From Mind to Image: Obvious’s Breakthrough in AI Art

Dora Aguero
May 29, 2024

In 2018, the French artistic collective Obvious stunned the art world by selling an AI-generated artwork at Christie’s in New York for over 400,000 euros. Now, Pierre Fautrel, Hugo Caselles-Dupre, and Gauthier Vernier, the trio behind Obvious, have taken a monumental step forward in merging art and technology with their latest project, “Mind to Image.” This groundbreaking endeavor explores the possibilities of creating images directly from human imagination using AI technology and brainwave data.

From Brainwaves to Canvas

The process that led to this breakthrough began with a simple yet profound question: What if an AI could generate art without the need for a text prompt? What if it could instead translate our very thoughts into visual form? To explore this, Obvious established a research laboratory in collaboration with Sorbonne University and secured funding from the French National Research Agency.

Their journey started in June 2023, aiming to replicate and build upon existing research, particularly the MindEye fMRI-to-image model developed by Medarc. This model was known for retrieving and reconstructing images seen by individuals based on their brain activity. However, Obvious wanted to push the boundaries further by creating images from imagined thoughts.

The Process: Capturing the Mind’s Eye

The trio underwent multiple sessions in fMRI machines at the Brain Institute of the Pitie Salpetriere hospital in Paris. They observed a series of artistic images, and their brain activity was meticulously recorded. This data was then used by an open-source program, MindEye, combined with Obvious’s proprietary AI algorithm to recreate these images with striking accuracy.

In one intriguing experiment, Pierre Fautrel concentrated intensely on visualizing a volcano. The resulting hypercolor image, featuring a dark hill and flowing lava, was a testament to the power of their method, even if it wasn’t a perfect match to Fautrel’s mental picture.

Obvious Volcano, Ai Art
Photo by Obvious

The Challenge of Imagined Images

While reconstructing seen images from the visual cortex’s activity has been possible for about a decade, translating imagined images posed a much more significant challenge.

The data collected in these experiments was processed over many hours to train the AI, which infused the final artworks with a unique vibe influenced by Surrealism. Alizee Lopez-Persem, a researcher at the Brain Institute, emphasized the novelty of this achievement, noting the difficulty of capturing and recreating purely imagined images.

A New Artistic Movement

Obvious’s work resonates deeply with the principles of Surrealism, which has always sought to bridge the gap between dream and reality. The collective has even coined a new term for their approach: Neo-Surrealism. In their manifesto, they describe it as a “revolution stemming from the fusion between the human mind and artificial intelligence algorithms, capable of transcending the boundaries of our consciousness.”

This new art form allows artists to directly visualize their thoughts and share them with the world, creating an unprecedented level of intimacy and authenticity in art. Obvious’s mind-to-image artworks will be exhibited at the Danysz Gallery in Paris this October, with plans to extend the exhibition to New York and Dubai. The show will explore how AI algorithms enable a new step in the Surrealist movement.

The Future of AI Art

Obvious’s latest project represents a remarkable convergence of art and science. By tapping into the mind’s eye and translating imagination into visual art, they are not only expanding the boundaries of artistic expression but also paving the way for new forms of communication. As AI Art technology continues to evolve, the possibilities for its application in art and beyond are boundless, promising a future where creativity knows no limits.


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