Amidst the recent surge of public interest in AI art, fueled by notable advancements in the past year, it’s crucial not to overlook the deep-rooted origins predating the emergence of figures like Stable Diffusion or Midjourney. Robbie Barrat, a prominent figure in the realms of artificial intelligence and generative art, stands as a renowned name and a significant contributor to the history of crypto art.
Since 2018, Robbie Barrat has delved into the realms of machine learning and GANs (generative adversarial networks), embarking on an experimental journey. His initial forays culminated in the creation of a series comprising 300 AI-generated nude art portraits, which have now become highly coveted as some of the most sought-after crypto art pieces in existence.
In a recent transaction, Barrat’s AI Generated Nude Portrait #7 Frame #111 was sold for 175 ETH ($343,761), drawing significant attention. The sale has faced criticism, primarily from opponents of AI art, who argue that the artwork is unappealing and merely another instance of uninspired creations produced by a detached algorithm. However, such disparagement overlooks a substantial portion of Barrat’s artistic vision and the cultural significance tied to the artwork and its inception. Whether one takes a critical stance or stands as a supporter of Barrat’s work, both perspectives warrant a careful examination.
The enduring legacy of those 300 nude portraits extends far beyond the innovative methodology employed by Barrat during their inception. In the summer of 2018, during a time when tokenized digital art had yet to gain significant recognition in the public sphere, Christie’s organized its inaugural Tech Summit in London. Coincidentally, this event occurred shortly after the launch of the NFT marketplace SuperRare. Encouraged by the auction house, SuperRare was invited to include their contributions in the gift bags distributed to attendees, signifying an early involvement of tokenized digital art within the larger art community.
In collaboration with Barrat, the inaugural artist to tokenize art on the SuperRare platform, and Jason Bailey, the platform’s first collector, a partnership was formed to create a series of 300 frames of artwork. These frames were intended to be minted and distributed as giveaways during the event. Thus, AI Generated Nude Portrait #7 came into existence, comprising 300 distinct images layered upon one another, forming a complete artwork when superimposed. The artwork was incorporated into ETH gift cards, enabling recipients to redeem them for the unique 1/1 token associated with the piece.
Over the years, only a few individuals actually redeemed their gift cards, resulting in a significant number of the artwork pieces being left unclaimed. As a consequence, the collection came to be recognized as The Lost Robbies. Presently, Barrat’s SuperRare page displays merely 46 of the generative nude portraits, highlighting the scarcity of these artworks that have found their way into the public domain.
The combination of The Lost Robbies’ unique background and their subsequent scarcity has resulted in the sold pieces from the original collection commanding prices as high as $1 million. Notably, Portrait #7 Frame #64 by Barrat, which fetched over $800,000 in a March 2022 auction, was even described by esteemed auction house Sotheby’s as symbolizing a pivotal moment when a pre-pandemic shift in the art world propelled digital art into the global cultural and economic consciousness.
Abstract art has long been a target of sharp criticism, especially when accompanied by a significant price tag. In the case of Barrat’s AI nude portraits, including the specific piece AI Generated Nude Portrait #7 Frame #111, the response has been no different. The artwork has been described as “repulsive,” evoking comparisons to a “dead deer,” and receiving a range of other disparaging comments. However, the focus on the piece’s visual aesthetics overlooks a more significant matter at hand. The true value of great art transcends conventional notions of beauty, even if reaching a consensus on what is considered beautiful proves to be an elusive pursuit.
The issue at the core lies in the inconsistent and contradictory backlash faced by the sale of this particular AI artwork. Detractors of AI art, on one hand, frequently argue that art created using this technology can never truly be considered art, regardless of its visual appeal. They claim this is primarily due to the absence of a human narrative, whether it be tied to an artist’s personal journey or their technical skill. This argument, however, reveals several flaws, but it becomes most evident when juxtaposed with another common complaint voiced by the same critics: the alleged absence of human warmth in the aesthetic of AI-generated art. The inherent double-think in their position becomes immediately apparent.
The crypto art community has not responded favorably to the harsh criticisms targeting what they perceive as a groundbreaking piece of art history predating the inventive and era-defining art movement they have grown to appreciate and cherish.
In essence, attempting to comprehend the value of AI art is akin to grappling with the worth of art created through any other medium or toolset—an inquiry that yields both immediate and elusive responses. Barrat’s nude portraits not only mark a significant point in the progression of digital and AI art but also possess a narrative so captivating that it becomes as tangible and vivid as the human form abstractly depicted within the portraits themselves.
Valuing history is often a challenging task, yet the sale of AI Generated Nude Portrait #7 Frame #111, as well as every other artwork in The Lost Robbies collection, serves as a tangible expression of people’s earnest endeavor to honor and acknowledge history. It is important not to criticize individuals for their attempts to assign value to historical artifacts; instead, we should recognize and appreciate their efforts.