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Artificial intelligence art is here

The first-ever original work of art created using artificial intelligence – a machine-learning algorithm that scans historical artwork – has been sold at auction. “Portrait of Edmond de Belamy” (2018) was sold for an astonishing US$432,500.



“Portrait of Edmond de Belamy” (2018) is one of a group of portraits of the fictional Belamy family created by artificial intelligence under a Paris-based collective named “Obvious”. The collective, whose members are 25-year-old French students Hugo Caselles-Dupré, Pierre Fautrel and Gauthier Vernier, created the art work using a set of machine-learning algorithms known as GAN, which stands for “generative adversarial network”.

GAN technology allows a computer to study a library of images or sounds, then make its own content according to what it has learned. It then tests its own success against the original media, over and over, incrementally improving through trial and error.

Artificial intelligence is simply a tool that the artist uses, the way a photographer uses a camera or Adobe Photoshop in the creation of their images.

Speaking to Artnet News about the algorithm used to create the work, Obvious member Hugo Caselles-Dupré said, “We fed the system with a data set of 15 000 portraits painted between the 14th and 20th century. The Generator makes a new image based on the set, then the Discriminator tries to spot 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. Then we have a result.”


Reports state that the portrait was sold for US$350 000 after a lively bidding war that lasted for more than six minutes. The final price of US$432 500 was a 4,32 percent increase from the presale high estimate of US$10 000.

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Before the auction the artificial intelligence lot listed the Belamy portrait as “Generative Adversarial Network print, on canvas, 2018, signed with GAN model loss function in ink by the publisher, from a series of 11 unique images, published by Obvious Art, Paris, with original gilded wood frame”. This was in lieu of an artist’s name and details.


In a press statement detailed by the Verge, Obvious said:

“We would like to thank the AI community, especially those who have been pioneering the use of this new technology, including Ian Goodfellow, the creator of the GAN algorithm, who inspired the name of the Famille de Belamy series, and artist Robbie Barrat, who has been a great influence for us.”

“It is an exciting moment and our hope is that the spotlight on this sale will bring forward the amazing work that our predecessors and colleagues have been producing. We are grateful to Christie’s for opening up this dialogue in the art community and honored to have been a part of this global conversation about the impact of this new technology in the creation of art,” they concluded.

There is much discussion on the viability of AI art and who owns the rights to the end product, which has four key elements, each with copyright implications.