Don’t be afraid of the artwork of the future
Creative artificial intelligence is the newest and, in some ways, the most surprising and exhilarating art form in the world. It is not yet fully formed. This tension creates some confusion.
If you’re familiar with using creative AI, you probably know it from one of the popular text-to-image AI apps, which use sprawling databases of existing images to convert a written prompt into a new image. OpenAI’s DALL-E 2 is the best known, but the newer and arguably coolest applications include Midjourney and Stable Diffusion. Their products can be amazing: realistic street scenes, ice mountains covered with strawberries in space, abstract concepts such as “hurt feelings” and “reminiscence” rendered in a way that seems visually accurate, if not entirely consistent. The best way to get an idea of their power is to test them yourself, and many do. Steady broadcast would have has a million users just a month after its release, and at least as many people use DALL-E 2.
These images are fascinating but strangely unsatisfying. Maybe it’s just that I know they’re inhuman. But inhumanity does not seem to me – at least for me, at least not yet – transcendent. It’s amazing that computers have created AI art, but AI art isn’t amazing on its own yet.
The confusion of nascent AI art unfortunately but inevitably leads to fear, as the unknown so often does. When Jason Allen is Space Opera Theater won the top digital art award at the Colorado State Fair, the reaction was quite predictable. Space Opera Theater was not art at all, critics said, but also, in a way, it was will replace the art. “Art is dead”, Allen himself Told The New York Times. “It’s over. AI won. Humans lost. Writer Walter Kirn recently wrote an essay titled “AI Art Doesn’t Exist”. For him, the human struggle is essential to the validity of artistic expression: “As a writer, I confront the demon of despair with every blank page, and also with many full pages, when I read what I wrote and feel it could be better, if only I could do it that way. AI knows nothing of these dramas. It compiles, sifts and parses, then finally runs. But he doesn’t dare. It takes no risk. Only humans, our vulnerable species, can. I mean, it’s not art if you’re just pushing buttons, is it?
What’s so annoying about fear of AI art is that it’s all been said before – about photography. It took decades for photography to be recognized as an art form. Charles Baudelaire called photography “the mortal enemy” of art. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, which was one of the first American institutions to collect photographs, did not begin to do so until 1924. The anxiety around the camera was almost identical to our fear of creative AI: photography was not art, but it was also going to replace art. It was “a simple mechanism”, as a critic put it in 1865. I mean, it’s not art if you’re just pushing buttons, is it?
The idea that art is only art when it shows evidence of the artist’s craftsmanship is, at this point, so ridiculous that it hardly needs addressing. The people who say anyone can make AI art are the latest in a long line of people who have said the same thing about some of the most important art of the 20th century. Anyone could do a drip painting of Jackson Pollock. Anyone could do Andy Warhol Brillo Boxes. Anyone Could Do Barnett Newman voice of fire.
Looking back, it is clear that machines have not replaced art; they just widened it. Post-war photography and artistic movements did not end anything. Instead, through them, new and wonderful things have come into being. Artificial intelligence will not replace creativity. It will simply reconfigure the nature of creativity, as machines have done since the advent of modernity.
So let’s turn from ridiculous fear to wonderful newness. Creative AI is the art of big data, perhaps the most direct form of artistic reproduction. What could be more appropriate for our moment? As Jean-François Lyotard wrote in The postmodern condition, “Databanks are the Encyclopedia of tomorrow. They transcend the capacity of each of their users. They are the “nature” of postmodern man. Creative artificial intelligence is the art of the archive; it is the art derived from the massive cultural archives that we already inhabit.
In this area, a strange surprise or a kind of strange half-recognition are common effects. Strange figures can emerge from the archival primordium – figures like Loab.
Loab is kind of an accidental horror story generated by creative AI. Swedish musician Supercomposite was once playing around with negative prompt weights – commands that generate images that are the opposite of a given text. From one of these prompts materialized the image of a terrifying woman. When merged with other prompts, increasingly gruesome images resulted, including some Supercomposite did not post—“the most disturbing, borderline images of dismembered children screaming”. Loab’s “creator” describes the monster she conjured as “some sort of emergent statistical accident.”
The great irony of creative AI is that its derivative character is what makes it so original. Loab is a form of expression that has never existed before, but it is unclear who the creator and audience are. Loab is much scarier when you know where she’s from, though. It is terrifying as an emanation of the collective imagistic heritage, the unconscious visual mind, if you will. Data, it turns out, has its own monsters.
We already have a useful context to think about at this moment. Virgil Abloh – skateboarder, DJ, Kanye West collaborator, Off-White founder, Louis Vuitton creative director and all-around genius – came up with several relevant “cheat codes” before his untimely death in 2021. His most powerful hack was maybe ‘the three percent rule. “A creative only needs to add 3% modifications to a pre-existing concept to generate a cultural contribution deemed innovative,” he said. said. “For example, a DJ only needs small changes to innovate a song. Similarly, a designer would only need to add holes to an iconic handbag to leave their mark. In the 21st century, reconfiguration , not originality, is the very essence of art. critical that his work amounted to ripping off other artists? Abloh’s reply was simple: “Duchamp is my lawyer. (Marcel Duchamp being the artist best known for a signed urinal.) These are beautiful principles to guide the art form that creative AI will be.
Already, there are glimpses of the direction this medium could take. He produced a deluge of images on stock photography websites. A marketplace for guests has developed, where you can buy and sell AI input phrases: $1.99 will get you a text description to power DALL-E 2 for emoji that look like they were molded from clay. There are also serious artists experimenting with technology. Filmmaker Glenn Marshall recently won a jury prize at the Cannes Short Film Festival for an AI-generated animation titled The crow. There are a number of AI artists worth checking out, including Karen X.Cheng, CoffeeVectors, Faezeh Razaviand Alan Resnick.
What has been true since at least the advent of photography is still true today: art that is half-born is the most exciting. No one knows what a new art form can be until someone understands what it is. Understanding what AI art is will be extremely difficult, extremely joyful. Let’s start now.