How AI Is Transforming the Art Market

Jan 8, 2024

Everywhere you turn, there is more news about artificial intelligence (AI). From terrifying tales of robots taking jobs to strange stories about people falling in love with ChatGPT, AI seems to be everywhere. The art world is no exception.

In fact, as we move into this new frontier, we find that AI can serve us in the creation, curation, and sale of art. As the market evolves to take on the new opportunities and challenges this technology presents us, both collectors and creators will have to reckon with the changes. Let’s dive into the top five ways AI is changing art.

5 Ways AI Is Changing Art

1. AI Art Generation

This is probably the first thing that jumps in your head when you think about the connection between AI and the art world. Beginning around the second half of 2022, headlines were taken up by the shockingly high quality images AI programs could spit out. But the art world has really been dealing with this phenomenon for much longer than that. In 2018, Christie’s auctioned off an AI-generated artwork for $432,500.

To make this artwork, Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) are trained on enormous datasets of existing artworks. The AI then reverse engineers the images, making the program able to reproduce parts of them to satisfy the user’s prompts. This has sparked a lot of controversy, as visual artists claim that the AI is essentially plagiarizing their work — all without the original artists being compensated for their contribution.

The debates rage on. In September 2022, an AI generated piece took Colorado State Fair’s top prize in the digital artwork category. Moments like these are making some artists queasy, while still others are embracing this new technology.

2. Collaborating With AI

Some artists are now using AI in the studio — not as a replacement but as an assistant. There are a wide range of tools that can help. Pre-visualization and drafting can now be easily iterated using AI art generators. This allows artists to rapidly produce and cycle through ideas, augmenting their creative process.

There are also now a wide range of tools that use AI to change images that you give it. For instance, Infinite Patterns creates new, unending patterns by morphing your input. Tools like this change the relationship between artist and AI tool in an important way, emphasizing collaboration between the two.

There are even algorithms that can mimic specific artistic styles. This means artists have the ability to immerse their work in the aesthetic of another era or artist without extensive study or training in that particular style. For instance, tools like DeepArt or DeepDream can transform a simple sketch or image into a piece reminiscent of Van Gogh or Picasso.

3. AI Art Curation

The 2021 Whitney Biennial hosted 64 curatorial statements and artist lists that were all curated by an AI program. Called The Next Biennial Should be Curated by a Machine, the resulting internet-based work of art created waves.

But two years out, and AI is only more capable of taking up curatorial responsibilities. Earlier this year, The Algorithmic Pedestal brought together an exhibit curated by a human and one curated by an AI. This made a clear comparison, and it also highlighted key questions about how this new technology is shaping our visual culture.

On a more individual level, AI can also help create recommendations and so curate private collections. It’s kind of like the art world version of Spotify’s AI DJ. But it can help you collect art instead of discover new tracks. This last application is especially useful on online platforms for buying artwork, where there are simply too many options for a single user to sift through. AI, however, can look through the immense amount of artwork and suggest items that match the user’s taste.

4. Restoration and Preservation

One of the most optimistic uses for AI in the art world is centered on restoration and preservation. Here, these new tools are allowing us to better predict how artworks would have looked originally, helping to guide our decisions in their restoration.

The most direct way we can use this technology is in analysis. We have many techniques to peer under the layers of a painting to see into the process of Old Masters. But the more refined our imaging becomes, the more information it produces. That can lead to a confusing glut, where even experts have a hard time piecing together all the data available to them. But that’s not a limiting factor for machine learning algorithms.

They can also be used to digitally restore images. Cambridge’s MACH laboratory does this by finding spots where damage is likely and then recreating those sections. This was famously used to bring a Rembrandt painting back to its original size. In 2021, the Dutch master’s painting The Night Watch (1642) returned to its full size thanks to AI. It had been trimmed in 1715, but now we can see an approximation of what was lost.

5. Interactive Art

Creating fully immersive, interactive art experiences is now made much easier thanks to AI tools. These machine learning algorithms can be used to make installations more responsive to visitors.

An excellent example of this is teamLab's Borderless exhibition. teamLab is a collective of artists, programmers, engineers, CG animators, mathematicians, and architects that create immersive digital art installations. Many of their works use AI to change and evolve based on viewers' movements and interactions, creating a unique and dynamic experience for each visitor.

These projects can also help build massive collaboration between audience members, as in Es Devlin's Poem Portraits. This installation invites participants to contribute a single word to a collective poem. An algorithm, trained on 25 million words of 19th-century poetry, then generates a unique poem for each participant, which is projected onto their face and added to the collective poem. This work combines machine learning and participatory art to create a shared experience that is simultaneously personal and communal.

The New World of Art and AI

The intersection between technology and art has always been a place of controversy and innovation. Right now, that means AI is at the forefront of the conversation. As we’ve seen above, it is reshaping so much of how we make, view, and buy art.

The next few years will reveal even more changes as we all try to navigate through our rapidly changing world.

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