted to a machine. The legal system as off now has little or no framework to support art that has not been created by humans, thus making it vulnerable to indiscriminate reproduction and impacting market value.

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