Is AI generated art, Art?

The speed at which technology is infiltrating the art world, via humans, is too fast for most of us to keep up.

The speed of articles being published about A.I., a particular type of software technology is even more mind-boggling, for me at least.

Not being able to keep up with the pace of change of anything, whether that means to understand or embrace or use, inhibits acceptance.

The speed of technological evolution and our ability to process change in general, is what we need to get a grip on.   It's not the change itself that is hard to deal with, it's our human ability to process it via debate plus trial and error, combined with comfort in its governance, that is speeding ahead of our comfort levels.

Since time began, we have been adding technology to creative efforts, and all aspects of our lives, creating change, and resistance to it.

The gross oversimplification of really fast-paced technology revolutionary charge we are experiencing by referring to everything as AI (A.I. or Artificial Intelligence) or references to Hal, the robotic computer interface in Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” don’t help.  

The actual definition of A.I. is more limited and precise: “At its simplest form, artificial intelligence is a field, which combines computer science and robust datasets, to enable problem-solving.” (1)  A.I. does not refer to every aspect of computers, technology or robotics “Jetson style”.  Let’s be clear: even I thought a Bot Factory was a plant floor filled with robots. I only found out when brave enough to ask, at work for a tech company, that it was culturally accepted nomenclature for a bunch of code-running programs on one server working toward one set of goals.  

For the purpose of this essay, I will adhere to the simplified use of A.I. as a stand-in for technology versus its purist definitions.

Every new technology has been met with naysayers who prefer the old ways.  Many of us have seen the comic of the cave people who prefer carrying one rock at a time versus loading them onto a structure that moves on wheels to illustrate this.  We all know about the resistance to the printing press, its perceived and real impact on power dynamics and of course, art.

So, I'm going to stand up, or at least write down, why, we need to embrace A.I., with appropriate governance, as a continuation of our technological evolution that is like all the others.  It's not an evil robot taking over the world.  It's not technology working on its own while we are sleeping to create and distribute products - be they art, music, buildings or sweaters, or, to take over the world.

It's a confluence of activity defined in a modern sense as the AI-Human-Ecosystem.

We only have AI with the Human.  Period.

Rarely does society refer to technology innovators or software engineers as artists given they create using ones and zeros to design and build something new, rather than a paintbrush or the written word. Yet they are pursuing the same goals as musicians and film directors, or connaiserus of art : design, creation, storytelling, fixing, pleasure, self expression, sharing common experiences and more.

Efforts to define what art is are as old as the wheel-cave scenario. These debates have taken place within the art world with each advance in thinking and “creative” output. Renaissance versus Modern, Frank Lloyd Wright versus Victorian, Acid-House versus Classical, Rock and Roll versus Choral.  New versus Old.  One medium versus another.

If we stand back and review AI in this context (the combination of 1s and 0s combined with “run or if and” language, the machines that power it, and the output of a scrum or user experience journey…), it’s all art that is created by humans for a product that some human will apply in a way judged by other humans as productive or unproductive, as adding economic value or not, as art, or not.

Recently the Grammy Recording Academy, focused on the music subset of art, declared that “A work that contains no human authorship is not eligible in any category,” to help manage which songs, albums and aspects of the creative music process are eligible for awards.  What prompted me to finally write this essay, is their notion that “... if a song was sung by an actual human in the studio, and they did all the performing, but AI wrote the lyric or the track, the song would not be eligible in a composition or a songwriting category.”(2). 

What?  When was the last time a recording was excluded for having a DAW, “The digital audio workstation is the primary software used to record, edit, and mix music on your computer. Originally designed to mimic the look-and-feel of analog mixing boards from the pre-digital era.”, or filters and diffusion techniques to improve the final product? (3)  

I think the Academy is trying to define where the human contribution stops and starts, where the line between that contribution is creative or not.  The result is too narrow as well as forgetful.  Remember the synthesizer versus “real” instrument debate?  It’s a debate stuck on repeat.

Selfishly I’m interested in this topic as I’ve long understood the application of data science to improve Marketing problem-solving (often referred to the Art + Science of business), and, I’ve now built a business that depends on the broad definition of AI to create art.  Everything about my art is human-generated. 

I am curating and creating photographic bookshelves which are then printed and framed to display IRL.  

If I were to hide my method, you may think I was taking the photographs and then cutting and pasting them in some physical way. What you are probably forgettng, because the actual change you took place slowly, in a niche arena, a long time ago, is that much photography today is taken on a DIGITAL camera, then uploaded to a COMPUTER and edited using photography SOFTWARE.  Thus just one photo of one book has been AI-enabled.  All aspects of that photo were debated as little as ten to 30 years ago with the entry of the Apple computer into graphic design studios, and digital cameras into the “real” camera space. I’m old enough to appreciate the art of the “old school” advertising art director working with a beautiful black marker to sketch an image for the ad you were briefing in.  I remember wondering if my peers graduating from OCAD using CADs were as good as the ones with markers.  Was it the tool that made them good?

I am using AI, code generated by humans, plus graphic designs created by human designers using specialized software, plus research gathered in person, online and in print (enabled by software and robotic printing presses) to build the art more quickly and easily. I can then offer customization and prices to make it available more easily, quickly and affordably.  Not to mention the delicate art of building a website people can understand and buy from in to create their custom art, finished in the fine art method of Giclée.

We have created artwork, generated digitally which is most often turned into a physical product by a renowned printing and framing expert, and sometimes kept online only for digital purposes.  It’s all art.  It’s being shown in art fairs and galleries, put on walls in homes or offices, and deserves to be in that category regardless of how it was created.  

Did technology assist it?  Yes.  Did the technology exist on its own and create this art all by itself? No. Is my goal for the technology we are using to “get smarter” and generate art in new ways? Yes.  Does that make the process and results less artistic?  Of course not, as there is always a human contribution.  You cannot separate them. Even if, shall we say when, it appears that the software, maybe in a Robot form, is creating the art, it’s still art - some human has to be creative enough to teach, tell, edit, direct etx. the Robot’s efforts and learnings.  It’s just harder to understand where the line is drawn.

It will inspire us all and reduce fear if we become more accepting and understanding of the AI-Human-Ecosystem in art. It does not diminish the work of others to let people with new ways into the group.  

Broadening the definition enhances access for all to the amazing output. It will encourage people to open their minds to new approaches and understand the underlying factors creating the technology so as to better govern its application, privacy or manipulation concerns.   

The people spending their time learning and improving the application of AI in their career or area of interest are already benefiting, helping to create data sets and rules that will protect the rest of thus.  I know there are people using for the wrong reasons, and hope that with acceptance, we will become more involved in understanding where the AI is learning this bad behaviour from, and how we can help stop it.

So while I respect what the Academy has done to “protect” the humans involved in music separate from the music created by AI, I feel the approach is myopic and the rules will be shortlived.  It was only a little while ago that the revolt against synthesizers and Led Zepplin versus Depeche Mode took place, yet that feels like centuries compared to the speed with which AI is altering our daily lives.

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