Deepfake Inspires Art: Surrealism Out, Unrealism In!

“Art for art’s sake, or art for society’s sake?” has been a long-standing clich of art sociology and philosophy. The proponents of “art for art’s sake” must be dwindling in numbers. Otherwise, it would not have been so easy for deepfake the greatest danger to the values of societya to creep into art. Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso, pioneers and masters of surreal art, could not have imagined that one day a movement, more radical than theirs, would eclipse them, sui generis men who did not care for the prevailing definition of realism in their journey through genius and insanity. The deepfake storm has already captivated the art world, which may be losing its seat to technology. Surrealism is outpaced by deepfake-inspired unrealism and may lose its crown once the latter fully takes hold.

Legendary art contemporaries, particularly Dali and Picasso, displayed the reality of their fantasy world through surrealist works of art. They possessed a unique way of perceiving and reflecting the world. People saw their art as a form of artistic expression that pushed the boundaries of their ordinary imagination. And they tried to understand them as something that pushed the limits of their perceived reality. In other words, surrealism did not do any harm to our perception of reality. Surrealist artists were not content with reality, and so they stretched the boundaries a little. Nothing more.

The thin line between crime and art.

A previous article discussed how synthetic media, created by deepfake technologies with the help of artificial intelligence (AI) and deep learning, aspired to imitate artwork lawfully. Fake audio and video recordings are beginning to be considered “art” due to their impressive results when, in fact, they are created by altering the original. So, to define their creators as “deepfake artists” would not be strange. 

Once the liberal and tolerant art world embraced synthetic media productions because of their transparent and harmless nature, deepfake was no longer perceived as a cyber-attack weapon, and its creator was not thought of as a cyber-hacker. If the audience knows that it is fake and that the content does not harm anybody, then the surrealism becomes art. If not, it is a dangerous cyber-crime.

Regardless of the content, synthetic media created with AI and machine learning presents a questionable “artistic value.” On the other hand, the mainstream art we are accustomed to does not appear to be indifferent or unguarded towards deepfake. Deepfake tests the waters under the wings of art, while the art “looks for ways to take advantage of deepfake.” The examples so far demonstrate that the art world has embraced deepfake technologies from many angles.

Deepfaking art masterpieces.

Art masterpieces are undoubtedly a precious cultural heritage, passed down for generations. Each generation is equally dazzled when they first encounter these immortal and universal artworks. However, the impact of technology is more profound than that of art. Technology boosts the consumption of each generation, with each consuming more and faster than the one before. The same goes for art. That is why a day may come when masterpieces rely on technology to preserve their appeal and value and prevent them from vanishing. Deepfake is set to move in this direction. The world of science and technology have stepped into action first to take advantage of the power of art.

Last year, technology experts employed deepfake technology for the first time to revive world-famous artworks. Researchers at the Samsung AI Center in Moscow, Russia, and the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology manipulated famous portraits, such as Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, to make them talk and move as though they are real people. The process of bringing the Mona Lisa to life involved identifying facial landmarks in the painting through an advanced algorithm, to create something much more than a simple animation. The speaking Mona Lisa went fabulously viral. The same technology was applied to revive Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Johanna Staude, Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, and Kramskoy’s Portrait of Unknown Woman. At this rate, world-renowned artworks may come to life on mobile telephone screens instead of being displayed in well-protected museums with the mysterious appeal of the artists’ secrets. Future artists will have polish their genius with AI.

The new marketing channel of art: deepfake.

If you recall, we said that today’s consumers devour art faster. So, those who present and market artworks to society resort to AI and deepfake to motivate art lovers, desensitized by the consumerism monster. Museums must compete harder with the use of technology to earn the money and loyalty of art lovers who consume faster than before. Cultural memberships and subscriptions are on a flat or downward trend, according to a 2017 Culture Track study by La Placa Cohen, a prominent resource on trends in the culture industry. With growing competition, cultural organizations have to think more technologically to keep audiences intrigued when they come through their doors.

If you could have a conversation with a legendary artist, you would be likely to visit a museum. When you enter through the art gallery’s door, wouldn’t it be fantastic to be greeted by a personality from years ago? Deepfake technology comes to the rescue of the museums that present art to society. Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, provides just that opportunity. At the Dali Lives Exhibition, when you press a bell, you come face to face with Dali, who greets you and tells stories on a kiosk screen. An AI-based video editing technique was used to develop a true-life recreation of Dali from thousands of hours of videos. It appears that exhibitions today will be offering excellent opportunities to present not only the artwork but also the artists themselves. 

The new language of digital art: deepfake.

Deepfake technology has grown into an apparatus that allows people to interact with present and past artists, as well as to create new and innovative art and means of expression. Many artists, including Turner Prize-winning British artist Gillian Wearing, have notably spearheaded the use of deepfakes. Last year, Wearing created a deepfake video, in which she embedded her face into strangers’ bodies to create a new extension and promote her exhibition, Life: Gillian Wearing, at the Cincinnati Art Museum. 

Artists also use deepfake technology as a way to present a strong social message. Throughout last summer, artists Bill Posters and Daniel Howe used a deepfake video of Mark Zuckerberg in a conceptual art installation called Spectre, which was put on display at the Alternate Realities exhibition at Site Gallery in Sheffield, England. The video was a criticism of data security in the world of big data with a deepfake image of Mark Zuckerberg.

Deepfake’s bond with art seems ready to gradually flourish based on interest and benefit. We have always maintained admiration and respect for art, even if our attention has waned through generations. Let us hope that, in the attempt to raise interest, art will not become cheap and diminish in value in the reality of deepfake.