AI evangelism and Art Creation

An image of bob ross that has been style transferred to look like a circuit board

There are a lot of presuppositions in this article that require examining. Much of this is written from an artistic academic perspective which (hello!) puts me in a unique position to explore.

This talks about AI evangelists a lot and engineers working on artistic applications. It puts forward the statement that AI needs art more than art needs AI which is a Big Thing.
Let’s unpack that a little. As the article explains AI needs art for capitalist reasons. It needs the appearance of cognition to be truly successful.
AI is already successful, commercially viable and very much contributing to capitalism. And it has been since the first predictive shopping algorithms. Most AI is built around capitalism, including building ad revenue in gaming and replacing jobs
This is all a bit of a no brainer. So why would capitalism need AI based art? This posits because that would be the sign that AIs have truly begun to think and be sentient, but I argue that capitalism doesn’t really want that. It already has it and it’s nothing but trouble™️
(I’m talking about humans there) capitalism wants AIs that will shut up and do as they are told. It wants them to have specific skills and decision making abilities, but not true cognition.

Now does art need AI? This is a more complicated question. Does Art really need anything? What does art need? We have been making art forever, it is part of our evolution. It is part of who we are.

What do we need to make art?

Humans will literally make art out of anything. Does art need that? Did it need Hirst to make For the Love of God? Did it need photography? Did it need premixed pigments? Did it need video? Or galleries? Or art critique magazines? Or would we have simply used something else?
Art is.
Art needs.
Art abides.
Art adapts.
AI is another tool to help us make art. And yes, some of us hope that we can have our computers make autonomous artworks because automatic art making has been a subject of research since the surrealists.
Automatic Drawing involves letting go of the mind and what we think we know and creating work based on muscle memory. Working without conscious control.

This research has been furthered in robotics and in generative art with the first computers.

This is not a new thing.
The difference is now that we have technology beyond the surrealist’s wildest dreams, we have technology past what automaton engineers thought possible.
The question that literally always arises when a new artistic technology comes forward is “is this art”

This is a tiring question.

Does it make you think? Does it make you feel? Is it aesthetic and interesting and was it created for that reason?

Then it’s art.
Don’t like it? Too bad. That doesn’t make it not art, it makes it art you don’t like.

I don’t like Monet. That doesn’t make it not art. It’s just art I don’t like.

Picasso’s art was called into question because it was different.

Photography is still fighting for recognition
We have new amazing technologies at our fingertips. But what we do with it, that is what matters. A picture of my cat taken on my phone is not photographic art (no matter how handsome he is!)

And work created with no intent behind it is not AI art either.

Now. That gets into the notion of intent.

I of course argue that computers are collaborative partners in AI art and that that is ok. It will be fine if it stops there
But the notion of vision and interpretation is inherent to the nature of art. To the very fundamentals of it’s practice.

My latest research is in the concepts of seeing. In computer vision and classification and understanding as applied to art.
Because when we understand how things are seen we understand more about how art is made and how art is seen. When we understand the art of seeing we see art better and we make art better.
We are teaching computers to see.

You know who else needs to be taught to see?

Art students.

And that is what AI is. It’s a student.

What this article fails to explore is how computer vision is impacting our lives, yes through commercialism, but also through our governments. It fails to explore that art is one of the things historically used to rise up against those things.
We are teaching machines to see and then we are teaching them to make art.

Sometimes we have engineers creating art who go into the how and the what but not necessarily the why or what impact it may have.
And now we are having artists using this technology to create art. With depth and meaning and purpose. Not just to the materiality of the technological means but also to the perceived materiality at the heart of the work. This is a new mode for creation with a lot of depth
I’m not saying everything will be amazing or incredible, or even that you are going to like every piece. But you don’t have to. Some will be the equivalent to a cat picture that I took on my phone and some will be masterpieces. Because that is the nature of creation.
Many would argue that we need emotion to create art and that computers will never have that.

Then there are artists who strive to be emotionless as they create
The article implies that it can’t be AI art because there are a lot of manual processes involved.

There is now, just as painting was very manual once, with grinding and mixing pigments before adding in resin and oil and mulling…

We can buy oil paint premade now.
I’m not saying that we are there. We may never get 100% autonomous work, and we don’t have to. At the moment we collaborate with our machines in amazing and interesting ways to create unique new works. We absorb knowledge and create art based on it. Just like neural networks.
But to assume that this is all a commercial endeavor, and that artists only do it to fuel capitalism and the agendas of big companies. That is just unfair. It’s unfair to the artists who work hard and it is unfair to the universities that focus on this research.
Art needs AI because art needs everything that can be used to make art.

I make AI art because I enjoy the questions that surround it, that inform every decision I make. I enjoy looking at it from an artistic background rather than a computer science background.
For me, AI is the perfect medium to explore the questions we have about gender and humanity and what it means to be human. I explore post gender post humanism with a blank slate, a machine that knows neither.

It is an amazing medium to explore!


this has been lifted from my Twitter thread on the subject. If you would like to read it in the original twitter with gifs you can find it here: