thisbanksydoesntexist: All of it is ART-ifcial

Original article was published by Hideo Daikoku on Artificial Intelligence on Medium

thisbanksydoesntexist: All of it is ART-ifcial

The Art of Training Artifice

I’ve always been fascinated by street art. As a teenager I would go to my neighborhood with a spray can and make graffiti about things that were on my mind, perhaps as an act of rebellion against the world I was living in. I wanted to be an artist, whether it was through making crappy music in my basement or tagging walls in forgotten neighborhoods with watered down spray paint — I just wanted to create something. When I was 18, I saw a documentary on Banksy that changed my perspective of art as a whole. It was called Exit Through The Gift Shop, and I recommend it to anyone reading this article.

Exit Through The Gift Shop — Trailer

For those of you unfamiliar with Banksy’s work, its usually a commentary on complex socio-political events with a lot of historical context. The place where the artwork is placed is also very relevant to its deeper message. Bansky is anonymous to this day, and perhaps prefers to remain so forever. His bold statements and work have shaped, broken and rebuilt much of what art is considered today.

Banksy’s artwork being shredded after fetching a $1.4 million at an auction. Photo: Reuters

Modern art is plagued by the necessity to sell it in galleries and validate its worth by a monetary value — sometimes just a signature on the bottom right is enough for it to be worth million. Banksy’s “prank”, where he shredded an artwork of his that sold for $1.4 million, shocked fans and critics alike. Needless to say, his work is an interesting probe on what we consider as art, as well its deep entanglement with politics and society.

I thought it would be intriguing to “reconstruct” this deconstructed artwork and ask the question, what is the dollar value of artificially generated art?

I downloaded RunwayML, with the hopes to train a GAN (Generative Adversarial Network) in learning some of the features of Banksy’s work. I wanted to see if it could capture Banksy’s distinctive street style and combine it with other styles of graffiti.

Getting Input Data

My first try was a little less successful than the second. I combined Bansky’s work, modern graffiti and impressionist artwork to see if the model could figure out how to do a style transfer. I used a Chrome extension and extracted 7,448 images from Google Images. Some images had to be sorted Manually. We searched the keywords “graffitti” “street art” “banksy” and “impressionism”. I used a bash script to override naming conflicts, remove glyphs and icons and put everything into one directory.