I know it’s a relatively slow news week in technology, but this story going viral seems so silly,
Artists in Colorado are up in arms over the first-prize winner at the annual state fair’s art competition: a digital collage made by artificial intelligence.
The work, titled Théâtre D’opéra Spatialis attributed to Jason Allen via Midjourney, which cites the name of the program used to blend different images and the artist who entered the resulting work into the competition…
Allen, who is president of Colorado-based tabletop gaming company Incarnate Games, added that he believes his work is a natural extension of his own creativity. After all, he sets the parameters in which the AI creates; Afterward, he processes them in Photoshop and then finishes them in Gigapixel.
There will certainly be a time for debating if AI-generated images are art, but now is not that time. For starters:
- The image won in the “Digital Arts / Digitally-Manipulated Photography” category, See for yourself, It’s not being represented as a painting or a drawing (two other categories in the contest). In other words, it’s competing in an area where virtual world screenshots like the kind Cajsa covers could also be submitted.
- It won in an art contest at… the Colorado State Fair, Other competition categories include Beer & Wine, Small Animals and, simply, Horse. Not taking anything away from the State Fair, but maybe it’s not exactly the Whitney Biennale?
- The winning entry itself is an illustration, not art, An illustration is an image associated with (and generally promoting) a product — a movie, interior design, lawn mower ad, etc.), while art is meant to express something essential about the human experience Submitted by the president of a tabletop gaming company, the winning image definitely falls in the former category. It could easily be the box cover image for a sci-fi conquest strategy game.
- It’s easily identifiable as a Midjourney-generated image, This last point may just be my own perspective, but after seeing so many AI-generated images over the last few months, I’m beginning to easily identify one made in Midjourney versus, say, Craiyon or Dall-E. (Both of which are also recognizable.) When we are able to categorize the different “palettes” of AI image generators, it’s time to consider them digital tools for making images, but not art in itself. Also, when a digital palette becomes recognizable, it also becomes boring, So I doubt human artists have anything to worry about any time soon.
A better place to start the “Are AI images art?” The question is where the image is generated by someone with genuine artistic intentions and thoughtfulness about the human condition — not simply trying to create a cool picture.
Dr. Nettrice Gaskins, for example, is not only generating Afrofuturist artwork with Midjourney — and I’d definitely call them art — she’s selling them. But the commodification is a byproduct of her works reflecting the African-American experience, and subverting the industry’s use of artificial intelligence in general, which are often racist in application. As Noted metaverse artist Jeff “AM Radio” Berg put it about Gaskins’ AI/machine learning-generated work:
[Its] most important implication is not so much the end product, although beautiful, the work puts the learning bias of race to the forefront, compounded by systemic racism’s affect on the digital divide and unequal access to advance tech tooling such as machine learning… This The inexcusable disparity of experience is highlighted by this far different experience of Afrofuturist possibilities that exist despite the bias. On this case It’s not a story about the novelty of the technology, it’s about human beings and the dilemmas we face and must face up to as ML models reflect even unconscious bias in very forward and blunt ways.
As to this particular story around the Colorado State Fair entry, Jeff’s take is this:
I go back to our previous conversation where I said: “For the creator then, do we present Machine Language, or do we wield it? Can I explore even the Duplo blocks of things like Tensorflow and toys like Craiyon and create a strange experience for people that makes me wonder about the technology, or can I create an experience that reminds me how human we are and possibly expand the boundaries of the definition of what it means to be us.”
So is this more than just a presentation of what Machine Learning can do or is it a presentation of what an artist can do? The difference is key. I don’t know if it comes down to a narrative from the artist or some heady references to Duchamp written by intellectuals.
I don’t even know if these first forays into ML generative art will one day be considered the velvet Elvis paintings of our era. It feels like some rich complexity and stirring “muchness” is waiting to be found in all of these tools. I’m looking for it too. If someone finds some magic that uncovers a gestalt in all of this, they will have found a new way of thinking.
So is what happened in Colorado art? Perhaps in that it provides another step and plants a flag in the ground that says “this is art” so that we can debate, as we are right now in this discourse. And maybe that’s all art needs to be, but I’m looking for something more for that flag and the people looking to push the boundary forward.
Much to discuss!