The Age-old Art Question in the Machine Learning Era

Recently, through a bit of an obfuscated path, I happened across a group called Obvious who are working on using machine learning to create artwork. While I’ve (and I’m sure most here) heard of ML being used to categorize and quantify art, it’s interesting to see if ML can actually create on its own – or if it can only elaborately remix prior work.


Looking to find more about the group, I eventually stumbled up on this Medium article where it discusses the use of ML and whether it constitutes ‘art’ at all.

Curiously, I recall the same sorts of arguments being constructed around generative efforts ten or so years ago. Both arguments orbit around the degree of the human artist’s ‘hand’ in creating the work and at what level of involvement is necessary before the work becomes art. A tricky question to say the least. While purely generative pursuits had to fight against the notion that one was picking through iterations of randomness to find a usable gem, I’m thinking ML is probably going to fight the notion that it’s an elaborate remix platform – where people search through variants to find a usable gem.

For me, I’d like to see how the machine learning system creates the work and at what level is it combining prior work or creating new techniques. There is a link to a GitHub repository so I guess I have my opportunity to look under the hood.