I was watching a programme on the tele about works of art and whether they’re real or fake. My UK readers might know the one I’m talking about. On one of the programs there was a drawing consisting of a single pencil line drawn down a sheet of paper with a few squiggly bits added. If it was by a certain artist, it would be worth tens of thousands, if not it was worthless. This got me thinking about how art is judged. If a piece of art is created by a machine, is it still art? And if so, how much is it worth? These thoughts led to this story, which isn’t nearly as highbrow as this introduction might indicate.
* * *
James was standing in front of an oil painting, arms folded and looking thoughtful. Beside him, his business partner, Pete, was waiting for his reaction.
James turned to look at Pete. “The colours are right, the brush strokes are perfect and the ageing has worked really well.”
“Yes, I thought so, it just needs a good frame and we can sell it.”
“One thing I did notice.” James gestured towards the middle section of the canvas. “I don’t remember the original Mona Lisa having such a nice pair of knockers.”
“No, me neither. I think it improves it.”
James turned and glared at Pete. “What the fuck happened!”
“What do you mean?”
“Pete, the Mona Lisa is famous for many things, one of them, and a quite important one, is that she hasn’t got her tits out!”
“I’m sorry, I don’t know what happened, maybe we were hacked.”
James took a deep breath to control himself. “Pete, we’ve been working on this system for a long time and put a lot of money into it. We’ve built a state-of-the-art robot and programmed it to fake paintings worth millions of pounds. Do you really think we can sell this?”
“No, well, maybe, but we can try again. Just reprogram it.”
“Just reprogram it? It’s a near AI system, we didn’t program it, it’s self-taught.”
“Ok, so we can teach it the proper way to paint.”
James took another breath and sighed deeply. “Ok, what else did it paint?”
“Er, yeah they didn’t work out, so I threw them away.”
“Ok, they’re here, but don’t shout.”
Pete went over to a corner of the workshop and pulled a dust sheet off some more pictures.
“Ah yes, the classic ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring’. Again, looks good, the brush strokes are incredible and the colours. What’s… er, what’s this, on her face?”
“I think the robot’s brush leaked.”
“It’s jizz, isn’t it? The robot painted a money shot on her face. Have you been watching porn in front of the robot?”
“No! Ok a little bit. I didn’t know it was watching.”
“Damn it, Pete. I told you not to do or say anything in front of the AI and you’ve been watching porn and, I don’t want to even think about what else.”
“It was just a few videos, that’s all.”
“Well, even if it was only one, look what you’ve done.”
“What’s this next picture. ‘Le Déjeuner Sur L’Herbe’ another classic, often imitated.”
“You can’t blame me for that one, that girl is naked in the original.”
“Yes, indeed, although I don’t remember her tits being so big and I don’t think the men had erections sticking out of their trousers.”
Pete looked closer. “Oh yeah,” he laughed.
“There’s nothing to laugh at Pete. We’ve wasted huge amounts of money here. The only way to fix this is to wipe it and start again, which could take years.”
“Wait. I’ve got an idea. What if we copy nude paintings? You know, there’re some famous nudes, right? We could show it some of those and copy them. It’s not porn if it’s art.”
James sighed. “I don’t know, it’s possible. I’d hate to think what it would come up with if it started with a nude. Fuck it, let’s give it a go, we’ve got nothing to lose.”
Several days later James and Pete stood in front of their art robot’s latest creation.
“We started with ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’, one of Picasso’s more controversial pieces. And well, we got this. It’s certainly something,” James said, tipping his head from side to side.
“It certainly is, but what?”
“This figure here has four boobs and a dick, and this one has three pussies.”
“This one has a square dick, that could be painful.”
“It’s not worked Pete, we’re screwed.”
“Hopefully not by the square dick.”
“It’s not funny, Pete. What are we going to do?”
“Ok, don’t get mad, but I’ve done something that might make us a bit of money.”
“What did you do?”
“I showed that topless Mona Lisa picture to my mum and she thought it was hilarious.”
“Your mum! Pete this is supposed to be a secret!”
“Wait, listen. So, I put it up on one of those sites where you can sell stuff, like merch.”
“What? You uploaded it to a website? Oh, we’re screwed now.”
“No, it’s perfectly legal, I checked. You can make your own images of stuff like that, there’s no copyright. So, I put it up as a poster for twenty quid.”
James sighed, his emotions all fighting for control. “Ok, so we’re selling posters of the Mona Lisa topless as a poster, for twenty quid, as opposed to selling fakes of the original for millions?”
“Yes, but this is legal, and we can sell as many as we like, not just one.”
“And how many posters do we need to sell to pay off our loans and credit card debts and all the money we owe other people?”
“And how many have we sold?”
“Let me just look.”
Pete logged on to the merchandise store and checked his account. “Right, we’ve sold seven.”
“Thousand.” Pete grinned.
“Seven thousand! So, £140,000?”
“Well, there are some site fees, we don’t get all that. But that’s just today.”
“Seven thousand posters in one day! Right, get the others, put them all up.”
“Yes, even square dick. It’s not porn if it’s art.” James headed over to the robot.
“What are you doing?” “I’m getting this thing back to work, we’re art dealers now.”