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Artist or AI?

Updated: Apr 1, 2023

“A man cannot understand the art he is studying if he only looks for the end result without taking the time to delve deeply into the reasoning of the study.” ― Miyamoto Musashi

I have been thinking much about what art should be and should not be. Lately, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has engulfed the art world. The term “artificial intelligence,” first coined in 1956 by computer scientist John McCarthy, makes it possible to receive computer-generated images of art from old masters to abstract expressionists or even pop artists. The way it works, in simplest terms, is an AI Art generator creates art pieces using algorithms to analyze and learn from the work of human artists. The generators then use this information to create pieces that resemble the work of humans. What is created is a product, but what is lost is the artist. Or is it?

Millions of years ago, in dark, crude caves, it is unlikely art was produced to decorate an unlit cave. What art was used for, at the core, was to fulfill a human need to create and understand. Left to a computer, those basic human needs are not met. Collecting a Leanardo da Vinci is as much about wanting to be inspired by human mastery as it is about looking at a beautiful picture. If fact, I would argue it is much more about revering human capacity for learning and understanding than decoration. I recently finished a book by author Robert Greene titled "Mastery." In his book, Greene states, "Mastery is not a function of genius or talent, it is a function of time and intense focus applied to a particular field of knowledge.” There are no shortcuts to mastery. With that in mind, is AI killing understanding?

Perhaps not. For example, Interdisciplinary South African artist Stasah Lava uses AI to explore consumerism narratives worldwide. (Stasah's amazing conceptual work is on Instagram @stashlava) Rather than fighting with the progress of the post-digital art era, she explores Utopia and Dystopia ideas in art that mixes digital media with traditional painting methods proving that artists and creatives can successfully use AI. But it should be used as an aid or a tool rather than a replacement for innovative thought and process. While it is useful in creating 3D models and sketches, it is not possible for it to take the place of human sketching because it is in those beautiful doodles that real human innovation occurs.

Artist charter into the unknown. AI draws on the past, not the unknown. Algorithms should not dictate art because they cannot form personal opinions or beliefs. Curious, I asked the AI writing tool (Chat GPT), "Why do humans drive for mastery." The computer's answer was:

"As an AI language model, I cannot have personal opinions or beliefs, but I can provide you with the definition of mastery: Mastery is the state or condition of having complete knowledge, skill, or proficiency in a particular subject or activity."

It implies being an expert in something, achieving excellence, and performing a task effortlessly and accurately. Mastery usually requires significant time, effort, and practice.

To a certain extent, shortcuts are human nature. When driving, we strategically seek out the shortest route from Point A to Point Z, and GPS devices have taken a lot of the guesswork out of this process. However, unlike the benefit that can be derived from driving, shortcuts in creating art do not work. Art is best when the process and the mistakes are left in. Have you ever tried your hand at a paint-by-number painting or a coloring book? It is a product in the end, but if it is lifeless, lacking the sole of an authentically thought-out piece of work. I've even tried to duplicate my work before, but it does not work. It loses depth and interest when the process is left out of the piece. When mistakes are left in, they are not mistakes but a roadmap to thought and learning. Abstraction and conceptualism do not draw on the past. They change to a new uncharted form.

In general, statistical machines are not the same as human intelligence. Why does this matter? Because of surprise! It is the good stuff in life. Little changes, mistakes, and human errors are unexpected. Computers work by correlations, not common sense intelligence and intuition. Art should be led by intuition. One reason it is hard to teach art is that technique and golden ratio rules are easy, but it is impossible to teach intuition. That comes from practice and play. Out of it comes originality and adaptation vastly different from a machine's. As always! I welcome your own thoughts on this subject. After all! Mine are human, thus flawed and leading me towards learning and understanding.

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Lorelei Sowa
Lorelei Sowa
Apr 02, 2023

After completing this article, I had the fantastic opportunity to reach out to the AI artist mentioned. I was thrilled to receive her email response to this article, and with her permission, I will post her unedited thought in hopes that it encourages more dialogue on this zeitgeist art trend.

Hi there

Just a few notes about your lovely article. I really enjoyed engaging with it. If you want to post the conversation, it might inspire more people to jump in.

I have been thinking much about what art should be and should not be. Lately, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has engulfed the art world. The term “artificial intelligence,” first coined in 1956 by computer scientist John McCarthy, makes it possibl…

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