Last fall, an AI-generated portrait rocked the art world selling for a staggering US$432,500 at Christie’s auction house in New York. The portrait called “Edmond de Belamy” features a slightly out-of-focus man with no nose and a blob for a mouth, dressed in what seems to be a dark frock-coat over a white-collared shirt.
From a distance, the 70 cm by 70 cm portrait printed on canvas and hung in a gilded wood frame, looks like it belongs in a museum of classical art. But upon closer inspection, the artist’s signature — the mathematical formula that created it (min G max D x [log (D(x))] + z [log (1 – D (G(z)))]) — reveals that the artist was not human.
With this astonishing achievement, we seemed poised to usher in art’s next medium — and possibly even to redefine what it means to be an artist. But in November 2019, another in the Belamy series, “La Baronne de Belamy,” sold at Sotheby’s without the same success. “La Baronne” sold for only US$25,000, just slightly more than its estimated value. Has the AI art bubble burst?
What is AI art?
The Belamy series was created via machine learning by the Paris-based arts collective known as “Obvious.” They fed thousands of portraits into an algorithm, effectively teaching the machine portraiture techniques of the 18th century. The result was a series of 11 images known as the fictional “La Famille de Belamy.”
Like the girl in Johannes Vermeer’s famous painting, “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” Edmond de Belamy does not exist. The painting instead is a “tronie,” which is derived from the Dutch word for face. A tronie exists only in the artist’s imagination. There is no story behind the painting — no wealthy member of society being immortalized on canvas, no scandal surrounding it and not even admiration for the subject of the portrait. It is the viewer’s imagination, which is forced to start afresh, that makes interpretations about what is being viewed.
In the case of “Edmond de Belamy,” it is more complicated. It is not the work of the artist’s imagination, but in fact, the work of the algorithm’s “imagination.” “Edmond de Belamy” is work of art captured by the “mind” of an artist that is not human.
Algorithm vs algorithm
The machine learning system used to create the Belamy series is a Generative Adversarial Network (GAN). Essentially, it is a system that pits algorithms against each other in order to improve the quality of the results.
One algorithm generates data and the other competes with it, discriminating between the real and false data being produced. The entire system is described as “adversarial.”
GANs were first created in 2014 by Ian Goodfellow, a computer scientist. In a salute to Goodfellow, Obvious translated his name to be used for their series of art: good and fellow translate roughly into French as “bel ami” hence, Belamy.
But, is this really art?
GANs present us with an entirely new way of understanding art, which was once exclusively the domain of human beings. And while its products and processes may prove to be beneficial, this type of art blurs the distinction between humans and machines, raising ethical, regulatory and process conundrums in society. Can an AI be an artist? And if so, what is an artist? Or is the AI simply a tool, like a paintbrush?
Proponents of AI art see its worth not only in the end product of what it creates, like “Edmond de Belamy,” but also in the process of creating the artwork. So, for example, is the Belamy series a collaboration of artist and machine exploring new visual forms? This is not unlike the form of conceptual art where the idea behind the work and the process of creating it is more important than the outcome.
Further, if we do consider it to be art, who — or what — has the right to the art it creates? The AI itself? The group that owns the AI, like Obvious? Or the coder of the algorithm?
This question arose, in fact, with the success of “Edmond de Belamy.” While Obvious claimed responsibility for the 11 portraits in the Belamy series, a teenager developed the code responsible for the series.
Robbie Barrat, at the age of 17, started experimenting with AI and art, and uploaded the code he had used to make paintings to GitHub, a code-sharing platform that enabled others to download and learn from it.
Obvious has never denied that their work has relied on others — a fact evident in their homage to Goodfellow (“bel ami”) and also in acknowledging the work of Robbie Barrat on their website. But it raises more questions about the right to the artwork and where we should draw the line.
The AI art bubble may have burst, but the questions of what is art and who is the artist raised by AI art remain.
Nanaimo lawn bowler turns sport's 'bowls' into art | CTV News – CTV News VI
NANAIMO, B.C. –
Judy MacNeal will never forget the first day she tried lawn bowling.
She learned that the balls were called bowls, and that they didn’t roll straight. And then, one of the members of the Nanaimo Lawn Bowling Club threw Judy a metaphorical curve ball.
“She said, ‘Maybe you could paint a little flower on there,’” Judy says, recalling the woman pointing to her bowl.
The woman wondered if Judy could put a blossom on an old bowl after hearing that Judy had had a career in graphic design that began with creating pages as a paste-up artist for Sears catalogues during the late 1960s.
“You got all the little photographs and you had to cut them out with scissors and stick them on with rubber cement glue,” Judy recalled.
The pre-computer design process sounds similar to Judy’s post-game bowl transformation.
Instead of simply painting a little flower on the sports equipment, Judy used clay to turn the bowl into a bountiful bouquet.
“You have to make each petal out of clay, paint it, and stick it on,” Judy laughs, simplifying a creative process that can take up to 15 hours.
Judy was so inspired by covering that first bowl with bespoke flowers, she threw a curve ball of her own, after seeing a shed-full of used bowls at the club that were destined for the dump.
“I took home 120 bowls!” Judy laughs.
Judy set-up a studio in her garage, where she proved to be a prolific bowl painter.
“They were a good thing to have on hand during the pandemic,” Judy laughs.
Judy has painted about 80 bowls so far, ranging from blond bowls (Marilyn Monroe), to dog bowls (a pair of bull dogs), to Christmas bauble bowls (Santa Clause and a nativity scene).
Dozens of others (including bejewelled mandalas) were given as gifts to friends and family.
“I have about 35 to 40 (unpainted) bowls left,” Judy says before laughing. “Then (the club’s) shed will have to be cleaned out again!”
Perhaps Judy will use her catalogue-creating skills to sell them. After being bowled-over by the pleasure of making them, she has no intention to throw another curve ball and stop.
“I’ve learned to do your own thing,” Judy smiles. “And make yourself happy by doing it.”
New show at Art Gallery Kimberley | Kimberley – E-Know.ca
Second Chance – Journey to the Butterfly: soapstone sculptures, flipstones, drawings and paintings that invite contact, interaction, and introspection.
Born on the prairies, Barbara Maye found herself moving and travelling as a nomadic seeker for decades. But when she hugged her first Giant Cedar near Radium in 2005, she knew she had finally found home in B.C.
Inspired by Indigenous beliefs from around the globe, and the spiritual wisdom of healing energies both in our bodies and in entities of nature, Barbara’s artworks acknowledge the origins; wood as tree, stone as mountain, and body as spirit.
As a multimedia artist, sculptor, and art instructor based in Revelstoke, Barbara has dedicated more than 20 years to creating art that invites contact, interaction, and introspection. By presenting close-up perspectives of figural movement, pure abstraction and objects from nature, her method invites the passive observer to interact and self-identify with the art.
This summer, Barbara is presenting not one, but two art exhibitions in Kimberley. After a successful solo art exhibition at the Centre 64 Gallery where she filled the main gallery with her soapstone sculptures and paintings, Barbara’s journey continues with a completely new art exhibition at Art Gallery Kimberley.
According to Barbara, soapstone is the result of a metamorphosis. “Like the transformation to a butterfly inside the chrysalis, soapstone undergoes a complete physical restructuring when the correct environmental conditions are present. The resulting rock is coloured uniquely by the minerals present and the flow of the molten experience. It is understandable why many honour soapstone for its healing properties associated with openness, flexibility, communication, imagination, and change,” said Barbara.
Emulating this rolling, molten formation, Barbara created her innovative Flipstones, which are interactive sculptures that you are encouraged to pick up, examine closely, and ‘flip’ into a new resting position. By changing the position of the Flipstones, you shift the initial perspective for the next person and create an ever-changing art exhibition.
“When carving stone, I am deeply aware of the release of energy stored in the stones over millennia,” said Barbara. “My free-form style of carving is a co-creation process with the stone, during which my role is to help the stone take a new form
to express itself. I see myself as merely a channel for creative energy to flow through.”
Barbara uses soapstone dust and rock chips from her carving studio to create rich textures in her paintings. This texture can be found in her Landscape paintings – which are memories of locations visited in search of soapstone; her Lava Study paintings exploring the stones’ metamorphosis; and in the Emergence series paintings, where she expresses the euphoria of post-transformation.
Immediately after graduating from the University of Calgary with a Bachelor of Fine Arts with Distinction, Barbara studied with Chaka Chikodzi, a Zimbabwean Canadian master stone carver. He taught her the Shona people’s way to carve; approach the rocks with respect and no expectations then co-create the form intuitively. This ignited a passion for stone carving and the free-form style Barbara practices to this day.
Deeply influenced by the generous teachings of Noreen E. Saddleback of the Samson Cree Nation and Elder Bart Thomas, Splatsin Band, Guardian and Knowledge Keeper of the Secwepemc First Nation, Barbara’s artworks respectfully explore Nature for the arcane wisdom she holds.
It took 10 years to realize Barbara’s dream of harvesting stone directly from the land to carve, but Mark McKay, a retired carver and prospecting took her on a mentorship in the mountains surrounding Revelstoke. Understanding the tectonics (earth processes) that form soapstone, locating and respectfully harvesting the raw stone and the original locations of the rocks all inform the creation process of Barbara’s abstract sculptures – some carved into Flipstones and some in the traditional pedestal style.
When asked what she enjoys most about creating art, Barbara says “I think what I like most about art are the gifts found in the ‘happy accidents.’ If we can stay open minded during the creative process, a mistake can be a generous reward. It’s how the Flipstones came to be. I was carving a large stone and at the very end, it broke into five pieces. Yes I was upset, but it taught me about stone fractures, and acceptance that the stones were in charge. Later I picked up those pieces and turned them into multiple-position, interactive sculptures … and the concept of interplay and changing perspectives is the language of my work today.“
Barbara says the greatest challenge she faces during the creation of her art is her mind getting in the way. “I try to approach my work like meditation, keeping my critical mind quiet. But overthinking and self-criticism are my nemesis. The techniques I discover and practice to overcome this challenge are the methods I teach in my art classes.”
As an art instructor, Barbara strives to make the language of art more attainable to everyone. She began teaching while in university and continues today as a freelance and on-line instructor of primarily adult art education classes in several media. Barbara’s teaching philosophy is rooted in the belief that anyone, given a fresh perspective, can recapture their creative voice.
“I think my greatest pride as an artist comes from teaching; seeing the opening in a student as they recognize their creative self; sharing what I have learned in my own creative journey; and the genuine friendships that have evolved from the classroom,” said Barbara. “I have many students who have continued classes with me for years, just to keep their practice going, and several who have gone on to exhibit and sell their work as much better artists than me. It’s so rewarding to be a small piece of their growth.”
Barbara’s exhibition will be in the art gallery from August 3 to 27. The art gallery will be participating in this year’s Columbia Basin Culture Tour on August 6 and 7.
As part of this tour, Barbara will be presenting a slide show on Abstract Art and she will set up art creation stations introducing visitors to: Upside Down Drawing; Drawing on our Senses; Surrealist Inspired Abstraction; and Fauvist Inspired Abstraction. More information can be found at artgallerykimberley.com.
Art, not arch, proposed for downtown Collingwood – CollingwoodToday.ca
After an overarching negative response to a proposed archway in downtown Collingwood, the local business association is proposing public art instead.
A report from Downtown Collingwood Business Improvement Area (BIA) general manager Susan Nicholson headed to council on Aug. 8 proposes a gateway feature, that is not an archway, to be designed and chosen through the use of the town’s existing public art policy.
This new approach, states Nicholson’s report, is meant to provide an attraction that encourages customers downtown without losing the federal grant of $215,000 earmarked for the archway project.
The proposed archway was presented to council in early March 2022. The design showed two tall poles with a black metal archway between spanning Hurontario Street at the intersection with First Street/Huron Street. On the arch were white letters reading “Historic Downtown Collingwood” on one side and “Historic Harbourfront Collingwood,” on the other. The idea, according to the BIA, was to help people find the downtown and encourage them to turn onto Hurontario Street.
The proposal was immediately and vehemently rejected by public opinion. Letters to CollingwoodToday.ca decried it as an eyesore and the BIA received dozens of emails and submissions opposing the design and concept of an archway in the downtown.
A public survey put out by the town in April received nearly twice as many responses as the 2022 town budget survey with 727 responses to the archway survey and 529 of them (72.8 per cent) against an archway altogether.
Town council was also bombarded with opposition from residents culminating to a meeting on May 30 when Mayor Keith Hull (then acting mayor) said he was surprised by the ferocity of the response to the archway.
At the May 30 meeting, council told the BIA and town staff to go back to the drawing board to find a different way to spend the $215,000 federal grant.
Nicholson’s proposal to use the town’s Public Art Policy to commission a gateway feature that is not an arch is in response to council’s May order.
Based on a plan approved by the BIA board, the process for the public art gateway feature, if it is approved by council, would begin with planning by an ad-hoc committee to come up with a budget and theme with an invitation to the community to participate on the committee.
Later there would be a call to artists, a selection process with interviews, and, ultimately, the installation of the piece.
There would be a public art working group selected for the project including town staff, BIA, community members, and representatives from the Collingwood Museum, the historical society, and the Blue Mountain Foundation for the Arts.
The BIA’s goal is to move quickly through the process to have a final design and artist contracted by the end of January 2023. The federal grant must be spent on a project that is substantially complete by March 31, 2023.
If council approves this approach to commissioning a gateway feature that will double as public art, the BIA will be asking the town to cover a loss of $35,350 spent to design and commission the former arch design.
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