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AI nudes
Robbie Barrat

AI has created some creepy but kind of beautiful nude art

A neural network has been trained to produce its own take on classical paintings

Nude portraiture at its best is personal, intimate, and confronting –sensuous Klimt, the fascinating cubism of Duchamp, Tom Wesselmann’s explicit, technicolour American nude, the impactful black beauty of Mickalene Thomas. As artificial intelligence has had a crack at just about everything else – from existential memes to the more disturbing fake porn – a neural network has been trained to produce its own take on nude art. 

Robbie Barrat, self-taught in both AI and art, is a recent high school graduate from West Virginia that created and trained the neural network. Now based in San Francisco, he’s been working on AI for NVIDIA’s self driving cars. The company first heard about him from his other popular project, which taught AI to rap like Kanye West.

“I really think that AI-created art is going to be one of the major upcoming art movements in the near future,” he tells Dazed. “The idea of using AI as a tool to create art is different than nearly all generative art done on computers before.”

To start, Barret fed a Generative Adversarial Network (GAN) thousands of nude portraits from across different centuries and strains of art. “Basically what happens is you train the GAN to take in random vectors (lists of numbers), and output portraits,” he explains. Two neural networks, a discriminator and the generator, work in tandem. “The generator comes up with paintings that fool the discriminator, and the discriminator tries to learn how to tell the difference between real paintings from the dataset and fake paintings the generator feeds it.”

Though they get better at doing what they’re programmed to do over time, producing in this case more realistic portraits, sometimes they fall into what Barrat calls a “local minima”. This means they find a way to keep fooling each other without getting better at the task.

“In this case,” he says, “the generator keeps generating fleshy blobs that fool the discriminator pretty well, so overall they stop getting better at painting.” 

The results are bizarre and abstract moments of flesh and blob, as AI reinterprets classical nude art into something halfway between fascinating and creepy. Barrat compares AI-assisted art with the work of conceptual artist Sol LeWitt and his digital generative art. In the 70s, LeWitt offered a set of rules for a drawing, that he would then send to a museum for others to interpret and create there. This instruction-based art produced a wide range of work, from geometric shapes to detailed line drawings that took days and weeks to create.

“While his artwork was still rule based, room for interpretation of the rules is still there, just like in my AI assisted artwork, but completely unlike what happens in more traditional rule-based generative art,” adds Barrat.

He believes that AI-generated art is going to be integral for moving art forward, and could forge its own movement entirely. We have, in fact, already seen an appetite for AI-produced art – at Art Basel, spectators in the majority unknowingly preferred AI art over real life artists. However, this project presents a totally new idea – where a machine creates original content, rather than just interpreting rules.

Barret says he’s happy with the more surreal and strange outcomes, rather than perfectly generated portraits. “I want to get AI to generate new types of art we haven't seen before; not force some human perspective on it,” he says. “If the resulting images were realistic nude portraits; it wouldn't be nearly as exciting as the strange and alien bags of meat it paints.” 

Building on this new, exciting, strange art movement, Barrat believes AI has an eye on future art humans don’t have: “I want to use AI to make its own new and original artworks, not just get AI to mimic things that people were making in the 1600s.”