"Being human is enjoying what you enjoy and sharing what you see." Rick Ruben
Mark Twain once quipped, "The ancients stole all our great ideas." Yet he found the discipline to persevere. Today, AI can spit out all those ancient and modern ideas at lightning speed. Yet, creating novel ideas requires the perseverance of slow human discovery.
How will today's art stand up against the tides of time?
One of the thrilling aspects of stepping into an art museum is seeing the layers of history collide. Even the most modern controversial artists today marvel when standing before an Old Master painting or 19th-century art. The connection to the work is fundamentally a human connection. Time is the critical element. Things always look different from one moment to the next. The question is not "How did you do that?” but “Why did you do that?"
Time operates on two separate levels. One is in the historical context of generations, and the second is in the day-to-day operations of now. Almost any artist/writer I know has expressed the sentiment of working all day and getting to a place where they go to bed feeling bulletproof, only to wake up in the morning to return to work and think, "Wow! What utter crap!". Similarly, one generation looks at the previous generations' collections and thinks, "Why in the world did they collect that?"
Last week, I was invited to hear a lecture by Peter Trippi, editor-in-chief at Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. The lecture, which was held at the Lyme Art Academy, highlighted the resurgence of interest in the quality technique in painting. The Lyme Art Academy, founded in 1976 by sculptor Elisabeth Gordon Chandler, was formed from a single, bold idea – to offer a traditional education in figurative and representational art when academic principles had fallen out of favor. Idea-based art and conceptualism are essential; however, they should not come at the expense of technical ability and knowledge. It was heartwarming to be surrounded by a group of people at the academy who saw value in ensuring quality craftsmanship. Post-WWI, art has trended away from the traditional fundamental drawing. However, recently, there has been a resurgence. Today, we have a world where both paradigms can exist together easily, as both are necessary. One is not modern, and the other is outdated because it is the time that the painting speaks to that makes it modern or historical. Representational art done today is modern in that it speaks to today. Just as the modern painters of the early 20th century ( Dali, Kandinsky, and Mondrian), to name a few, speak to the world a century ago.
Today, the cycling back toward a demand for human skill in drawing, figuration, and landscape is interesting because it grew out of a technical world that seemingly could eliminate the need to develop these skills but ignored one crucial fact: Art is not entirely about the final product but more about lessons learned. When an old process is demonstrated in a new way, it is relevant. AI cannot invent, only recycle. Its limit is that it is not human. It is not as interesting to see what a machine learns as a fellow human, whose shared experience brings meaning and value. It is exciting today to have access to so much information, allowing artists to tell their stories through the internet and social media. Living artists differ from the past in that they benefit from history as it relates to today. This occurs through an artist’s lived experiences. To marvel at history and merge it with perspective, to tell their own stories through outlets of technology like the internet and social media. I am optimistic that there’s still a healthy appetite for art. I don't worry about coming up with new ideas; I focus on making great paintings. Just like Mark Twain persevered after lamenting that everything had been written before. I paint scenes that have been painted before. They will tell the story of me and of my time.
The creative process is more than just the idea. Still, as Rick Ruben points out in his new book, In the Creative Act: A Way of Being, four separate and distinct stages must be considered and addressed: Seed, Experimentation, Craft, and Finish (sharing). Ideas are just the first step. Completing a finished idea takes mundane discipline and sometimes less than creative days. The final product expresses more than an image. Instead, it is a learning document. Looking at the picture below, I quickly photographed four objects in my kitchen cupboard today. Three are treasures; one is disposable. See if you can tell which is disposable and why. Art objects are often less than functional, but they carry the stories of humanity.
If I told you AI wrote this article, would you feel it spoke my heart? Would you be eager to read it? (It is not, by the way, and just to be sure there is no mistake, I left in a few intentional grammatical errors). Likewise, if I told you the painting above was generated by AI, would you find it more or less of a treasure to look at? (Trust me, I also left the mistakes in the painting!) I would argue that you would appreciate the authenticity of knowing I had to work and innovate to create rather than recycle and recompose. In today's world, where we are oversaturated with ideas and images, practicing the discipline of creating is more important than ever.
Today, art holds the same power as it did a millennial ago. It has the power to communicate. Mark Twain wrote over a century ago, “The ancients stole all our great ideas - and I want them back, thank you very much.” Today, those same ideas are being recycled in a way that not only do I want them back, but I also want to discover and produce them myself as opposed to AI. It is undeniable that AI recycles the past at lightning speed. It is now writing screenplays, best man speeches, and closing arguments in the courtroom. It is indisputable that AI recycles the past at lightning speed. Slow perseverance, however, never goes out of style.
“A work of art is not an endpoint in itself.
It’s a station on a journey. A chapter in our lives. We acknowledge these transitions by documenting each of them.” - Rick Rubin