AI and Art
Not child's play
Jason Allen won a first prize in fine art at the Colorado State Fair recently. He used a system called Midjourney to do it.
An artist uses Midjourney by sending it commands. Stuff like; place a figure in a long gown. Turn it away from the camera . . . . " on and on like that until the picture is done. The winning picture took 90 hours to create working like that. I think it's a wonderful picture. Midjourney works from a database of many millions of tagged images. It doesn't pretend to 'create' anything. It's very good at finding things and interpreting human commands and blending things together. They call it an AI (Artificial Intelligence).
It's interesting that this story made it to the Washington Post.
The first prize involved a ribbon and $320 cash.
The angle was; AI is taking over art!!!! Reading the article we find that this is not the case here. Allen was using Midjourney as a tool like I use Photoshop or Blender or painters use grids and brushes. It wasn't that Allen said; Midjourney, make me a picture and walked away.
But say you could do that. Turn on a machine and it would just churn out pictures for you as long as it was turned on.
Would those pictures be art?
I don't know of any machines that do that now, but I do know of workshops full of oilpainters that do a very similar thing.
Are those pictures art?
I'd say yes.
If somebody takes it home and puts it on a wall and calls it art; who is to say they are wrong? For me, the measure of art is whether a picture engages your attention in a sort of feedback loop that is like - looking causes a thought which causes a look which causes a thought . . . - and it's hard for the viewer to break out of that loop with strong works of art.
This is a viewer based definition.
And whatever works works.
But one might take an artist based definition of art.
I like this one from Jasper Johns when asked how he makes art.
Simple he said. First you do something, then you do something else and carry on like that until you're done.
This is a loop where the artist stimulates themselves to a new action rather than stimulate a thought - and for me this only applies to people.
People come into the world without a purpose and are nurtured and learn. As they grow, purpose emerges in them. They want to do things for their own reasons.
That doesn't happen with machines.
They are created for purposes external to them.
One powerful feature of AI is that once a system is trained to do something it is easy and cheap to copy. The copies don't need to be trained.
I have software that turns speech into computer text and printed material into computer text. This isn't quite AI; it's based on neural networks which are a key component of AI, but makes no claim to intelligence. But the point is that I could download the system and all it's training and install it in only a few minutes.
These systems don't do things for their own reasons. They do things for my reasons.
Returning to Jason Allen's wonderful picture. It wasn't made for Midjourney's reasons. Midjourney just does what it's told. It was made for Allen's reasons. It was Allen going through the feedback loop that Jasper Johns talked about.
One aspect of Allen's picture is the stunning level of detail all realistically presented.
I know a bit about the process of creating a picture like that and it involves a LOT of preparation and study and practice. Artists over the years have developed many tools to aid them - from the mathematics of perspective to tools like the camera obscura that would project an image onto a canvas. All of that is included in Johns' method.
And it's normal to the artist's perspective of art, but not really apparent from the viewer's perspective.
Naive viewers can have the illusion that the amazing work they are looking at is the product of some kind of genius.
Well - it is - but not the kind of genius where an artist walks up to a canvas and just starts painting away and ends up with a hyper-realistic scene.
But the naive viewer wants to believe in the 'genius' and considers the tools of the trade to be cheating.
It's like; "oh - that's how you do it. My kid could do that. That's not art"
The link between photography and painting has been interesting.
I'd say that the camera obscura that projected an image can be seen as a necessary precursor of photography but once chemists learned how to capture that projected image as a physical image it changed the nature of painting. All of a sudden producing a very realistic image was a relatively trivial task.
This freed a lot of painters from the constraints of representing reality and a hundred year experiment in abstract art ensued.
And photographs weren't considered to be art.
And then you get an Ansell Adams who were saying "look at this" and people were getting into the old feedback loop of art.
What do you think?
I open the floor