The Nature of Art
The following picture recently won 1st place at the Colorado State Fair:
Don’t know about you, but that looks extremely cool. I could totally see picking up a print of that on canvas and hanging it on my wall, if I were still in charge of decorating my house. Reminds me a bit of the splash screens for Guild Wars 2, which I have always enjoyed.
By the way, that picture was actually generated by an AI called Midjourney.
Obviously people are pissed. Part of that is based on the seeming subterfuge of someone submitting AI-generated artwork as their own. Part is based on the broader existential question that arises from computers beating humans at creative tasks (on top of Chess). Another part is probably because the dude who submitted the work sounds like a huge douchebag:
“How interesting is it to see how all these people on Twitter who are against AI generated art are the first ones to throw the human under the bus by discrediting the human element! Does this seem hypocritical to you guys?” […]
“I’m not stopping now” […] “This win has only emboldened my mission.”
It is true that there will probably just be an “AI-generated” category in the future and that will be that.
What fascinates me about the Reddit thread though, is how a lot of the comments are saying that the picture is “obviously” AI-generated, that it looks shitty, that it lacks meaning. For example:
It reminds me of an article I read about counterfeit art years ago. Most of the value of a piece of artwork is tied up into its history and continuity – a Monet is valuable because it came from Monet’s hand across the ages to your home. Which is understandable from a monetary perspective. But if you just like a Monet piece because of the way it makes you feel when looking at it, the authenticity does not matter. After all, most of us have probably only seen reproductions or JPEGs of his works anyway.
At a certain point though, I have to ask the deeper question… what is a “Monet” exactly?
Monet is rather famous, of course, and his style is distinctive. But aside from a few questions on my high school Art exam decades ago, I do not know anything about his life, his struggles, his aspirations. Did he die in poverty? Did he retire early in wealth? Obviously I can Google this shit at any time, but my point is this: I like The Water Lily Pond. The way it looks, the softness of the scene, the way it sort of pulls you into a season of growth you can practically smell. Who painted it and why couldn’t matter less to me, other than possibly wanting to know where I could find similar works of this quality.
This may just say more about me than it does art in general.
I have long held the position that I do not have favorite bands, I have favorite songs. I have favorite games, not studios or directors. I have favorite movies, not actors. Some of that is probably a defense mechanism – there are many an artist who turn out to be raging assholes, game companies that “betray” your “trust,” and so on. If part of the appeal of a given work is wrapped up in the creator(s), then a fall from grace and the resultant dissonance is a doubled injury. Kevin Spacey is not going to ruin my memories of American Beauty or The Usual Suspects, for example. I may have a jaundiced eye towards anything new, or perhaps towards House of Cards if I ever got around to watching that, as some things cannot be unlearned or fully compartmentalized (or should be).
So in a way, I for one welcome our new AI-art overlords.
Unlike the esteemed Snoo-4878, I do not presume that any given human artist actually adds emotion or intention into their art, or whether its presence enhances the experience at all. How would you even know they were “adding emotion?” I once won a poetry contest back in high school with something I whipped up in 30 minutes, submitted solely for extra credit in English class. Seriously, my main goal was that the first letter of each line spelled out “Humans, who are we?” Granted, I am an exceptionally gifted writer. Humble, too. But from that experience I kind of learned that the things that should matter… don’t. Second place was this brilliant emo chick who basically wrote poetry full-time. Her submission was clearly full of intention and personal emotion and it basically didn’t matter. Why would it? Art is largely about what the audience feels. And if those small-town librarians felt more emotions when hit by big words I chose because they sounded cool, that’s what matters.
Also, it’s low-key possible the emo chick annoyed the librarians on a daily basis, Vogon-style, and so they picked the first thing out of the pile that could conceivably have “won” instead of hers.
In any case, there are limits and reductionist absurdities to my pragmatism. I do not believe Candy Crush Saga is a better game than Xenogears, just because the former made billions of dollars and the latter did not. And if the value of something is solely based on how it makes you feel, then art should probably just be replaced by wires in our head (in the future) or microdoses of fentanyl (right now).
But I am also not going to pretend that typing “hubris of man monolith stars” and getting this:
…isn’t impressive as fuck. Not quite Monet, but it’s both disturbing and inspiring, simultaneously.
Which was precisely what I was going for when I made it.