French Students Create AI Artwork Auctioned Off For $432K At Christie's

3 years ago



October 25th a very unusual sale was held by Christie’s. The Portrait of Edmond Belamy was auctioned off as part of a three-day Prints & Multiples event. The Typical Student team learned more on why that event was out of the ordinary.  


The Obvious & AI


ai-artwork-barrat-open-source-code-03The Portrait of Edmond Belamy / Source: Christie's


The portrait canvas framed in gold shows the smudged figure resembling an 18th-century gentleman. What makes this portrait so special is that it is a first-ever print "created by an artificial intelligence." So, Christie’s expected revenue off of selling the artwork is between $7,000 and $10,000. A trio of 25-year-old French students, known as Obvious, take credit for the creation. They say, one of their goals is to "explain and democratize" AI through art.


Making Art With Borrowed Code



Two of Barrat’s GAN-generated nudes / Images by Robbie Barrat via The Verge

It has been unknown until recently that the members of Obvious borrowed from Barrat’s code. Robbie Barrat, 19, is a recent high school graduate who shared his open-source algorithms online. According to The Verge, this fact, created unease for some members of the AI art community.  On the one hand, seeing an AI portrait on sale at Christie’s is an achievement elevating the entire AI community. On the other hand, there were doubts as to whether this milestone has been “hijacked by outsiders.”


How To Create an Artwork Using Generative Adversarial Network (GAN)?



Images generated using Barrat’s code similar to the Belamy portraits / via The Verge


The generative adversarial network (GAN) used for the artwork creation, is a type of algorithm created by Ian Goodfellow. He is now a researcher employed by Google. According to Obvious, the painting’s name “Belamy” was a way of paying homage to him, as it’s translated from French “good friend” (“bel ami”).


The concept of dueling neural networks is what actually resulted in creation of Belamy. The principle of GAN is training a network to look for patterns in a specific dataset (like 18th century portraits) and get it to generate copies. Then, a second network called a discriminator judges its work, and if it can spot the difference between the originals and the new sample, it sends it back. The first network then tweaks its data and tries to sneak it past the discriminator again. It repeats this until the generator network is creating passable fakes.


How Much Is AI Artwork?  


Eventually, the AI artwork sold for $432,500, which is approximately 45 times its high estimate!  Here’s how Christie’s summarized the exclusive work of art:


“A label on the wall states that the sitter is a man named Edmond Belamy, but the giveaway clue as to the origins of the work is the artist’s signature at the bottom right. In cursive Gallic script it reads:




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