How to value AI-generated art?

Recently, an AI generated canvas called “Portrait of Edmond Belamy” by the Obvious collective was auctioned by Christie’s for a cool half-a-million dollars. It got me thinking about how AI generated art or really art in general is valued.I am sure we (the mere mortals and not the art connoisseurs) have all had times when we looked at some famous art work and suspected our 5-year-old could easily give the creator a run for their money, right?

What is it that makes a painting famous and expensive? If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, what gives the power of deciding a piece’s worth to a few beholders over others?

The wealthy who buy art usually have the following reasons:

  • Those who buy as an investment and hold it until they can sell for substantial profit. The valuation is largely derived from how famous the artist is and lack of future supply (especially if artist is dead!).
  • Recent advances in blockchain have enabled fractional ownership of art. Multiple owners may buy art to generate income by, say, renting it out to galleries across the world. Here, valuation is relatively simple using estimates of present value of future income and capital appreciation.
  • Then there are those who buy art and then lock it up at their homes only for their own viewing pleasure. These people buy art for sake of the art – the value is largely a function of their wealth.
  • And of course, the fourth type equates art ownership to ownership of a football club – won’t make you money, but will get you bragging rights.

So, which of these 4 categories does the AI generated art that sold for almost half-a-million dollars fall into?
The Portrait of Edmond Belamy, generated by code open-sourced by Robert Barrat, a 19-year-old is not the first AI art piece ever created, but it was the first one to be auctioned.

Unlike a Van Gogh, the supply of AI art is not going to dry up. Anyone could use the same open sourced code and generate art. Since there is no one artist associated to ascribe fame, I’m not sure about the bragging rights either. There may be some viewing pleasure, but it could hardly be exclusive – there could be hundreds of pieces generated by same AI algorithm.

As reported in The Verge, a Christie’s spokesman said, “When this goes under the hammer, it will signal the arrival of AI art on the world auction stage“. Perhaps this explains the valuation – it’s the first one!

Does that mean that subsequent AI generated art will not be worth as much? Or perhaps valuations will now depend on how ‘creative’ the code’s output is?

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