A Prankster Used A.I. to ‘Improve’ Edward Hopper’s Classic ‘Nighthawks’
A certain Pulitzer Prize–winning critic may even have fallen for the gag.
The rise of artificial intelligence has created reams of new artworks, many of them generated, controversially, on the backs of artist’s existing pieces. Now, one X (formerly Twitter) user has shown a way that A.I. can offer “improvements” to classic works of art, starting with Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, and even one of the art world’s most beloved critics may have fallen for the gag.
“Using AI, I was able to take some old painting and make it better,” posted X user Sonch (@soncharm) last week, sharing a jpeg of Edward Hopper’s famous scene of urban ennui, Nighthawks from 1942, how housed in the Art Institute of Chicago. “Where even is this? Who are the people? Huh? You’re too far away to really see the setup. Whole left side blank. Nothing here to grab onto,” Sonch complained.
“I had the AI parse the image, & create a full description of it. Using that description, I had it regenerate an image and it was just way better,” Sonch continued, showing a sunnier image of a mid-century soda shop. The image was further improved by subsequent passes through the A.I., each iteration featuring smiling people in a sunlit scene, culminating in what appears to be a present day Sunday brunch complete with a pair of happy (if, in classic A.I.-generated form, slightly goofy-looking) dogs on the sidewalk.
That thread now has thousands of comments, retweets, and likes, with Sonch wryly defending his opinion of the improved scene and seemingly ignoring the merits of the original painting. “If you want to recreate a piece then do it, but saying it is better is totally subjective,” comment the photographer Joshua Ryan Williams. “I have a spreadsheet open right now of the ways its better and there’s at least 4,” Sonch replied.
It appeared that none other than Pulitzer Prize–winning New York magazine art critic Jerry Saltz might have even fallen for the gag, if a screengrab posted on Soncharm’s account could be believed. “Amazing how you basically neutralized & turned into illustration – a deeply mysterious endless painting,” Saltz supposedly said. The tweets have since been deleted, however, so it’s unclear if the exchange was all part of the prank too.
Others soon got in on the action, with a user going by henry pissinger (@abbleiphone) similarly improving Guernica, Pablo Picasso’s classic black-and-white cry against war—by colorizing it. “So much vibrancy and energy,” Pissinger said of the revised version. “And it added some playful animal mascots at the bottom!”
While the original post inspired dozens of angry responses—“Congratulations, you completely ruined the entire point of Nighthawks”; “took all the soul and nuance out of a piece to make it some generic applebee’s wall art”—there was at least one user, definitely not nowt (@yo_watson), who saw the point of it all. “One of the cleanest trolls in a while,” they tweeted, “fair play.”
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