AI generated artworks: The ultimate experiment in modernism

By Virginia Valenzuela, Arts Editor

Adding to the realm of revolutionary NFTs already available on SuperRare, this week AICAN’s “Faceless Portrait #1” has gone to auction as the first NFT of a patented artificial intelligence-generated artwork to also pass the Turing test, a method created in 1950 by computer scientist and mathematician Alan Turing to determine whether or not a computer can think and behave like a human being.

Though there are many free algorithms available for use on the internet, and many more programmers creating art with artificial intelligence, AICAN is the first and only patented algorithm for making art using AI. Designed by Dr. Ahmed Elgammal, PHD, AICAN was built to emulate the human brain’s response to aesthetics, to learn from centuries of art history, and to create unique pieces of original art. 

The AICAN algorithm absorbed five centuries worth of aesthetics from exposure to a vast number of images representing the Western art canon. But the most interesting connection may lie in the conceptual art of the 1960s and ‘70s. 

Focused on the ideas driving the work, conceptual art prioritizes the concept over the execution. Thus, the act of imagining supersedes the act of creation. And since most AI systems use a neural network modeled after the human brain, it follows that anything that is imagined in that network qualifies as an imaginative, generative act, whether or not it results in a physical art piece. Though in this case, the buyer gets both a physical canvas and an NFT.

AICAN works have been exhibited in galleries, art fairs, and museum shows world-wide since 2017, and one was even featured on the hit HBO series “Silicon Valley” in 2018. Two of the NFTs in this drop series, “Permutations” and “Birth of Venus,” were part of the AICAN First Collection. 

The Faceless Portrait Collection portrays uncanny, dream-like imagery, excavating the ageless themes of mortality and representation of the human figure. This series investigates the history of the image with portraiture as its focus. At our present moment, the advent of AI-generated imagery asks us to consider the work of art in the age of not only mechanical reproduction but also algorithmic production. 

“Deep Fake” videos of political figures now challenge the status of the image as an index of authenticity. Further still, the ability of algorithms to generate imagery from their “imagination” causes a severance between imagery and reality altogether. If photography freed painting from the task of representation, then how will AI change how we make visual culture?

Described as “the ultimate experiment in modernism” by art historian Emily S. Spratt, AICAN poses a ton of questions around artistry, ownership and the limits of imagination, if indeed there are any left. How does AI fit into the humanities? Does the programmer own the artwork, or does it belong to the software? Will machines make better art than humans? And if so, what does that mean for us?

Faceless Portrait #1” starts off AICAN’s NFT drop on the 5th through the 8th of August 2021. This NFT comes with the physical canvas piece, which has been exhibited globally, and a digital certificate from Verisart.

Author profile

Vinny is a writer from New York City whose work has been published in Wired, The Independent, High Times, and the Best American Poetry Blog. She is SuperRare's Arts Editor.

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