Last summer, while roaming the galleries of the Detroit Institute of Arts, I was lucky enough to find Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait with Shaded Eyes, which was there on loan from the Leiden Collection in New York for the year.
I stopped to admire the incredible artistry in the almost 400-year-old piece. There was so much beauty in the interplay between light and shadow, the distinctive texture of the brushstrokes, the fine lines of the figure’s hair and fur coat, the emotion in his eyes. There was so much humanity ingrained in every aspect of the piece.
Last week, I stumbled across a short article by Peter Schjeldahl in The New Yorker that mentioned a Rembrandt – a “Faux Rembrandt.” It went on to explain that a “team of scientists, engineers, and art historians” had used data from Rembrandt’s work to 3D print a new Rembrandt, not a replica of one of his pieces but a completely new piece with a new subject. The painting was unveiled in Amsterdam last Tuesday, and it has been causing quite a stir in the art world.
The piece is called The Next Rembrandt. Through a highly technical process, the creators used computer software to scan and analyze Rembrandt’s existing work to determine who the subject of the portrait should be and how he should be dressed and positioned, then they were able to replicate Rembrandt’s brushstrokes and the thickness of paint he used by printing multiple layers of paint-based ink, which made the piece 3-dimensional like a real painting.
Everyone agrees that this is an incredible feat for technology, but is it art? And does a painting generated by a computer truly compare to the work of Rembrandt van Rijn?
In this video presentation about the computer-generated piece, the process is explained, and various people involved in the project discuss the piece and its significance for both technology and art. They compare the creation of the work to bringing Rembrandt back from the grave. “I would have believed if I saw it in a museum that it would have been a real Rembrandt, just one I haven’t seen before,” Ron Augustus of Microsoft says in the video. The video even goes so far as to suggest that Rembrandt would be happy that we are trying to better understand him and his artistic process.
However, not everyone agrees. In the article in The New Yorker, the piece is compared to “fanfiction,” implying that it is a cheap imitation of Rembrandt and has no real artistic value. Schjeldahl complains that the subject of the portrait “utterly lacks the personhood” that is visible in Rembrandt’s other figurative pieces, and though he concedes that the piece doesn’t do any harm, he concludes with the thought that The Next Rembrandt wasn’t worth the incredible amount of time, effort, and money that was poured into it.
I’m not sure that I agree. While the piece certainly isn’t Rembrandt, there is something beautiful about seeing the work of an artist as old and revered as Rembrandt in such a new and innovative format. Nothing quite like this has ever been done before, and it creates so many exciting possibilities to blur the lines between technology and art, to connect creativity and science in a way that is so astoundingly human.
Some artists have already started to use computer programs and codes as paintbrushes, but The Next Rembrandt takes computer-generated art to a new level while still showing reverence for art painted by hand. After all, there would be no “Next Rembrandt” without the original. Rembrandt was a master of his craft whose work is irreplaceable. “The Next Rembrandt” simply gives us a new opportunity to understand Rembrandt’s art on a deeper level.
What do You Think?
What do you think about The Next Rembrandt? Is it just an imitation or something more? What effect, if any, do you think it will have on the art world? Share your thoughts in the comments below.