The Perks of Anonymity: A Must-Read for Emerging & NFT Artists

After much resistance against the NFT craze, I recently came across an eco-friendly minimalist NFT platform know as hicetnunc2000 on the Tezos blockchain. I thought I’d give it a try even though I didn’t own any wallet or coin, and a few minutes after creating my account and uploading my first animation (one copy) it was sold out…It took me a few minutes to understand what happened. Congrats to the stranger who bought it, the stranger the better!

Above all, the platform has introduced me to some super talented artists. Artists, I have never heard of. I thought I was anonymous on Twitter with barely 1000 followers but then I meet great artists with barely hundreds of followers, not that the number of followers is of any value, however, it must be frustrating for some artists not to be able to show their work. And this is where the NFT movement has won my interest and support. Many artists are trying to make a living off their arts and I would hope for everyone to be able to live off their passion one day, perhaps through NFTs.

For those who don’t know me, or have only recently been discovering or collecting my art, thanks to the world wide web and now blockchains and NFTs, hello and thank you for stopping by.

After my PhD in informatics (Complex Systems) at Indiana University and Postdoc in information extraction and NLP in French Literature at the Sorbonne University, I moved into the private sector to apply NLP on a few products and was very excited about deep learning. In 2016, I was reading Ian Goodfellow’s GAN paper and by 2017 with Theano becoming more and more accessible, I was excited to test GANs on the MNIST and adapted it to train on a private dataset of black and white portraits I have been taking since 2011 for a project called 1001faces.

In parallel, I have been painting since I was 5 and trying to bridge between arts and science. I have had a few exhibitions, in galleries, cafes, restaurants. One Summer night in 2017, I was chatting with a friend who works at the Grand Palais about an artwork I have composed of thousands of imaginary people that have been generated by Artificial Intelligence. While we laughed about these none-existing people and called them “children of the cloud”, my friend suggested that I exhibit them at the Grand Palais the following year.

I could not contain myself with joy and rushed into filing my application to make things official. Six months later, we meet at the Grand Palais (Paris) with my “children of the cloud” composing the artwork “sleeping muses” translated from French “muses endormies”.

Moments after the opening on February 13th, 2018, I arrive to see 4 people in front of my artwork interested in its acquisition. It was one of the most exciting and stressful moments that year but what was to follow was not any calmer.

Next, I was working on another AI-generated artwork that was to be shown at the Salon d’Automne (Paris) where movements like cubism and fauvism started a century ago.

A couple of months before my exhibition, I started getting emails from friends about breaking news about Christie’s intention of auctioning the first AI-generated art.

Coincidentally, that was planned around the same day I was having my exhibition at the Salon d’Automne. On August 25th, my installation attracted a lot of attention from the public and the jury that awarded it the prize of the best digital award.

On that same day, Christie’s invaded the news with their “first AI-generated Artwork to be actioned at” half a million dollars. That made me cringe and made all my friends mail me every other article published. Naively, I was taking the time to contact the journalists who copied-pasted Christie’s press release but that was in vain. The very few that responded and acknowledged the situation, changed nothing in the article. Could it be that these journalists are paid to write about the “artists” that pay their daily job with little or no regard to truth? I had always thought that journalists were passionate about history and truth until one of the honest journalists told me how things “work”. Journalists have become science fiction authors and sci-fi authors have lost their jobs!

My response to Christie’s claims about the first AI-generated art auction

That is when I decided to let go and move on. In any case, even though I preceded many, I must have been preceded by many as well. In fact I have used a lot of open-source code and was inspired by others. To name a few, Alex Mordvinstev (google labs), Prag Mital, who were experimenting with google dream and stylegan first. Why are they not having their art auction for instance?

After Christie’s sale was Sotheby’s, AI ART festivals, AI ART Galleries, AI ART blogs, and AI ART you-name-it. They all had one thing in common, seek attention! Attention seeking, consumes huge amounts of time with the branding, emailing, tweeting, blogging, posting, press-releases, SEO ranking and so on and so forth.

At this point, I had to decide between two fates:

  • Listen to my ego and fall for the trap of endless “there is more success and status” if only I would talk here or pose there…
  • Keep doing what I love with no distractions what so ever and from time to time I might share something that I truly like and that will have a positive impact.

Sure, I did make the first sound bad but not very bad. I could have added a few lines about its consequences of “Jeff Kooniness” that one has to forcefully embrace. With no offense to any of the artists that have chosen the first path, people believe in them after all they read in the news and watch on TV. The value of their art no matter how stunning or dull is a product of branding that is a confusing beauty in the mind of the beholder.

“Those who reinvent the wheel have more time to talk about the invention than those who invent it”

To go back to the perks of anonymity in the sense of having no outstanding, individual, or unusual features; unremarkable or impersonal. Without any further due:

  • Once you are famous for something specific (style, theme, domain), it is hard to switch to something else, especially if you become attached to fame. The anonymous or less known is free to pursue any gut-instinct or passion anytime, whereas the celebrated will have to stick to contracts and engagements that could influence his or her art.
  • The attention-seeking institutes and organizations want big names in their conferences and summits. If you’re not a big shot, regardless of how good is your art or terrible, you are of no interest to them. That said, your participation in these events or listings of artists are not based on your art but on how much importance your presence can give these organizations. If you search for AI Artist, you will come across a listing that does not have the two people that inspired me or me and that makes perfect sense and gives us more time to create and less time to pose.
  • When an anonymous sells an artwork we know for sure that it is because the artwork was good. When a celebrity cells an artwork nobody knows whether it was for the signature or the quality of the work. I have done 2 exhibitions in which I was introduced with a different name. I did not want people to research me in advance or like me for the share of fame I unintentionally brought into my life and no longer wish for henceforth. The experience was incredible. In one exhibition, I met people who insisted that I’d be introduced to a gallerist they know as they saw potential in the seemingly anonymous artist.
  • Peace and freedom cost a lot these days and fame is not how to have them. On the contrary!

This article was inspired by a conversation I had with one of the anonymous artists with amazing talents and potential without knowing it.

I would like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that AI will not replace artists and although we have been doing generative and algorithmic art for half a century, it did not get a hundredth of the attention that the AI ART buzz got.

Algorithmic Art, I have done in 2011 similar to the so praised AI-ART we witness today

If you would like to support me, I sell my art online at https://www.hicetnunc.xyz/tz/tz1RvPTb8CPiFFLjDqonmkqdqfwWJdQgcua5 and offline at exhibitions before and after pandemics.

Thank you!

Traditional, Digital & AI Artist, Data Scientist, Creative Coder, Filmmaker, Hyperpolyglot, Cosmopolitan. Formerly @snips @fortia_s @UPMC @CNRS @paris_sorbonne.