Believe it or not that isn’t a Rembrandt painting; it’s actually an original computer generated image. It was produced by ‘The Next Rembrandt’ project – a joint venture between IGN, a sponsor of Dutch Art and Culture, and JWT a creative advertising agency. The purpose of the project was to demonstrate how data can drive creativity and innovation by creating a completely new painting inspired by Rembrandt’s collection of work.
A huge database was built by scanning every known Rembrandt painting. With that database a self-learning computer algorithm designed the image based on Rembrandt’s body of work – a portrait of a man wearing black, a white collar, a hat and looking to the right is essentially the average Rembrandt painting so that’s what it produced. The algorithm then learnt Rembrandt’s technique to an extraordinary degree. Everything from his palette of colours to the brush strokes he used is taken into account and learned by the algorithm. For me, the best detail of the project is that the depth and texture of an original Rembrandt is created by printing the image on a 3D printer.
As a piece of sponsorship work it’s clearly brilliant. The project was richly decorated at the Cannes Lion festival – as it should be, it’s an incredible piece of communication work that adds legitimacy and meaning to IGN’s sponsorship of the arts. For the consumer it draws a clear link between what IGN’s innovative use of data and the art that they sponsor. It also demonstrates the awesome computer power that is available to us in 2016.
The project is challenging and is bold in claiming to have created the first Rembrandt painting since the seventeenth century. As a result it has caused some controversy – especially amongst art critics. Jonathan Jones for example said in the Guardian that it was ‘horrible, tasteless, insensitive and soulless travesty of all that is creative in human nature’ after it was revealed. However, this feels like a closed minded reaction. He dismisses the idea before giving it a chance. Like it or not, copies and imitations are common in the art world and it’s an interesting subject for museums to embrace. Last year Dulwich Picture Gallery replaced one of the paintings in its permanent collection with a copy, produced in China for £70. They then challenged the public to find the fake and 90% of those who voted got it wrong. I wouldn’t have backed myself to find the fake and I don’t think I would have been able to spot the difference between an original Rembrandt and ‘The Next Rembrandt’. What projects like this do though is make the public look closer at the work in galleries which should ultimately lead to more enjoyment of the artwork.
Matthew Hirschler – Campaign Executive