“The Next Rembrandt”

Claire Voon, on Hyperallergic:

You may be quick to identify a portrait unveiled this week in Amsterdam as a never-before-seen painting by Rembrandt. With a calm gaze, mouth slightly parted, and wearing a frilled collar with a wide-brimmed hat, the man resembles the sitters the Dutch painter so frequently depicted. Rather than dabs of paint, however, this portrait consists of pixels—148 million of them, to be exact, all created by machines and captured in a 3D-printed painting.

We’re living in a world where computers can make convincing original works in the style of Rembrandt and Mozart. That is amazing.

I’m not convinced that it means artists’ jobs are under threat from automation in the same way as people working in other fields. Mozart and Rembrandt have been dead for centuries, and while their music and art still draws people to concert halls and museums, no composer or artist has ever gained success by writing or painting in their styles. Their originality is a key part of their popularity.

Computers now can create millions of works that are functionally indistinct from those by famous historical artists, and I doubt we’re that far from having them create entirely original works. But the function of art is more than the beauty of the melody or the control of the brush stroke; it’s the connection it makes between creator and audience, and that connection can’t exist, I believe, between human and machine.

It’s not the first time something like this has happened. In the nineteenth century, the falling cost and visual fealty of photography meant that traditional visual art didn’t need to recreate the physical world; doing so was redundant since photographs would do it more efficiently and more faithfully. So visual art started to move away from more realistic depictions of the world to more abstract ones, creating works that only humans could.