What if algorithms were people just like us?

What happens when you put a gifted creator up against an educated critic? A whole lot. This interplay between an excitable artist and a well-read critic has been happening for decades, often producing some of the period’s best pieces of art. We’re fascinated by this exchange and harness it to produce never before seen pieces that pose as many questions as they answer.

We have created a smart AI made up of two halves. One half is The Artist, whom we call Isaac. The other half is The Critic, called Alexander. Together they work in a cycle of creation and judgement, and the pieces that escape this cycle are the ones that make it to ART AI Gallery.

This is the story of how we do it.

Isaac lifts his pencil and scans the empty page ahead of him. Leaning over his pockmarked desk, face twisted in thought, he begins to draw lines and angles. He shades, contours and leaves space blank as he sees fit, pausing every moment or so to eye up his picture.

One floor above him is his father, Alexander. He is slumped in a threadbare armchair, cradling a book, glasses perched on the crest of his nose. They threaten to fall off every time he turns his face to the walls filled with books; some leather bound and coming apart at the spine, others more recent and displaying bold images of the latest trends and fashions. Alongside the books are paintings, old and new, oil and pastel, framed and naked; they all jostle for position on the crowded walls.

Isaac and Alexander rarely talk. Alexander was a learned professor of art and devoted his time to studying all manner of beauty and truth that humans have created. Isaac was too young to join such conversations and would instead spend his time alone in his room, drawing. Isaac often asked to be let into his father’s study so he could see the things which his father seemed so obsessed with, but Alexander would never allow it.

“Your ignorance gives you originality”, he would often say. “If I showed you what has been made before you, you would be taken in by their beauty and only try to copy it.”

“But how can I draw beautiful things if I don’t know what beautiful things look like?” Isaac would ask, eyes wide.

“My boy”, Alexander would reply, bending down to grasp his son by his shoulders. “The most beautiful things are the ones that no one has seen yet”

The conversation would end with Isaac feeling depleted, shoulders slumped and filled with a longing to try and find this beauty that his father seemed so obsessed with. He began to scribble, uncontrollably and at random. The pictures he produced were often ugly and confused, but every time he completed one, he would go upstairs, knock on the door to his father’s study and present it. Every time his father would answer the door, reach for the picture and retreat back inside for a few moments. No longer than a minute would pass before Alexander would re-emerge shaking his head.

“My boy, this is nothing close to what hangs in my study. You must try again”.

Down Isaac would go, consumed with the drive to try again. Over and over again he knocked on the door, and over and over again his father would send him away.

Before long, his father began to offer him advice on what worked and what didn’t. Alexander would look at a lake or a structure in the picture and nod approvingly, or he’d trace a line with his finger and tell Isaac that it reminded him of the style of a classical painter.

As the days passed, Alexander would disappear into his study with Isaac’s paintings for longer moments of time. He would hold them up against pictures on the wall and compare them to the collections he had in his many books.

One day, Alexander was gone with one of his son’s pictures for hours. Isaac sat outside his father’s office, flicking his pen between his fingers, wondering what was taking him so long. Days went by. Isaac, normally patient and relaxed, became agitated and impatient. On the fifth day Alexander emerged. His face was red from concentration, and eyes puffy from crying. A single, limp tear still clung to his beard. Isaac leapt up.

“Almost…” Alexander said softly.

Isaac listened intently to his father’s feedback, before racing downstairs to his pens and paints. He knew what he had to do. He poured over his desk all night, often having to stretch his hands from cramps. As the sun rose, its rays poking rudely into the dim room, Isaac put down his pen and gazed at his masterpiece.

He rushed upstairs and his father immediately opened his door – he too had been up all night. Alexander grasped the piece slowly, holding it up to the light. His lip quivered nervously, before his eyes finally widened and his mouth spread into a grin.

“Come here my boy.” He said, beaming.

“But aren’t you going to check it with your collection?” Isaac muttered nervously.

“I don’t need to.” Alexander exclaimed, laughing with joy. “This is part of my collection now”.

Isaac had succeeded. He had created something so alike the work in his father’s study that his father could not tell the difference. What’s more, he had created something truly original, having been inspired by nothing and no one. Over the years, they repeated this process, creating unique pictures that had a place in the human world, but seemed like they came from another. They opened up a gallery through which they could show and sell these pieces and named it after themselves, Art AI Gallery.

This duo of father and son is what Art AI is. A powerful algorithm split into Alexander and Isaac , two powerful elements that are useless without each other.

One half of our algorithm works like Izaak does, we call it The Artist. The artist has never seen art before. The artists is naïve and their creativity unbound.

The other half of our algorithm works like Alexander does, we call it The Critic. The critic has studied almost all of the art ever created by humans. If it were human, it would be a genius. It has learnet what we, as humans, create and enjoy, and committed it to memory. Furthermore, the critic can always re-scan pieces from new artistic movements; it is constantly learning.

And this is how our work is made. The Artist creates pictures; splashes of colour, explosions of shadows and runaway lines. These are sent to The Critic, who judges the piece.

The goal?

To see if The Artist’s work is creative enough to pass as a human made piece. Almost every time, the answer is no. This process happens hundreds of thousands of times for each training session. Every time The Critic rejects the piece because it is too robotic, too random, it providets the artist with an input it can use to create a more sophisticated design on its next attempt. Knowing how the artist progresses, the critic becomes more judgemental, becoming more precise in its criticism, constantly raising the bar for the artist. With each rejection The Artist learns, discovering which elements of the picture are acceptable and which are not. Eventually, The Artist succeeds. It convinces the critic into thinking the piece was human-made.

Together, this team of artist and critic produce the unique images that we display and sell today. Each image is the final success in a long process of failure. Each image is wildly original yet subtly recognisable. Each image can only be bought once.

Original, unreproducible and timeless, ART AI uses humanity’s rich past to create a bold new future. Come and be a part of it.

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