Can Artists Survive the A.I. Revolution?
Unless you live completely off the grid as a creative, you’ve probably been part of conversations about whether artists can survive the A.I. Revolution. People are quickly realizing the power of A.I. image generators like Midjourney, Dall-E 2, and Craiyon. Even a super left-brain engineer can type a few words into an art generator and produce an eye-catching image within a few minutes. But what does this mean to artists and creatives who have already put in the proverbial 10,000 hours which Malcolm Gladwell brought to the forefront of our culture.
How Can Artists Compete?
How can artists compete with supercomputer capabilities to sample thousands of images in a few seconds and synthesize them in a few more seconds? Many have asked, “Is this the end of art?” This begs a few questions: What is art? Is art more than a synthesis of ideas? Is there something unique about humanity that computers cannot replicate? These are the questions and themes under hot debate and deep discussion at think-tanks and over the dinner table to creatives and artists today.
“Good artists copy, great artists steal.”
Picasso Is Still Correct
Picasso was bold, and brash, but could also be quite refreshingly transparent. One of those honest statements is about how all artists get inspiration from other people, other ideas, and from other artwork. As my old jazz professor used to say, “all artists are kleptomaniacs.” And if you are a creative, you know what he meant.
How many musicians hear a great lick, riff, or melody and become inspired to create their own version, or interpretation. Hip-Hop culture is itself built on the idea of sampling music from other artists and using those ideas to create new music and ways to express themselves. This may seem relatively new to some people, but it has a long-treasured history among artists.
Artists Find Inspiration Everywhere
Art is never completely original. There is no such thing as a completely original work of art. From cavemen and women who musically imitated the sounds of the birds, to Lin Manuel Miranda’s amazing musical, Hamilton, every artist finds inspiration outside of themselves. Something catches their eye or ears. Then they find a way to tweak it, invert it, color it, and create a new way to express it. Some artists make small contributions, while others create something so refreshing and new it changes an entire field of art. But make no mistake, all artists find inspiration somewhere else.
The Opposition to A.I. Art
But what about the sources of art? There is a new hashtag, #notoAIart, which has given exposure to artists raising concerns about the legality of images scraped from the internet. This includes a large volume of public domain content, but quite a few artists claim that some of the images used by these A.I. engines are copyrighted images. This means artist’s work that may show up in a Google search or other search engines may be used by A.I. generators without their consent. Granted, the computing does not simply duplicate the image and proclaim it as original, but it is still utilizing creative content that is copyrighted. Some “new” images may have far too much in common with an “original” copyrighted work scraped from the internet and one would never know.
The A.I. Quality Problem
Some of the A.I. art has a real quality issue. Images that look like a bus full of people look great at first glance, but as you look closer, the faces are deformed. SLATE magazine wrote an article about how it can’t draw fingers or faces well. The algorithms are far from perfect. This may be a consolation to artists today, but imagine where the algorithms will be in 5 years? It may be hard to tell the difference.
What is Art?
Leo Tolstoy wrote an entire book wrestling with the question of “What is Art?”. One of the conclusions he made was that art is a human activity in which people, by means of a creative medium, give to other people feelings based upon what they have lived through, such that other people are infected by those feelings and experience them. By this definition, A.I. art is not art because the computer has no “feelings,” and it has not “lived” through joys, triumphs and sorrows. But deep down we may still wonder about this. Why? Because these A.I. image generators can produce some jaw dropping results.
Is AI Art, still Art?
AI users make the case that if all artwork is derivative, or inspired by many other influences, then what’s the difference whether it is a person or a computer that samples and generates new artistic creations? But if an artist creates a work of art that is too similar to another artist, we would dismiss them as unoriginal, uncreative or even as plagiarists. We have a deep sense that each artist should be bringing something unique to the art they create. Otherwise, why create it? Or rather, why not let a computer use an algorithm to create it?
The Question of Plagiarism
Computers may not really be attuned to it, but the question of plagiarism also rears its head in this discussion. If the A.I. is only copying other images, is there always enough of a new twist to justify calling the new product, ‘art’? As Vivian Lam put so eloquently in her WIRED article,
“There’s a difference between transforming a trope into something new and duplicating someone else’s iteration and calling it unique. There’s a difference between imitating someone’s style for practice or in homage and copying it to pass off as your own. And there’s a difference between sampling components of someone’s work with their acknowledgement and wholesale appropriation without due credit.
All artists base their work on many sources—it’s why many can rattle off a list of their influences and inspirations on command. Far from diminishing, identifying these echoes enriches an oeuvre by putting it in conversation with the creative genealogy that made it possible. Imitation is how we learn to create, and incorporation is how we learn to create well. The central issue plagiarism raises isn’t a philosophical question about what constitutes originality or gatekeeping—it’s whether we value the people behind a source of inspiration, without which all other works based upon it would not exist.”
The Theological Consideration
If you are a materialist, who believes we evolved from nothing, then humans have no intrinsic value. Whatever a computer makes, might just be a different kind of evolution, and it could possibly outperform the biological evolution of which you are a product. This may be humbling or even feel humiliating, but why should you care? You’re just a clump of cells. Your creative passions don’t really matter in such a view of life and eternity. Sadly, this could lead to nihilism and then depression.
If you are a Christian who believes we are made in God’s image, then you know that there is something unique and precious about you, which some A.I. image generator cannot truly compete with or take away from you. Sure, there are some simple kinds of art that A.I. algorithms may be better at creating. But, that may just push us harder to avoid kitsch, and to eschew nostalgia and simplistic forms of art.
A.I. Will Push Great Artists
Though some may bemoan this new A.I. art, maybe this will force true creatives to do what we should be doing in the first place. After all, if we believe our creative work is a form of worship (Romans 12:1), and we have promised to worship God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength (Matt 12:30), then we ought to always have been the most creative and the most innovative.
In this new era of art, some artists will utilize these A.I. generators as part of their process. Others will be pushed to think clearly about what they do that is so unique….that is a clear reflection of the Image of God He has placed within us. And Patrons who care about the Imago Dei will be drawn to their work.
Your Turn to Share What You Think
I wish we could sit over a cup of coffee, or break bread and discuss these issues, but we can’t always do that. And yet, I want to hear your thoughts in the comments:
What will you do?
How will you find a way to continue to develop as a creative and to express something uniquely to your audience?
Copyright © 2023 Joel & Michelle Pelsue. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.
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