Artificial intelligence is interfering in the arts, raising philosophical questions and a wind of controversy.
Impressionism, art photography and readymade* have all, in their time, changed the rules of art and warmed minds. It is the turn of artificial intelligence (AI) to throw a pavement in the artistic pond. The “scandal” came in 2018, when the first painting created by an algorithm was sold by Christie’s in New York. The Portrait of Edmond de Belamy, which wasoriginally estimated at US$7,000, was sold for more than US$430,000, causing surprise and outrage. Especially since the signature of the “artist”, affixed to the bottom of the painting, on the right, is a… mathematical formula.
“In reality, we consider ourselves the authors of the work,” laughs Pierre Fautrel, one of the three members of the French collective Obvious, who initiated the coup d’éclat. He is rightly concerned that algorithms “allow people like us, without an arts background, to produce visuals.”
The trio is not the only one to have made AI a creative tool. Many artists now use algorithms to design poems, paintings, musical pieces and even film scripts. Most exploit the ability of computers to “learn” on their own, from hundreds of examples, and then create new content by mimicking the rules they have learned. This feat is due to the “generative antagonist networks” or GAN, algorithms invented in 2014 by Ian Goodfellow, then a researcher at the University of Montreal. Taken over and perfected to the envy, these algorithms are so popular that we speak of “ganism” as a new artistic current.
Obvious members, for example, provided their machine with 15,000e paintings from the 14th to the 20the century to “learn” the art of portraiture. After a few hacks of the algorithms, they produced 11 brand new portraits and created a whole fictional family, named Belamy in honor of Ian Goodfellow.
The collective has also just released a series inspired by Japanese prints and is working to make African masks despite some critics accusing it of having copied the algorithms of another or of having a more entrepreneurial than artistic spirit.
The group defends itself: its goal is not to provoke, but rather to popularize. “AI is a real social subject that we want to demystify and art is a good vehicle for doing so,” explains Pierre Fautrel, who works with his two childhood friends Gauthier Vernier and Hugo Caselles-Dupré (a doctoral student in machine learning).
“Everyone got agitated with Belamy’s portrait, but the use of algorithms in the arts was around long before,” says Nathalie Bachand. Last February, at a day organized in Montreal by the Quebec Council for Media Arts (CQAM), this independent curator recalled that the first computer graphic experiments took place as early as the 1960s. Then, the 1990s saw the flowering of many interactive installations and automated artistic productions. “The word intelligence is scary, but algorithms have no real autonomy or free will,” she said. What is new is the GAN, which has become increasingly accessible over the past five years. »
Far from being mere copyists, these neural networks can also inspire their masters. Like Montrealer Marc-André Cossette, who composes electronic music using a system that deciphers the movements of dancers and creates real-time sounds “inspired” by the position of bodies. “The dissonances and mistakes made by AI have a lot of influence on me, including when I compose without it,” he told the CQAM forum. What if the machine actually increased human creativity?
Movement consisting of exhibiting objects, such as a bicycle wheel, as works of art.
THE GANs are based on a confrontation between two neural networks: a generator and a discriminator. The first produces images by imitating the actual works gathered in a database. The second must “guess” which works are from the data bank and which are synthetic pieces from the generator. Feedback from this “judge” improves imitations of the “forger” network until they blend into the original style. Above: members of the Obvious collective and some of their works, including The Dormant Lake (left, completely above) and Edmond de Belamy’s Portrait (right). Credit: Obvious.
Above: Artist Mat Chivers provided an intelligent agent with 1,480 pieces of clay pressed by as many hands to design a new footprint. It was then carved from the impactite of Charlevoix, a rock formed by the impact of a meteorite. This reflection on the influence of artificial intelligence on humans was presented at the Joliette Museum of Art and at L’Arsenal in Montreal in 2018 and 2019.