As the air around the use of AI thickens around us, with people eagerly exploring ways in which applications like ChatGPT and Dall.E2 can make our lives easier, we need to draw a line when it comes to generating art using AI. As an artist, and first and foremost, an art-lover, the liberal use of the word ‘art’ has always bothered me, as has the elitist gatekeeping of it. It sounds contradictory but we need to see the distinction between art and non-art, and art and AI generated ‘images’. Yes, anything created by AI are ‘images’ at best and not art. They don’t fit the criteria for a multitude of reasons, the most important reason being that they come from shallow dives into data instead of the depths of human experience.
AI images have given rise to a debate about whether or not AI can replace artists. The answer depends on how we see and define art. If we define art by practical skills and a composition that is easy on the eyes, AI can definitely do the job but not without raising questions about its originality. Any AI generated art we see is the sum total of the work of other artists. We are lucky that we live in a day and age when art is freely accessible to all, thanks to the internet; but ripping off artists to make cheap derivations of their work is abuse of power. As exciting as it is to see a computer forge an image or ‘art’ in minutes, we should ask ourselves how ethical it is to use such images.
If we suppose that AI can perfectly emulate the work of an artist, then where does it lack? It lacks the journey, discipline and self-discovery of an artist. Art is created in a state of self-reflection, inspired from nature and in response to society. While creating an artwork, an artist will often learn about their own feelings, thoughts and their place in the society. They might draw someone with a distorted face because it represents their anger or they’ll paint someone flying in the clouds to convey their state of eternal bliss. What makes you connect with art is the human expression behind it, even if it is just colours smeared on a canvas.
Creating art is an act of courage that requires you to bare your vulnerabilities. Art is considered a luxury but it becomes sustenance in your worst times. It saves you by letting you know that you are not alone in your experience, there has been a stranger, maybe a century ago, miles away, who in some moment felt the same way as you do. Nothing alleviates pain like knowing someone understands you, nor does anything make life more worth living than finding beauty created by other humans. It is this feeling of human connection that AI cannot replicate.
Art has existed since before the beginning of civilization. We don’t need art to survive but it is what we survive for. We are expected to feel elated at every new technological advancement without questioning how much it really adds to human happiness. Humans were meant to have leisure and in that leisure they were meant to create art. Now, since we have no leisure, we want AI to have the pleasure of creating art on our behalf? This is how we go tremendously wrong with technology. The meaning of art has changed and adapted over the years but this was never the point of art.
The thing that scares me more as an artist is not that I will be replaced by AI but rather that I will have to endure bad art. Art has to come out of a painstakingly long process of internal enquiry in the face of our own individual struggles, there is no shortcut to it. AI images will always lack the nuance of emotion or the inkling of a deeper story. It will always be pretentious and inauthentic. Sure, AI can imitate the brushstrokes, colours and textures of a Van Gogh painting, but it cannot replicate the years of hard work, failures and struggles that sieve through in his work. It cannot make a statement on class and society like Edouard Manet did.
An interesting concept in the study of aesthetics is the concept of ‘sublime’, given by Immanuel Kant. He describes sublime as experiencing something beyond beautiful, something divine and transcendental. It is the feeling you get when you see a towering mountain or the vast ocean before you. According to him, only nature and art can produce the feeling of sublime in us. I think that the measure for the best of art is in how close it takes us to that feeling of sublime, how much it invigorates that sense of wonder in us and inspires us to live life beautifully.
So I think it's best that everyone sticks to what they are good at, which means that AI needs to do our laundry and taxes while we create art. Or else, what is the point of technology?