After decades in the business, new developments continue to amaze me. Following the emergence of NFTs (Non Fungible Tokens) as a traded digital collectable, we now have the rise of Artificial Intelligence. That hit the headlines recently when German artist Boris Eldagsen turned down the Sony world photography award after admitting that his entry had been generated using AI. Meanwhile love letters, poems, songs, greetings cards messages and other missives can now all be created using AI instead of having to engage one’s own brain. To top it all, AI generated artwork is also selling at auction.
It’s not often that I dwell on the philosophical, but I do wonder whether anything created by a computer programme, without the input of the spark of life and spiritual inspiration, can be classified as art. I’m not expecting an answer to that one in the next five minutes – after all, the human race has been creating art for at least tens of thousands of years and no one has yet been able to pin down a catch-all precise definition of what art actually is, and in many ways I hope they never do, because that would break art’s magic spell.
This calls to mind the late great Kenneth Clark, whose ground-breaking TV series Civilisation put the cultural cap on the 1960s.
In his introduction to the first episode, entitled The Skin of our Teeth, Clark famously opined: “What is civilisation? I don’t know; I can’t define it in abstract terms, but I think I can recognise it when I see it.” Of all the emblems of civilisation across the world, what did he decide to use as his backdrop to illustrate this point? Notre Dame in Paris, now rising from the ashes after is catastrophic fire in 2019.
It’s reassuring to know that great treasures of the past, the results of creative genius, still mean so much… and that traditional art and antiques can still get the heart racing at auction.