AI and Art V: Named Art

AI and Art V: Named Art

Arts February 09, 2019 / By Mike LaBossiere
AI and Art V: Named Art

A look at "named art" in the context of AI.

David Pogue and others have raised the concern that AI generated works will disrupt the realm of art. As noted in the previous essay, this is a very real concern in the area of content art (art whose value is derived from what it is or how it can be used). However, I will endeavor to show that the realm of named art should be safe from AI incursions for the foreseeable future.

Named art, at least in my (mis)usage is a work whose value arises primarily from the name and fame of its creator. Historical examples obviously include the big names in art such as Picasso, van Gogh, and Rembrandt. An anecdote illustrates the key feature of named art.

Some years ago, I attended an art show/sale at Florida State University with a friend. She pointed to a small pencil sketch of a bird that was priced at, I recall, $1500. She then pointed to a nearby sketch that seemed to be of equivalent (or slightly better) quality but was priced at around $250. Since I taught aesthetics for years, she asked me what justified the difference. After all, the sketches were about the same size, in the same medium, in the same realistic style and were executed with similar skill. My response was to point to the names—one artist was better known than the other. If a clever rogue managed to switch the names and prices on the works, the purchasers would convince themselves they were worth the price—because of the names. The nature of named art can also be shown by the following discussion.

Imagine, if you will, that an amazing painting is found in an attic that might be a lost van Gogh. If the value of a work was based on the work itself, one would not need to know who created it in order to know its likely worth. Obviously enough, the value of the might-be-Gogh depends on whether it can be verified as a real-Gogh or dismissed as a mere look alike. It is easy enough to imagine that the experts first confirm that it is genuine (making it worth millions), then other experts confirm it was painted by Rick von Gogh (making it worth little), and then later experts re-affirm that it is genuine van Gogh (making it worth millions again). While nothing about the work has changed, its value would have fluctuated dramatically, because what gives it value is the creator and not the work itself. That is, a van Gogh is not worth millions because the painting is thousands of times better than a lesser work, but because it was created by van Gogh and the art economy deems it worth that much. As such, the value of named art is not a function of the aesthetic value of the work, but of the name value of the work. This feature provides the realm of named art with an amazing defense against the incursion of AI.

 While an AI might be able to crank out masterpieces in a style indistinguishable from van Gogh, the AI can never be Vincent van Gogh. Named art, as repeatedly noted, gets its value from who created it rather than from what it is. As such, the works created by an AI in the style of van Gogh will not be of value to those who only want the works of van Gogh. This can be generalized: those looking for work created by Artist X will not be interested in buying AI created art; they want works created by X. As such, as long as people value works because of the creator, named art will be safe from the incursion of AI. But, one might wonder about AI created forgeries.

While I expect that AI will be used to forge works to sell as being by specific artists, successful deceit would not disprove my claim about named art being safe from AI incursion—the purchaser is buying the work because they think it is by a specific artist; they are merely being deceived. This is not to deny that AI forgeries will not be a problem, just that this would be a forgery problem and not an AI replacing artists problem (other than stealing the job of forgers, of course).

It might be objected that named art will not be safe from AI art because AI systems can crank out works at an alarming rate and, presumably, low cost. While this does mean that content artists are in danger from AI, it does not impact the named artists. After all, the fact that millions of human artists have produced millions of drawings and paintings does not lower the value of a Monet or Dali; the value placed on such paintings is independent of the works of these “lesser” artists. The same should hold true of AI art: even if one could click a button and get 100,000 original images ready to be painted onto canvas by a robot, the sale price of the Mona Lisa would not be diminished.

If AI systems become advanced enough, they might themselves become named artists with collectors wanting a work by Vincent van Robogogh because it was created by Robogogh. But that is a matter for the future.

Read also AI and Art I: The Setup,  AI and Art II: The Creator,  AI and Art III: The Work  and AI and Art IV: Content Art

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