LONDON – For more than a century, it has been hiding under one of Pablo Picasso’s most famous works.
But now the nude image of a crouching woman has been brought to life by an AI-powered program trained to draw like the legendary artist.
It is believed that Picasso reluctantly painted the painting at a time when resources were scarce. Its entertaining design has attracted worldwide attention and praise, but it has also gotten the students behind the AI project into potential legal trouble — highlighting the challenges posed by efforts to give ancient art new life using technology.
At the heart of this dilemma lies the question of ownership, both legal and cultural, as well as the ethics of using modern methods to reveal, reproduce, or complete works of art long after the original creators have died.
From Picasso’s “The Lonesome Crouching Nude,” as the long-hidden painting has been called, to Beethoven’s incomplete Tenth Symphony, recent weeks have shed light on the issue.
Earlier this month, AI experts Anthony Burraced and George Kahn set out to reveal the revival of a hidden Picasso painting.
The original was discovered hidden under Picasso’s 1903 masterpiece ‘The Blind Man’s Meal’ after that piece was X-rayed in 2010.
Boraced and Kahn, two PhD researchers at University College London in Britain, sought to recreate hidden nudity by training an AI to repeat Picasso’s brushstrokes using an algorithm that allowed him to analyze dozens of his past works.
Using the 2010 X-ray as a starting point, the AI was able to reproduce a copy of the painting, which was given texture and printed on canvas using 3D printing technology.
Burrashed told NBC News in a phone interview on October 12, a day before the piece was to be shown at London’s Deep Eye Art gallery, that their work represented “new frontiers” for the use of artificial intelligence in the art world.
He said art was a way to “document information” about moments in time, including the artist’s life. “And I think (this is) a new front. I think the future of AI helps us better understand ourselves as a society.”
However, that evening the duo received a letter from representatives in the UK of Picasso’s ownership asking them to desist from unveiling Picasso’s works and to cease any use of Picasso’s works, citing a “violation of rights”.
“If I’m honest, I think it’s a little sad that our innovation has been stifled in this way,” Kahn said on October 13, as the piece was canceled hours before it was due to be shown.
The couple said they hoped to seek a solution with Picasso’s estate over the matter.
However, Claudia Andreu, the Picasso estate’s chief legal officer, indicated that such an agreement is unlikely, in a statement sent to NBC News on Thursday.
“The disclosure of Picasso’s work is a matter of copyright and especially moral rights,” she said. “It is an immortal right, and only the heirs of the author own it.
Moreover, an AI that ‘learn’ to paint ‘like Picasso’ will never have the sensitivity of a painter whose creativity is expressed in front of every blank canvas,” Andreu said.
“The result of ‘this artificial intelligence is not work’ and it is inappropriate to say otherwise,” she said. ‘A machine cannot replace an artist, nor complete the work of an artist who has abandoned him in the way of his creativity.’
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In response, Burrashed said the estate claim was “erroneous on points of law, ethics, philosophy, machine learning, and art.”
“The right to reinterpretation imagined – whether intuitive or machine-assisted – is not denied by Picasso or anyone else,” he said in a statement. “This is a right assumed by Picasso himself to include artefacts made by others in his paintings.”
In a separate statement, Kahn added that the couple “did not claim to have re-created a true work of Pablo Picasso”, but “a possible reconstruction of the piece hidden under Picasso’s 1903 meal for the blind man”.
“The actual work in question remains hidden under layers of paint,” he said.
Tye Murphy, Picasso specialist at London-based Domos Art Advisors, said it would be a “farce” to hide the piece “away without showing it to the world”.
“They actually brought a Picasso blue to life so we can see what it would have looked like before it was painted,” he said.
Asked if Picasso’s ownership could be sued, Murphy asked, “Will they sue Amnesty International?”
However, Emily Gould, a senior researcher at the Institute of Art and Law, was not convinced by this argument.
She said that while there are ongoing discussions around the world about AI and copyright law, as “in the UK, AI is not treated as an object or thing that you can sue”.
So, those behind the project and showcasing the piece are likely to be on the hook.
Because Picasso’s works are “already protected by copyright,” she said, “In general, you would need to obtain consent to reproduce those works.”
Boraced and Kahn raised an “interesting argument” by defending their article as a fictional reinterpretation, but the fact that it was based on raw X-ray images of Picasso’s work could be “problematic,” she said.
But, of course, it is not only legal questions that cloud such efforts.
Individuals looking to engage in ancient art using technology risk entering morally “murky waters,” said Celine Nugent, an anthropologist and assistant director of the Institute for Ethical Artificial Intelligence.
In the case of lost nudity, she said, she could see where Picasso’s estate came from in her desire to preserve “a consistent representation of the artist in proportion to his life and how he wishes it to be represented”, as well as protecting the value of his work.
However, Nugent said that in this case, AI was used as a “forensic tool for building knowledge,” which she believed was ultimately a worthy cause and a growing function for the technology.
Murphy, who has devoted his career to studying Picasso’s paintings, said he was confident the artist would have been happy to see the lost work recreated, but acknowledged that it is difficult to predict what artists might feel about such recreations. Works.
These legal and ethical questions are questions that Ahmed El-Gamal, head of the Art and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at Rutgers University in New Jersey, has had to weigh personally.
Over the past two years, he has helped lead a project for “The End” is the last symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven.
And last week, a version of what it might look like rang out at a concert in the composer’s hometown of Bonn, Germany, thanks to the end of her artificial intelligence imagination.
Beethoven unveiled what would become his last complete masterpiece in 1824, but it is believed that he was working on a tenth symphony in the years before his death in 1827.
Symphony No. 10 was partially imagined in the 1980s, but the beauty team sought to answer one of the music world’s biggest questions. The team trained the AI to compose music in the Beethoven style by analyzing his existing works while Austrian composer Walter Wierzova, who co-led the project, added a human touch.
“There were moments when I was wondering… moments when I was crying. It was just beautiful,” Wirzova said.
The composer added that he believed that artificial intelligence had captured the “essence” of Beethoven’s work.
However, for Melanie Torres Messner, American violinist with the Beethoven Orchestra in Bonn, the AI version is “missing something”.
“I find Beethoven’s soul missing … Beethoven’s humanity is lost,” she said.
Similarly, Murphy said any Picasso expert would likely be able to tell that the AI version of the missing painting is artificial.
He said AI is still “in its infancy”, although he believes that very soon “you won’t be able to tell the difference”.
However, he said he hopes the technology will continue to be used to restore and revive lost businesses around the world.
“Look at … all the paintings that the Nazis destroyed” during World War II, Murphy said. “Now, wouldn’t it be great if an AI was able to create a display of all the missing pieces that have been passed down into history?”
“Some might laugh at the idea,” he said. “I find it very exciting.”