Monday, September 18, 2023

Art in the Age of Algorithms: The Soul of Creation

“13” by Kevin Wasden

"Art in the Age of Algorithms: The Soul of Creation"

By Kevin Wasden

©2023 article and art by Kevin Wasden

Much like Tevya in Fiddler on the Roof, I’m struggling as the values and traditions of the art world change around me.

At the beginning of the century, digital art software and tools became accessible for home computers, significantly changing the landscape of art and illustration. Initially, I resisted this transformation and refused to embrace digital tools in my creative process. I held the belief that creating art digitally was akin to cheating. However, the advantages of digital art, such as increased speed and the ability to secure more jobs and income, eventually outweighed my reservations. But it has taken me a long time to embrace digital tools as a valid tool for creating art. In fact, it has only been within the last year that I have actively sought to use digital art programs, such as Photoshop and Procreate, to create what might be considered fine art. 

Today, we are again witnessing a new "revolution" in the world of art, marked by the growing accessibility of Artificial Intelligence (A.I.). Notably, even individuals without a background in art are sharing captivating A.I.-generated images, presenting us with a pressing question that continues to gain momentum: Can A.I. generated images be considered real art?

This pivotal question is being examined by artists, galleries, art collectors, and even the United States Copyright Office. In one particular example, Bitforms Gallery in San Francisco challenged the definition of art with its DALL-E: Artificial Imagination exhibition in late 2022.  Ellie Pritts, a participant in this exhibition stated passionately: “I think it is really important to showcase right now that this is a new medium. There are serious artists; this is legitimate work.”

Also of note, the world’s first A.I. art gallery opened in Amsterdam in March 2023. Ironically, the gallery’s name is Dead End. The gallery recognizes, even celebrates, the imperfections and idiosyncrasies of A.I. art, including all the six-fingered and multi-limbed figures.

However, it's crucial to note that among most professional artists, the prevailing sentiment seems to be that A.I. falls short of being tue art. Many artists are deeply concerned about the potential ramifications of A.I. on their livelihoods, spanning various creative professions, including visual artists, musicians, writers, and actors. This concern is so pronounced that it has even become a focal point in the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike, particularly regarding the role of artificial intelligence in Hollywood.

Given my roles as both a content editor at a publishing company and a visual artist, I have found myself deeply contemplating the role of artificial intelligence. I've pondered the extent, if any, to which A.I. can play a meaningful role in the various creative fields that I actively engage with. 

It's evident that A.I. possesses limitations, particularly in its current iteration. However, it is clearly progressing toward a future where it will be able to craft remarkable art across various mediums. The time will come when A.I. will generate art adorning museum walls, compose songs that soar into the Billboard Top 100, and produce movies that resonate deeply with our emotions. The potential for A.I. to create great art is both exciting and frightening.

Yet, there is a caveat — this advancement may come at a cost, potentially overshadowing the role of great human artists. This raises a significant ethical and philosophical question: Is that a sacrifice we should be willing to make?

As we look toward the horizon of possibilities that A.I. presents, we find ourselves at a crossroads. We must carefully weigh the implications for both the art it can produce and the artists it may replace. It's a complex issue that challenges us to navigate the evolving intersection of technology and creativity with thoughtful consideration. We must acknowledge the profound depth that great artists bring to their craft. Their talents have been refined by countless hours of dedication and relentless effort, but more than anything, their art is a result of lived experiences, unique perspectives, and an insatiable hunger for expression and improvement. 

Let me share one of my favorite quotes, by the great Japanese artist, Hokusai, in his book, “One Hundred Views of Mt. Fuji:

“...until the age of 70, nothing I drew was worthy of notice. At 73 years I was somewhat able to fathom the growth of plants and trees, and the structure of birds, animals, insects, and fish. Thus, when I reach 80 years, I hope to have made increasing progress, and at 90 to see further into the underlying principles of things, so that at 100 years I will have achieved a divine state in my art, and at 110, every dot and every stroke will be as though alive. Those of you who live long enough, bear witness that these words of mine are not false.”

This relentless pursuit of self-improvement and the profound desire to contribute to the world around them stand as the defining characteristics of great artists. So, when we stand before a magnificent painting or sculpture displayed in a renowned museum, let us choose to recognize that its greatness is a product of the artist's journey — a journey marked by learning, perseverance, and a tapestry of lived experiences.

In contemplating the role of Artificial Intelligence in my own profession and creative pursuits, I believe that we can embrace A.I. as a tool without losing sight of the core values and identity that define us as creators. A.I. has the potential to support human creativity. However, it should never serve as a replacement. In my own work, I will utilize A.I., but I recognize that it should never come at the expense of my my own endeavors to become a more skilled draftsman, painter, or writer. It is only when these new technologies supplant our inherent need for learning and self-improvement that we venture onto precarious ground.

So, like Tevya, there is a point where evolving traditions push against the core of our beliefs, a point at which we cannot change further without risk of losing our purpose and identity, both individually and collectively.

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