After decades in the business, it never ceases to amaze me how new developments can still amaze me! The latest to do so is artwork generated by artificial intelligence now 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, exactly 50 years ago (it ran from February to May 1969).
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.