Art tech is not just NFTs 

Agnieszka Cichocka, Art tech expert, Warsaw, Poland

Agnieszka Cichoka hybrid AI portrait: Photo portrait + her artist of choice Edward Hopper as style influence

Setting the new record at $91.8 million for highest price paid for and NFT,  digital artist Pak’s,  The Merge was auctioned off to 30,000 collectors who pitched in for a bit (pun intended) of blockchain built imagery. And Christie’s auction house dropped the gavel at $69.3 million for  digital artist Beeple’s  Everydays: The First 5000 Days. 

The Merge NFT | Pak
The Merge | Pak

NFTs are a hot commodity, and in 2022 they’re already nipping at the heals of the conventional art market.  According to Market Insider,  NFT market sales totaled $41 billion in 2021 vs. $50 million for the conventional art market in 2020. 

I’m not sure what is behind all the hype, maybe it’s a love for mononymous artists, or some fascination with computer imagery.  I am equally perplexed and curious about the attraction to NFTs, many of which don’t seem to meet the requirements of what generates value in more conventional forms of art, such as painting, photography, and printing. Art tech expert, Agnieszka Cichocka addressed this valuation point among other thoughts, during our conversation on broad range of topics linked to AI in art, NFTs, and art tech during our talk.   

I came across Agnieszka’s writings on art tech in Daily Art Magazine, where she clarifies a lot of the murkiness on AI in art and  art tech, following are some highlights from our discussion. 

Background: arriving at the intersection of art and technology   

Interested in art her entire life, Agnieszka studied art history at University of Gdansk followed by working with festivals, art exhibitions and cultural events. What really interests her though, is the intersection of art with other areas, like technology. Entering the startup world and working with Huge Thing, one of the largest and oldest accelerators in Poland, she is responsible for the pre-acceleration phase and the accelerator’s cooperation with Google for Startups.  

For a while, Agnieszka’s art world and her startup world were running parallel to each other, but then she started to explore how she could connect her interests in art with technology, science and business. She started to write for Daily Art magazine while mentoring startups. 

Agnieszka shared her experience and ideas in a thoughtful and open manner, noting that in this blend of subjects, that the tech side seems to be more proactive and inclusive of art, looking for ways to apply AI to generating and evaluating art, while art historians and art education have not yet sufficiently addressed these rapidly emerging tech aspects.

She’s stressing the importance of asking questions about how we can assess the quality and value  of these types of machine, or hybrid human-machine, creations and feels that those in the art world should  be talking about this more. Agnieszka has some clear thoughts on how these sometimes disparate worlds combine. And while NFTs are certainly a visible example of the intersection of art and tech, she stresses that this was far from the only opportunity in this unique blend of disciplines. 

Beyond NFTs in Art tech and AI

Noting that NFTs are likely what first springs to mind in the mixing of art and tech, Agnieszka provided  a couple of non NFT art tech examples, where art focused startups are making use of AI. One such company is Limna AI “The AI-Powered Art advisor in your pocket”, the company uses artificial intelligence to help buyers determine if the art’s price is a good value.

The platform, informs users on an artwork’s fair value of, especially useful for lesser known artists, where it’s be tricky to determine if a piece’s price is a reasonable. The potential art buyers punch in the price and some info describing the piece under consideration , the platform then uses machine learning to scan millions of data points, seeking out the artist’s exhibitions and previous sales. A few seconds later the app lets you know if the price offered is a good value or not. 

Cleaning public spaces of coronavirus with art and science 

What if art and science could combine to actually clean our air? Agnieszka commented on the potential that art and technology have to solve society’s problems: …(there are) interesting startups that use artificial intelligence, or they use some scientific research and technology also to help humanity as well, I think it is very important for the society.

Urban Sun Project Daan Roosengarde
Urban Sun Project | Daan Roosengarde

One such example she shared was  Rotterdam based artist Daan Roosengarde, who guided a collaborative project that makes use of a type of UV light that is safe for humans, but not for the coronavirus, sanitizing the air with its virus zapping beams. Roosengarde designed the project, Urban Sun, to allow people to meet in person during the pandemic.  Using science with design to improve the world around us, the installation featured a glowing circle of light to create an inviting and virus-free space where people could meet.

Alternative benefits to NFTs

Not to leave the buzz on NFTs out of the picture entirely, Agnieszka commented on how those, beyond speculative investors, could benefit from NFTs. Citing museums, such as the Belvedere in Vienna, which used NFTs as a fundraiser.  One of the most famous pieces in their collection, the museum selected Klimt’s The Kiss, as the foundation of their NFT series. The painting was divided into a grid of 10,000 squares, with each square being offered as a digital token. The NFT project allowed individuals a more accessible way to own part of a masterpiece, while supporting the museum. 

The debate surrounding an NFT bubble (yes or no?), and the pros and cons on lack of regulation would be a lengthy discussion, but certainly the Belvedere Museum offers an example of NFTs providing benefits as a unique way to support and own art. However, it does raise questions about what do individuals actually own with  NFT purchases? And if NFT owners need to insure a digital fraction of a physical piece, who provides this coverage, and what are they actually insuring? Certainly there are many new possibilities along with many new questions in the world of NFTs.  

Can AI make better art than humans?

On the controversial topic of using AI to actually produce original art, Agnieszka talked about the doubts people have on machine creativity and if machines might start matching human capability in creating art work that elicits an emotional response.   

How can we use AI so that it adds to our work, in terms of art, we say that, oh, people are creative, and AI cannot be creative. ISome say) it’s never going to be as good as a normal real artists, but I don’t know, there are already paintings done by AI, which is learning from the reactions of people, if they like it or not, and (the AI is) trying to improve its painting, so that it is attractive for people. And  you can’t see the difference from art done by a machine, or done by a person. 

But I think the most interesting thing is, how we’re going to use it and how this collaboration between machines and people will look like.  “

Sougwen Chung AI Robotic and human art
Sougwen Chung working with robots to create drawings

Agnieszka offers the example of  artist Sougwen Chung, a pioneer between human machine interaction,   in her Daily Art piece AI in Art: What Does It Mean? She talks about how Chung’s  work blends marks made by her hands with those made by a machine, as Chung explores this creative relationship between  humans and machines.  

More questions and more opportunities at the intersection of art and tech. 

Agnieszka shared a number of thought provoking points on the fascinating aspects on the  potential of art and technology. She’s excited about the many upcoming possibilities that combing these fields can create. She summed up that much about this intersection of disciplines remains to be understood, but it is this unknown potential that represents  not only the  great challenges but  the great opportunities.

You can contact Agnieszka Cichocka  at agnicichocka@gmail.com

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