Virtual Art: Google’s DeepDream


Photo Courtesy of Pete Ashton/ Flickr CC One of the images produced by Google’s DeepDream of Victoria Square, Victoria Square, England.

Photo Courtesy of Pete Ashton/ Flickr CC
One of the images produced by Google’s DeepDream of Victoria Square, Victoria Square, England.

Students of the University of San Diego’s Department of Art, Architecture, and Art History learn about innovative media that has been used to develop art, whether it be with video, paint, or clay. This leads to the study of the boundaries of art and what defines it. Currently, Google is pushing these boundaries even further, blurring the line between what is art and what is merely simulation.

Google has recently developed a new computer program known as DeepDream that allows it to produce virtual art.

The program is based on an algorithm that allows for computers to copy the unique painting style of famous artists such as Vincent Van Gogh, Wassily Kandinsky, and Pablo Picasso.

According to the Daily Mail, not only does DeepDream allow for famous painting replicas to be produced, but scientists also aim to use the computer to study        the human mind’s ingenuity and creativity. This is because DeepDream is designed in such a way that the program imitates the patterns in which the human brain learns new creative concepts and ideas and applies them in the form of art.

Google’s new artistic computer program has thus applied some qualitative elements to art, as it is based on a mathematical algorithm. The algorithm that DeepDream uses is known as a virtual neural network, which is the same type of system that is used by Facebook to recognize people’s faces to allow it to suggest tags in photos.

The Deep Dream program takes in the information that the researchers provide it with and process it to produce virtual paintings that mimic the style of particular artists, taking into account colors, shapes, and stylistic brush strokes.

Researches have been able to send photographs into the program, where DeepDream reproduces the photo as a painting in the style of a famous artist. For example, a photo of the New York City skyline was sent into the computer, and after processing it through the neural network program, it was printed as a Van Vogh-style image, similar to the artist’s well-known work “The Starry Night.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, last month Google held an art show and auction featuring 29 of the virtual creative works produced by the DeepDream program. The works were all based off of the painting styles of famous artists, including Van Gogh, and they all sold from $2,200 to $8,000. This poses an opportunity for a new market segment in the virtual art world.

Senior Ghazal Babai believes this new computer generated algorithm is interesting but thinks it is closer to virtual art than it is to real art.

“I don’t think it’s art, it’s a good business opportunity,” Babai said. “I think it’s interesting however, in my opinion, art is something that is using imagination or passion coming from a person’s mind, like the computer algorithm aspect just makes it a production in my opinion. If it was a person that was completely in charge of it I think it would be different.”

Babai also explained the business potential that this new form of art production may hold.

“It’s a really good business opportunity though, because it can be mass-produced for cheap and people can maybe submit their own pictures or whatever and choose the style or artist they want to look like.”

Senior Maxine Velez reflects on previous conceptions of art and ultimately believes the images produced by Google’s Deepdream still do not compare to handmade art.

“I think art varies in the eye of the beholder,” Velez said. “Someone who is into computer graphics would definitely view this as art as the technique behind creating the software is complex and quite impressive in my opinion. I personally still think a human being-produced painting is the real art here because the painter possesses both the creativity and the skill to do this by hand, and most importantly puts forth the beauty of the human mind.”

Whether students agree on whether the images that the DeepDream program produces can be considered real art, researchers are able to use it to study the way in which the human mind learns in new and creative ways.