How Artificial Intelligence Is Changing the Face of Art

symbolic picture of a human hand reaching out to touch a machine A human and robotic arm mimic the gesture depicted in Michelangelo’s "The Creation of Adam," c. 1512 (Sistine Chapel, Vatican City).

In October of 2018, Christie’s auctioned off the first work of art ever created by an algorithm. The painting, titled Edmond de Belamy, was a portrait of a gentleman dressed in black. It was expected to sell for around $10,000, and instead garnered a staggering $432,500. Just a few months before that, Nature Morte, a contemporary art gallery in New Delhi, held an exhibition that featured seven artists working with artificial intelligence. AI-written novels, choreographers predicting dance sequences, and other forms of machine learning are also being readily explored within the creative arts.

As artificial intelligence becomes more prevalent in everyday life, the art industry is becoming more in tune with the creative and market potential of AI-generated works of art. The idea is received with both excitement and trepidation. While some believe we are in the infant stages of the next major art movement, others are less certain that machines can access creativity like humans can. Regardless, with AI-generated art comes a deluge of questions and unexplored territories concerning authorship, ownership of the work, and whether process is more important than the finished product. Here, we explore the concept of artificial intelligence in art and take a look at its potential to transform the future of the art business.

What is AI Art?

Over the past 50 years, artists have been using computers to generate forms of digital art, but previously had to write the code that specified a set of rules to create the chosen aesthetics. Within the last couple of years, artists have taken AI art to a new level, using algorithms that learn these aesthetics themselves by analyzing thousands of images.

Most AI artists use a class of algorithms called generative adversarial networks (GANs). These networks allow a computer to study a library of images or sounds, make its own content according to what it has studied, test its own success against the original media, and then try again. Essentially, instead of having one network alone, they pit two against each other.

Edmond de Belamy art depicted by artificial intelligence software

Edmond de Belamy, from La Famille de Belamy
generative Adversarial Network print, on canvas, 2018, signed with GAN model loss function in ink by the publisher, from a series of eleven unique images, published by Obvious Art, Paris, with original gilded wood frame. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

The idea of AI art is one that emphasizes spectacle and kitsch, and as a result, a handful of artists and industry professionals believe machines cannot produce the same sort of creative ability as humans. Those that argue against the potential for computational creativity believe that “simulating artistic techniques means also simulating human thinking and reasoning, especially creative thinking. This is impossible to do using algorithms or information processing systems.”

Many artists who believe in the potential of AI worry less about machines replacing them and more about how they can build and use them to co-create and expand beyond their creative limits. Mario Klingemann, one of the pioneers of leveraging artificial intelligence in art, explains, “…a machine enables you to forcefully provoke that. Because it’s much easier to glitch, or bring off course, than a human brain. In the process of doing that often, some interesting things happen which are unexpected.”

Examples of AI Art

AI artists are finding more innovative ways to use machines to create and manipulate different forms of art in a new and effective way. Below are just a few notable examples of how artificial intelligence is being used to enhance the creative potential of the arts within a diverse range of disciplines.

Fine Art

Evidenced by the AI-produced painting recently sold at Christie’s, it is clear that AI is a rapidly expanding medium in the realm of fine art. Artists are utilizing technology to push creative boundaries, whether it be through conceptualizing work of art or building off an existing piece.

Such is the case with New York-based artist Sougwen Chung, who trains AI on her own drawings by having the machines transfer what they have learned about her style to a robotic arm that works alongside her. This results in a “paintbrush duet” of sorts, a spontaneous interplay between her and her machine version. 

“As an artist working with these tools, the promise of AI offers a new way of seeing. Seeing as self reflection, seeing through the ground truth of one’s own artworks as data…” – Sougwen Chung

Similarly, artist Anna Ridler takes thousands of photos of tulips and uses AI to generate video of them blooming.

Culinary Arts

Chef Watson, created by IBM, is a cognitive computing application that can process information like that of a human. Machines like this have the ability to transform the culinary arts, mimicking the work of sous-chefs in the kitchen, helping develop recipes, advising humans on food combinations, and steering them in the right direction of creating new, unique flavors.

“We’re trying to show the role that cognitive technology can play in helping humans with complex tasks. Together the human and computer [can] discover more interesting results.” – Steven Abrams, director and engineer at Watson Life


Many computer-generated novels have been regarded as transparently machine-made due to obvious glitches and machine errors. But beyond translating pages of books, AI has the potential to make substantial contributions to the literary world. Creative technologist Ross Goodwin uses a neural network—a massive statistical model that predicts linear sequences—to generate poetry, screenplays, and literary travel fiction. In this case, the linear sequence that it predicts is alphanumeric characters.

Goodwin explored the concept of writing a novel with a car as the pen, using the sights around them, chatter in the car, location, and other components to feed into an AI that transformed them into prose. “When you read it, you are becoming the author, because there’s no human intent behind the words,” Goodwin has stated. “You get to project meaning onto them. The reader becomes the writer.”

how a machine learns to write animation


Music-generating algorithms have the ability to inspire new songs, helping to create a theme for lyrics. Algorithms are able to help musicians understand what audiences want, and then predict more accurately which songs might be a hit.

The world’s first album composed and produced by AI was unveiled in 2017. The album features an artist known as “Amper,” an artificially intelligent music composer, producer, and performer developed by a team of professional musicians and technology experts. The artist was created to work specifically in collaboration with human musicians, but the chord structures and instrumentation are determined entirely by artificial intelligence.


Algorithms aren’t new to the dance world, but choreographers are developing even more ways to use AI to keep performances fresh. Award-winning British choreographer Wayne McGregor explores ways to introduce artificial intelligence to dance. To do so, he uses an AI-driven machine that can generate its own independent choreography based on hundreds of hours of video footage it has been fed. The machine can anticipate gestures, learn, and ultimately recreate a dancer’s style.

Selling AI Art

woman on an opening night of an art exhibit, taking a picture of a work of art, holding a glass of wine

While AI-generated art is a fascinating concept, it’s also a complex one, especially when it comes down to who owns the rights to the produced material and who profits from the sale. What has become evident from the earliest computer-generated works of art that have been sold is that this new medium could attract a new audience of collectors, aside from the finance and real estate crowds that have traditionally dominated the market. AI artists are attracting collectors from a variety of new industries including science and research, gaming, and more.

Who Owns It?

Much like how a painter uses a brush or a photographer uses a camera, artificial intelligence machines are tools used by the people who produce the works. Humans are deeply involved in the training of these machines, the creative conceptualization, and the finished, realized product. So long as their work is created using open source algorithms and training sets or those they’ve created themselves, human artists own everything.

Because AI art is created using software frameworks that update rapidly and integrate web technologies, they’re subject to issues if a cloud API changes or retires down the line. In this sense, it’s encouraged to view AI works as performances that run as long as the technology allows them to.

How AI Art Will Transform the Industry

Though many artists fear that relying on machines will hinder the essence of art and could even lead to replacing humans as creators, AI artists feel that machine-generated art is a new opportunity and the process is becoming an art form in itself. Much like famous artists of the past whose work was informed by concurrent social and political issues, artificial intelligence, working in conjunction with humans, has the ability to create art through those experiences as well.

how artificial intelligence is changing the face of art infographic

Within the last decade, machine learning has become a growing medium that has permeated a variety of industries and disciplines, including the fine, performing, literary and culinary arts. While some worry that AI will stifle creativity and take jobs away from humans, artists offer a different perspective. By working with the capabilities of artificial intelligence machines, artists can use the technology as a tool for the augmentation of human thought to create what has yet to be imagined.

Sources: Big Think | Mental Floss | The New York Times | BBC | Christie’s | Smithsonian