Artificial city

Artificial intelligence: good for art, bad for artists?

The emerging models of artificial intelligence operating in the art world are the subject of a wide discourse full of promises and threats, the potential implications of which are only just beginning to be felt. Many are captivated by the universe of possibilities that open up when an artist is in direct contact with an archive of visual learning that stretches back and forth through all of recorded history; many remain skeptical of what they see as the outsourcing of human creativity to a database machine. The first will argue that the study of art history, for example, is already equivalent to accessing such a database, except that it is now a database more complete and faster than a human brain; the latter will remain skeptical and will evoke the notions of errors and the soul of intuition.

Background: Deciphering the spin

This conversation about the nature of cognition and creativity is in itself a fascinating feat, well suited to the kinds of conversations artists and philosophers have. The exuberance of being in touch with a cosmos of ancestors in your domain is a stirring proposition. But there is another aspect to this, and that is the impact on graphic and commercial illustration, animation and character design, etc. – professional commercial artists who, without reference to philological debate, see their role eroded daily, their work itself being rendered obsolete in a way that few fear is happening in the fine arts. At the same time, since many AIs currently available to the public are prompt-based, it’s ridiculously easy to borrow and steal another artist’s style – just by typing their name into the program. So, is AI’s role in the creative process a tool, a collaborator or a competitor? Yes.

For passionate artists to explore the link between their own creative process and the augmentation and innovation of AI, there is also a difference between analytical and generative models – one that sorts datasets on behalf of the user, and the another that creates “new” content based on everything it’s learned so far, which is more analogous to a human brain having an idea. This and other points along the way are where questions originality, authorship and intellectual property come into play, sometimes with brutal relief.

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An artist tells Mid Road, Slab, night cafe, Steady broadcast, dream studio or a host of other applications they’d like “a landscape with a distant city skyline at night in the style of Henry Cole”, or “a statuesque elf queen with ancient weapons aboard a tall ship sailing towards the horizon in the style of Rembrandt”, or “jazz-era alley cats on a spaceship in a folk art woodcut like Grant Wood”, or – well, you get the idea . This is a fun game that will eat up thousands of waking hours in its addictive entertainment. Taken seriously, it could be a great way to get the instant gratification of an embodied idea, in sketch form; many programs allow the user to customize the file once generated. Not to mention all the fun one can have with poetic or non-linear language.

Sasha Stiles, POETRY IS THE ORIGINAL BLOCKCHAIN, 2021 (Courtesy of the artist)

But what happens when an artist enters the prompt referencing the style of a living artist, one who would like I don’t like to be the learning model for a global network of instant competitors who seem to flirt with copyright infringement by deliberately invoking their names in works they plan to claim as their own? And in practice, what happens when the art director of a magazine or an advertising agency can take what would have been an e-mail specifying the themes and parameters of a commissioned illustration – a public park in winter with children playing, dogs and snow in the trees; a doctor’s office waiting room with a diverse group of patients all on their iPhones in a photo collage style; a buffet table laden with exotic desserts and wildflowers in a Pop art style – and type those same words into Midjourney instead and get their result for free? Yeah, that’s gonna be a problem.

Botto: Consequence Psychiatrist

But back in the world of fine art, with its greater tolerance for academic experimentation and breakage, painters and photographers, poets and sculptors, filmmakers and animators, and all manner of artists whose work requires deep engagement with world cultures, hidden histories, literature, architecture, politics, and other expansive datasets – artists who truly view their relationship with AI as collaborativemutually informed, and the harbingers of a future in which the Singularity is not just a physical union with our technology, but also a cognitive and consciousness-based union – are exuberant and quite optimistic about the possibilities.

Vince Fraser for Artechouse (Courtesy of the artist)

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