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a blog about painting, technology, and the business of art

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The Knock-Off Machines

I’m not sure if you’ve heard about it yet, but there is a new printer that can print AI images on canvas and recreate the look and feel of brushstrokes. Here's one of those "prints." It should be pointed out that this is not a copy of an existing Rembrandt but an original portrait painted in the style of Rembrandt.

Every artist's worst nightmare, right? After all, if it is possible to copy any painting and reproduce it right down to the brushstrokes, this will obviously have a profound and immediate effect on painters and the art market, right? So far, not really... this project was from 2016.

The Next Rembrandt project was a collaboration between art historians, data scientists, and engineers that aimed to create a new artwork in the style of the famous Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn using artificial intelligence and 3D printing technology. Launched in 2016, the project analyzed a vast number of Rembrandt's works, extracting various artistic elements such as color, subject matter, and brushstrokes to train a machine learning algorithm. This algorithm then generated a digital image of a new, unique painting that resembled Rembrandt's style. The final artwork was a portrait of a 17th-century man, which was then brought to life by 3D printing the image using a special printer and ink to mimic the texture and appearance of an actual painting.

Another project from 2013 scanned the surface of an existing Van Gogh painting and reproduced the texture and colors with incredible fidelity. These have been described as being almost indiscernible from the originals. You can buy one of them at the Van Gogh Museum now:

Many painters are concerned about AI because it enables people to easily replicate or combine the styles and ideas of various artists, which they believe diminishes the value of art and undermines the efforts of artists. But why hasn't this happened in the several years since such 3D printing has been available? It may very well be that modern AI is the tipping point and that such prints will now begin to flood the market and fine art will become a cheap commodity. But one thing to keep in mind: artists been making knock-offs with paints and brushes long before AI came along. Look at your social media feed. Knock-offs abound! Is copying a painting by hand much more creative than copying one with a machine? The questions we typically pose about AI revolve around how machines mimic human behavior. However, I believe it is equally fascinating to explore instances where humans exhibit AI-like behavior. Like AI, every artist has a complex ancestry of influences. That is, they all borrow from one another. In his book, The Shape of Time, George Kubler wrote, "Each painting contains a record of a certain behavior- choices, even movements. In this sense each painting is a kind of signal. If it is strong enough, it is picked up and relayed by those around them and so on through time. When an artist discovers a new painting or new artist, the signal is picked up and relayed again." Obviously, there is a difference between copying and "being influenced by." The urge to squint your eyes to blur the line between a creative homage and a cheap knock-off can be a powerful one, especially if there is money to be made. I haven't seen anyone using AI to make and sell knock-offs as of yet, but there are plenty of artists making them using old-fashioned paint and brushes. So until machines become more human, perhaps artists don't have to worry about being replaced or devalued.

Read more of my series on AI here



May 06, 2023

Bad take

Duane Keiser
Duane Keiser
May 06, 2023
Replying to

care to explain?

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