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The philistine war on AI art Genius can appear in the silliest of places

Can a machine rival Vermeer? Credit: OpenAI


January 10, 2023   8 mins

Among the most ingenious moments in Kraftwerk’s admirable oeuvre is the point in 1981’s “Pocket Calculator” when a human voice self-contentedly sings: “By pressing down a special key / It plays a little melody.” The melody follows in confirmation. The genius here seems to lie in the blunt honesty of the singer, owning up to the contemporary condition of music as an art form that has largely been outsourced to machines. It’s not that the German electronic band invented the technology, nor that they were the first to make use of it. They are simply among the first to figure out how to elevate it to self-awareness, and to press it into a gesture of timely irony and potentially timeless beauty; that is, to make art out of it.

The little melody in question is of course a pre-set. Its sequence of notes is planned in advance, and once the key is pressed, the machine may be relied upon to do only the thing it has been programmed to do. The melody, it goes without saying, is no Bach fugue. It is simple, naĂŻve, kind of dumb; and within the context of the song, it is utterly compelling.

Several conditions — technological, cultural, historical — had to fall into place in order for this melodic interlude, with its verbal introduction, to come across to the critical listener as an expression of genius. All of these conditions might be cited in response to any philistine tempted to declare, of the pressing down of that special key, that “I could have done that too”. We are used to hearing such petulant ressentiment, especially in connection with the 20th-century avant-garde in the figurative arts: “I could have entered a urinal in an exhibition, too”; “I could have painted an all-white monochrome, too”; etc. The simplest response is, “Yes, but you didn’t”.

But this is probably too succinct to teach the philistine anything new about how art works. It is going to be particularly important to sensitise people to the logic and dynamics of artistic creation as we enter the new era of AI-generated artworks and are bombarded with new images created by machines following the input of a mere verbal prompt from a human being: DALL·E 2 being a prime example. Among other unpleasant prospects this new technology opens up, we will have to brace ourselves for a new wave of declarations from philistines telling us of the things they could have done too. It will be useful to have something new to say to them in response.

While technical competence is unmistakable, genius has a strange way of horseshoeing with idiocy, which is why we need critics to help us tell the difference. Jimi Hendrix lighting his guitar on fire is genius; a suburban kid in 1967 attempting the same, in his parents’ garage, is idiocy. Context matters, and by 1967 Hendrix was almost uniquely positioned to change the world, at least a little bit, with a gesture that would have been merely wasteful if attempted by nearly any other human alive.

Catchphrases that we associate with a particular artist or character are almost always banal in the extreme, but when Jimmy Durante says “Ha-cha-cha-cha” or Jimmie Walker says “Dyn-o-mite!”, we are witnessing a gesture of something like genius as well, or at least of idiosyncrasy, which is akin to genius in that it flows from an individual’s unique ingenium or natural aptitude, and proves to be mostly unteachable and entirely untransferable. I can of course go around evoking “dynamite” whenever I am enthused about something, but it will come across as perplexing at best and pathetically imitative at worst. When Jimmie Walker said it by contrast, he became himself a flash of light, a rupture in our ordinary expectations of the world. I’m a critic and I’m here to tell you that that’s genius.

Wit, too, like idiosyncrasy, is a species of the genus of genius. Once Winston Churchill sat at a formal dinner, dissatisfied with the food and the service. When the champagne arrived, he is reported to have remarked: “Finally, something warm.” I could try out that same phrase in a million different settings, and perhaps one or two of these would find it landing as wit; in the vast majority of cases it would be a simple non-sequitur, in a few it would be an accurate, literal, and unfunny description of the thing or event before me. With another million attempts, perhaps an occasion would arise in which the line approached the quality it had in Churchill’s mouth. Genius, along with its lesser cousins, I mean, is a fluid and variable thing. But one thing it definitely is not is technical competence.

Philistines go in for photorealist painting; they imagine it testifies to “progress” in representation since the time of the Dutch Masters, since its lines are sharper, its objects come across on the canvas as more like objects the way we find them in “the real world” (that is, the world mediated by the physics of light and by the physiology of vision, which ordinarily we scarcely understand, or even think about, instead taking the affordances of our sense of sight to be straightforward reports of external reality itself). But of course what photorealist paintings actually resemble are photographs, and in this respect to learn to paint the world photorealistically is to create machine-aided paintings, where the machine is, namely, the camera. If David Hockney is correct, cameras of a sort, camerae obscurae, have been deployed since the Renaissance to assist in capturing the world on canvas. We have had machine-aided visual art for a very long time, but the use of machines in one’s artistic labours has never been necessary or sufficient for the creation of works of lasting aesthetic merit.

Could that be about to change? It’s 2022 and there’s a new thing going around on Twitter. You can click on a link, and arrive at a site that invites you to upload a photo of yourself, after which you will get a “reverse AI portrait” that spells out, in language, what it is the computer is “seeing”. I give it a try, and this is what it tells me: “A man with blonde hair and a black shirt, a character portrait, inspired by Eric Peterson, reddit contest winner, precisionism, doing the bateman stare, taken in the early 2020s, photograph of Christopher Walken, Thom Wasselmann, without glasses, John Waters, face with artgram.”

I’m not impressed. It strikes me that the machine is just looking for something, anything, to say. It’s smart enough to know that many people get excited when they hear mention, any mention, of Christopher Walken; they launch into bad imitations and everyone loves it. Bring up his name along with some other nonsense phrases and some bare factual descriptions of my physiognomy, and you’re sure to get a few retweets. This little fragment of language is optimised for virality, not for saying anything true. It is just more social-media bullshit; it is not art.

It’s 2030, after the war, and I’m at an AI art fair in Vladivostok. There’s some guy, some hot new artist on the scene, who makes customised portraits of visitors based on a special sequence of keywords that he enters in secret, on the basis of his spontaneous reading of our physical, behavioural and apparent moral qualities. I wait in line impatiently, and when my turn comes and my portrait finally uploads to my retinal “screens”, I am confronted with an image of myself that appears somehow warped, perverse, somewhat beastly, and yet, I have to admit, also, profoundly familiar and true. I don’t know how the artist and his machine managed to pull it off. I’m impressed. The dude got me.

Kraftwerk’s special key, as a pre-set, could only do one thing, and cameras too, have generally been limited to registering what is in front of their lens in accordance with the mechanical parameters, exposure time and so on, set in advance by the photographer. One genuinely novel feature of AI art is that it is not like this. Two different users can enter the same prompts into the same programme at different moments, and will get two different images in response. This places the human-machine collaborative work of creation somewhat closer to the activity of the Turkish fortune-teller who compels a rabbit to sniff out one of several possible pieces of folded paper that contains, in writing, a hint of the customer’s future. A good niyetçi will know how to manipulate his rabbit to give interesting results, even if the choice of paper depends in the end on the rabbit’s own inscrutable perception of the world.

Divination is not ordinarily considered art, though it is acknowledged to rely on artifice, and though much art incorporates aleatoric principles that share quite a bit with the work of the tea-leaf reader or the caster of knucklebones. The particular arrangement of tea leaves is generally taken to be informative, at least in a make-believe way, rather than aesthetic, but the boundary here shifts easily, and indeed we might see the category of the aesthetic as a special variety of informativeness, where the patterns or representations we see tell us something, even if we cannot say precisely what that is.

AI art will supervene, is already supervening, upon several different categories of human endeavour — the clever technology-dependent stunt, the joke, divination — and will continue to please us and disappoint us in just the same way that these other endeavours do. It is simply not a meaningful question to ask whether any AI output may appropriately be categorised as art. Art is artifice plus, one hopes, a hint of genius, or something close to that. Such hints can shine through, as I’ve attempted to remind you, in the most unlikely, indeed the silliest places. There is of course no reason why AI should not also be such a place.

Whether we enshrine AI art within our society, giving it a place in art fairs, giving out prizes for it, and so on, is entirely up to us. There is nothing about the technology in itself that can guide us in determining whether we “should” do this or not. Art is what we value, what we attend to, and deem worthy of aspiration to excellence; this is why some activities come forward as art in some cultures, but not in others — the tea ceremony is art in Japan, but if I hastily serve you a mug of Lipton, I am not giving you a poor contribution to an art-form — I’m just giving you tea.

Quite apart from the normative question of whether AI output should be considered art under some circumstances — a question that is unanswerable — I am confident in predicting that we will have AI art. In this art there will be occasional flashes of genius, or something like it, against a general background of cultural overproduction of shit. This has also been the general balance throughout the history of photography, television, and cinema. The most significant change with the rise of AI comes with the human relinquishing of control over the pre-set parameters.

But this does not so much move us into uncharted territory, as it simply assimilates AI art to other forms of human creativity, such as divination, which in the past have used objectively random processes to make their determinations, but have also often used animals. In many ways, as with an engine and its “horsepower”, we are simply finding new ways to transfer work from animals to machines, both of which are entities that are sufficiently like us to make determinations that will resemble our own choices, but sufficiently unlike us for their determinations to come across to us as “weird”, as suitable moments to say “whoah”. That “whoah” can be interpreted as an aesthetic experience, with sufficient institutional backing.

I’m not looking forward to any of this. I am going to stick with my vintage technologies, and my aesthetic orientation will remain forever backward-looking. But even less than the new era of AI art am I looking forward to the inevitable wave of renewed debate around the inane and empty question of whether this new variety of culture-embedded and technology-dependent activity ought to count as art. It’s like asking whether a hamburger can count as breakfast. There is no ontological rift between breakfast and lunch; breakfast is what we say it is, and if you feel like your 8am burger is not doing it for you, this tells you something only about your expectations, and not about the world.

There is similarly no ontological divide separating artworks from “the commonplace”. Art tends to emerge at the sites of social value, of care. If we think AI art is a bad idea, then we might slow its ascendancy by grounding our care in other spheres of human life than those shaped by cutting-edge technologies. But this is almost certainly not going to happen.


Justin Smith-Ruiu is the author of The Internet Is Not What You Think It Is. He also writes on Substack.


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Paul K
Paul K
1 year ago

“Jimi Hendrix lighting his guitar on fire is genius; a suburban kid in 1967 attempting the same, in his parents’ garage, is idiocy. Context matters, and by 1967 Hendrix was almost uniquely positioned to change the world, at least a little bit, with a gesture that would have been merely wasteful if attempted by nearly any other human alive.”

Well, this is what critics are for I suppose: deciding what the ‘context’ is. But it strikes me that ‘context’ is about all that contemporary art has left to defend itself. Sometimes the ‘philistines’ (itself a boring word, redolent of a lack of thinking) have a point. For decades contemporary ‘artists’ have filled galleries with bullshit and defended their lack of ability, training, talent, imagination or spiritual depth with claims of ‘context’, ‘irony’ and ‘representation.’ Perhaps the ‘philistines’ have a useful role to play here.
In this sense, maybe AI art is just the next phase of the decadence. Since an artist today is not required to produce anything much but a ‘concept’, it might be that computers end up doing something more interesting. This will serve the artists right.

Last edited 1 year ago by Paul K
Tony Price
Tony Price
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul K

You might consider that stuff in galleries to be ‘bullshit’, but obviously some people truly think that it is ‘art’, so art it is. I imagine that my visual tastes are similar to yours, but I see a lot of contemporary art and there is plenty I like, and have even spent money on (not a lot though)!

Stephen Quilley
Stephen Quilley
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Price

The Romans thought throwing Christians to the lions was sport. Sport it was. The Christians thought it was bullshit. Our culture is degraded, degenerate and entering a period of collapse. The ‘art’ in those galleries will probably be the first thing to go. That is a kind of reactionary iconoclasm I could get behind.

Stephen Quilley
Stephen Quilley
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Price

The Romans thought throwing Christians to the lions was sport. Sport it was. The Christians thought it was bullshit. Our culture is degraded, degenerate and entering a period of collapse. The ‘art’ in those galleries will probably be the first thing to go. That is a kind of reactionary iconoclasm I could get behind.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul K

It strikes me that this kind of judging is largely backward-looking and has the advantage having absorbed contemporary judgements of success and failure. Very similar to people pontificating about those succeeded on Wall Street.

Tony Price
Tony Price
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul K

You might consider that stuff in galleries to be ‘bullshit’, but obviously some people truly think that it is ‘art’, so art it is. I imagine that my visual tastes are similar to yours, but I see a lot of contemporary art and there is plenty I like, and have even spent money on (not a lot though)!

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul K

It strikes me that this kind of judging is largely backward-looking and has the advantage having absorbed contemporary judgements of success and failure. Very similar to people pontificating about those succeeded on Wall Street.

Paul K
Paul K
1 year ago

“Jimi Hendrix lighting his guitar on fire is genius; a suburban kid in 1967 attempting the same, in his parents’ garage, is idiocy. Context matters, and by 1967 Hendrix was almost uniquely positioned to change the world, at least a little bit, with a gesture that would have been merely wasteful if attempted by nearly any other human alive.”

Well, this is what critics are for I suppose: deciding what the ‘context’ is. But it strikes me that ‘context’ is about all that contemporary art has left to defend itself. Sometimes the ‘philistines’ (itself a boring word, redolent of a lack of thinking) have a point. For decades contemporary ‘artists’ have filled galleries with bullshit and defended their lack of ability, training, talent, imagination or spiritual depth with claims of ‘context’, ‘irony’ and ‘representation.’ Perhaps the ‘philistines’ have a useful role to play here.
In this sense, maybe AI art is just the next phase of the decadence. Since an artist today is not required to produce anything much but a ‘concept’, it might be that computers end up doing something more interesting. This will serve the artists right.

Last edited 1 year ago by Paul K
Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago

The author fears the onset of debate over whether AI art constitutes “art”, so let’s see what this comments section brings. He fears it because it may well simply bore the pants off everyone, just as the “i know what i like” debate has always done, without acheiving anything of value in terms of insight. We can live in hope, however!

As for myself, i’m an artist (exhibiting) having embarked upon it as a second career. I’ve got no qualms whatsoever about AI art; it’ll find its place in the ecosystem and some pieces will no doubt fetch serious amounts of money (an entire subject in its own right.) Any visual artist who feels threatened by this might as well give up now.

Andy O'Gorman
Andy O'Gorman
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Yes it may just be a new genre! It’s been around for some time already, but as comment above said, it’s definitely in the eye of the beholder. Interesting, but not something I would hang on my wall or place on an easel where it may be admired.

Stephen Magee
Stephen Magee
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Spot-on! “Artists” didn’t stop creating when photography came along, musicians didn’t stop performing when mechanical recording was invented, stage drama didn’t die with the advent of the cinema …

John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

The problem with so much AI art at the moment (or whatever is being breathlessly promoted as such) is that those developing and using it have such a half-baked concept of what ‘art’ actually is. All I see at the moment are algorithms that simply combine two or three arbitrary ‘subjects’- Lady GaGa with a frog at a party- and make the resulting pointless combination look at bit ‘artistic’ by faking some brushstrokes.
It’s not unusual for ‘early adopters’ of an art technology to have no idea what to actually do with it; the earliest photographers tended to be very keen on staging awful pseudo-paintings in the Pre-Raphaelite style of the time, before anyone with what the author of this piece would term the “genius” came along and saw the potential for something new, something other than a poor imitation of what was already on offer.
With AI we are still largely at the ‘pseudo painting’ stage, which is not surprising given the evidence exhibited in the comments below that many people still wish the last 140 years of visual art had never happened, and so are hardly prepared for the next change. Of course, AI is actually already extensively used in commercial animated films (and most films, even ‘live action’ ones, are now animated in part), where cultural standard-bearers aren’t standing guard with their notions of visible ‘craftsmanship’ and performative skill.

M Theberge
M Theberge
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I want to add to this “fear” of AI. Think back in the day when computers were coming to replace whole bunch of jobs (manufacturing etc) and we were all inspired and in awe.
Now AI is coming for the second tier and the art and creative endeavors, and we are panicking, and all the newspapers are trashing AI as the next religion trend calling it boring, useless, bullshit etc (I have seen worse).
I feel as humans, we are not here to do the dirty work but find a way to streamline everything and then find out why we are here

Our creativity is unlimited. Our dreams are untapped. We all became rats in capitalism system and forgot our deep desire for leisure
so what happens when the machines are so good, and we end up having so much time! 
I will say play!
That is what I want to talk about not being afraid of an AI making a picture but AI doing my job so my mind can expand to think more uniquely and with originality.
I also want to remind others that we only started writing few thousand years ago
. same arguments were made about human memory and human nature.
Of course, I cannot just put on a rose-colored glasses and think I will be left alone
and the transformation of AI will not be painful and torturous but we cannot stop the momentum; we may as well embrace it! 
Everybody is unique may come to fruitation when everything else is done by AI!

A dreamer.

John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago
Reply to  M Theberge

Nice dream, but so far, the people made redundant by computerisation have not been generously funded to spend their days leisurely exploring their untapped creative freedom.
They are more likely to on minimum benefits or wearing a nappy in an Amazon warehouse.

John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago
Reply to  M Theberge

Nice dream, but so far, the people made redundant by computerisation have not been generously funded to spend their days leisurely exploring their untapped creative freedom.
They are more likely to on minimum benefits or wearing a nappy in an Amazon warehouse.

Andy O'Gorman
Andy O'Gorman
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Yes it may just be a new genre! It’s been around for some time already, but as comment above said, it’s definitely in the eye of the beholder. Interesting, but not something I would hang on my wall or place on an easel where it may be admired.

Stephen Magee
Stephen Magee
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Spot-on! “Artists” didn’t stop creating when photography came along, musicians didn’t stop performing when mechanical recording was invented, stage drama didn’t die with the advent of the cinema …

John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

The problem with so much AI art at the moment (or whatever is being breathlessly promoted as such) is that those developing and using it have such a half-baked concept of what ‘art’ actually is. All I see at the moment are algorithms that simply combine two or three arbitrary ‘subjects’- Lady GaGa with a frog at a party- and make the resulting pointless combination look at bit ‘artistic’ by faking some brushstrokes.
It’s not unusual for ‘early adopters’ of an art technology to have no idea what to actually do with it; the earliest photographers tended to be very keen on staging awful pseudo-paintings in the Pre-Raphaelite style of the time, before anyone with what the author of this piece would term the “genius” came along and saw the potential for something new, something other than a poor imitation of what was already on offer.
With AI we are still largely at the ‘pseudo painting’ stage, which is not surprising given the evidence exhibited in the comments below that many people still wish the last 140 years of visual art had never happened, and so are hardly prepared for the next change. Of course, AI is actually already extensively used in commercial animated films (and most films, even ‘live action’ ones, are now animated in part), where cultural standard-bearers aren’t standing guard with their notions of visible ‘craftsmanship’ and performative skill.

M Theberge
M Theberge
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I want to add to this “fear” of AI. Think back in the day when computers were coming to replace whole bunch of jobs (manufacturing etc) and we were all inspired and in awe.
Now AI is coming for the second tier and the art and creative endeavors, and we are panicking, and all the newspapers are trashing AI as the next religion trend calling it boring, useless, bullshit etc (I have seen worse).
I feel as humans, we are not here to do the dirty work but find a way to streamline everything and then find out why we are here

Our creativity is unlimited. Our dreams are untapped. We all became rats in capitalism system and forgot our deep desire for leisure
so what happens when the machines are so good, and we end up having so much time! 
I will say play!
That is what I want to talk about not being afraid of an AI making a picture but AI doing my job so my mind can expand to think more uniquely and with originality.
I also want to remind others that we only started writing few thousand years ago
. same arguments were made about human memory and human nature.
Of course, I cannot just put on a rose-colored glasses and think I will be left alone
and the transformation of AI will not be painful and torturous but we cannot stop the momentum; we may as well embrace it! 
Everybody is unique may come to fruitation when everything else is done by AI!

A dreamer.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago

The author fears the onset of debate over whether AI art constitutes “art”, so let’s see what this comments section brings. He fears it because it may well simply bore the pants off everyone, just as the “i know what i like” debate has always done, without acheiving anything of value in terms of insight. We can live in hope, however!

As for myself, i’m an artist (exhibiting) having embarked upon it as a second career. I’ve got no qualms whatsoever about AI art; it’ll find its place in the ecosystem and some pieces will no doubt fetch serious amounts of money (an entire subject in its own right.) Any visual artist who feels threatened by this might as well give up now.

Madeleine Jones
Madeleine Jones
1 year ago

What’s strking about certain artworks is that some areas get more emphasis than others. A famous example comes from Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper (Milan) where individuals and the table are positioned in a certain way. I’m not sure A.I can replicate the brilliance of emphasis. Sure, you may give a prompt ‘a little girl wearing a pink tutu practices ballet in a room with other dancers.’ Will an A.I know what areas to attract the human eye? Will it produce an Edgar Degas’ The Star? There’s something flat, and perhaps ordinary, about A.I art. It’s not bad and can create good images. I’m sure graphic designers and digital artists will use A.I in unique ways. But it cannot, via text prompts, replicate an acclaimed painting.

Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
1 year ago

As computing power increases though, and it’s gathering of source material becomes more comprehensive, it *will* get ever closer to the way a human mind regurgitates previously witnessed “stuff” to produce a ”new” idea.

Madeleine Jones
Madeleine Jones
1 year ago

Some of the best art is innovative and does new things concerning composition, scale, colour, line, value, emphasis, etc. This is why I love Art Nouveau because it is exciting and captures a ‘vibe.’ (Sounds corny, but stick with me). Can an A.I create an art movement? Introduce a new perspective on aesthetics + style?
I find art is more exciting when it’s rare. There are only so many Renaissance paintings. But with A.I image makers, I can generate billions of potential images. This loses some of its specialness.
A.I will be a useful tool for graphic designers and digital artists. But I don’t see it as replacing certain genres of art: painting and illustration in particular. A new form of multimedia art, so to speak.

Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
1 year ago

Yeah – wouldn’t disagree with any of that. I think music is a lot further down this road than visual arts are, actually. I’ve heard AI generated music in the style of existing musicians that would probably tick the boxes for some people. And I’ve long suspected that Gary Barlow has developed some sort of diabolical algorithm. But you wouldn’t call it art. Just my opinion.

Madeleine Jones
Madeleine Jones
1 year ago

Interestingly, the image used for this article is really at least 5 different images put together. That’s why nothing really stands out in it. The human eye cannot decide what to focus on and there’s no narrative (The Bayeux tapestry, as an example, has a clear beginning and end).
I agree with your comments about A.I music not being art. I am not a musician, but I know my tastes in music pretty well. I imagine it’s just as flawed as A.I poetry or novels.

Madeleine Jones
Madeleine Jones
1 year ago

Interestingly, the image used for this article is really at least 5 different images put together. That’s why nothing really stands out in it. The human eye cannot decide what to focus on and there’s no narrative (The Bayeux tapestry, as an example, has a clear beginning and end).
I agree with your comments about A.I music not being art. I am not a musician, but I know my tastes in music pretty well. I imagine it’s just as flawed as A.I poetry or novels.

Stephen Magee
Stephen Magee
1 year ago

Why do you find rare art exciting?

Madeleine Jones
Madeleine Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  Stephen Magee

Because seeing and studying it feels special / important. It’s like walking into St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague as a tourist from Australia. Most buildings in the world are not like Vitus, which I saw in 2017. Broadly speaking, buildings like St. Vitus are rare, and only exist due to preservation, donations, the appreciation of others, volunteers, a dedicated community, academic interest, etc.
Also: I consider talent to exist among a variety of people. Yet few will turn this talent into mastery, and thus, accomplished art automatically turns rare. This is exciting because it’s a good feeling to know that individuals, in the past, have reached awesome heights and maybe I, and others, will in the future Great art, music and literature are words of encouragement from the past. It’s the opposite of looking at a Jackson Pollock and going ‘that’s so easy, I can do that.’ Appreciating rare art means 24 hours on a plane from Sydney to Rome, walking down the Spanish steps while jetlagged in the morning, and arriving at the Trevi Fountain. You think: ‘that’s so magnificent, I know many of us can do that.’

Stephen Magee
Stephen Magee
1 year ago

I completely understand – and share – your sense of appreciation of old buildings and objects. However, that is not a matter of aesthetics or “art” appreciation.

Madeleine Jones
Madeleine Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  Stephen Magee

I’m confused. Architecture and objects can be art. My point is that excellent art (whether painting, sculpture, illustration, novels, music) requires a level of talent and skill, which is rare among humanity.
I do not like the Trevi Fountain because it is old, but because it is aesthetically pleasing and artistic.

John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago

All art is “artistic”, by definition. None of it is anything else.
You seem to equate art with skill; but a pole-vaulter is skilfull, so might be a politician or a plumber. Skill is simply a means to an end, and it’s the end that is the point.

Madeleine Jones
Madeleine Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  John Holland

I also associate art with history, philosophy and originality. It’s possible for a painting to be technically masterful but not among the greatest, if there is nothing else to it beyond technicality.
And I disagree that art isn’t anything beyond artistic. It can serve an explicit function. A Cathedral, such as St Vitus in Prague, can function as well, a Cathedral with an active community.

John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago

I didn’t say art could’t serve functions- all art serves some kind of function, even if that function is giving the viewer pleasant sensations, or enabling the circulation of money.
You said you admired art that is “artistic”. I simply meant that whatever it does, it can only do it through the means of art- i.e, its ‘artistic’ qualities. In other words, we’re using a tautology.
But I am confused by your consistent use of the term ‘history’ here- which implies that Notre Dame cathedral was a lesser piece of architecture when it was new. Was it?

John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago
Reply to  John Holland

I’m not saying the sense of the passage of time isn’t a part of our reaction to an ancient artefact.
One of the strange things about ancient Egyptian architecture is the way they show little sign of age- the type of granite they are often made from, combined with the fact that they were mostly buried for many centuries in a desert, means that often a statue will look brand new to us. We are used to sensing the passage of time through visible decay, so our knowledge that these are amongst the oldest surviving sculptures in human history is made uncanny by the lack of ‘ageing’.

Madeleine Jones
Madeleine Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  John Holland

With the example of Notre-Dame or any Gothic cathedral, much of their might comes from comparison with other eras. History gives us a good gauge at reactions, the philosophical / aesthetic underpinnings of the art, how clergy and Christians interacted with it, the way it was constructed, etc. To rephrase, history helps us understand the excellence but it won’t summarise it.
I recall reading once that York Minster requires 28,000 pounds a day to maintain the basics. I can believe that. I’m curious how much of Egypt’s impressive preservation comes from climate. This is why papyrus from the Ptolemic Egypt era is in (relatively) fantastic condition in comparison to written evidence from Roman Britain. Your point about Egypt, however, is quite interesting. Would love to visit someday (Jordan, Iran and Morocco as well – I have a trip to Turkey planned this April.)

John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago

I’ve never been to Turkey- i would love to.
On the subject of granite’s imperviousness to ageing, many people find its almost ubiquitous use for modern gravestones aesthetically offensive, as unlike all the old sandstone and limestone ones, they never ‘age’- the sense of the visible passage of time that makes English churchyards so moving (and in the historical sense, ‘Romantic’) is rudely interrupted by these eternally perfect and shiny brutes.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  John Holland

Connemara marble, as used by the 13th century Cistercians still remains crisp and vibrant on their numerous ruined Abbeys.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  John Holland

Connemara marble, as used by the 13th century Cistercians still remains crisp and vibrant on their numerous ruined Abbeys.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

Have you seen the Vindolanda Tablets and the letter from Claudia Severa to her ‘dearest friend’, the wonderfully named Sulpicia Lepidina?

Michael Spooner
Michael Spooner
1 year ago

.Thank you for reminding me of this wonderful letter.

Michael Spooner
Michael Spooner
1 year ago

.Thank you for reminding me of this wonderful letter.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

Make sure you go to the ruined city of APHRODISIAS.

John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago

I’ve never been to Turkey- i would love to.
On the subject of granite’s imperviousness to ageing, many people find its almost ubiquitous use for modern gravestones aesthetically offensive, as unlike all the old sandstone and limestone ones, they never ‘age’- the sense of the visible passage of time that makes English churchyards so moving (and in the historical sense, ‘Romantic’) is rudely interrupted by these eternally perfect and shiny brutes.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

Have you seen the Vindolanda Tablets and the letter from Claudia Severa to her ‘dearest friend’, the wonderfully named Sulpicia Lepidina?

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

Make sure you go to the ruined city of APHRODISIAS.

Madeleine Jones
Madeleine Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  John Holland

With the example of Notre-Dame or any Gothic cathedral, much of their might comes from comparison with other eras. History gives us a good gauge at reactions, the philosophical / aesthetic underpinnings of the art, how clergy and Christians interacted with it, the way it was constructed, etc. To rephrase, history helps us understand the excellence but it won’t summarise it.
I recall reading once that York Minster requires 28,000 pounds a day to maintain the basics. I can believe that. I’m curious how much of Egypt’s impressive preservation comes from climate. This is why papyrus from the Ptolemic Egypt era is in (relatively) fantastic condition in comparison to written evidence from Roman Britain. Your point about Egypt, however, is quite interesting. Would love to visit someday (Jordan, Iran and Morocco as well – I have a trip to Turkey planned this April.)

John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago
Reply to  John Holland

I’m not saying the sense of the passage of time isn’t a part of our reaction to an ancient artefact.
One of the strange things about ancient Egyptian architecture is the way they show little sign of age- the type of granite they are often made from, combined with the fact that they were mostly buried for many centuries in a desert, means that often a statue will look brand new to us. We are used to sensing the passage of time through visible decay, so our knowledge that these are amongst the oldest surviving sculptures in human history is made uncanny by the lack of ‘ageing’.

John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago

I didn’t say art could’t serve functions- all art serves some kind of function, even if that function is giving the viewer pleasant sensations, or enabling the circulation of money.
You said you admired art that is “artistic”. I simply meant that whatever it does, it can only do it through the means of art- i.e, its ‘artistic’ qualities. In other words, we’re using a tautology.
But I am confused by your consistent use of the term ‘history’ here- which implies that Notre Dame cathedral was a lesser piece of architecture when it was new. Was it?

Madeleine Jones
Madeleine Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  John Holland

I also associate art with history, philosophy and originality. It’s possible for a painting to be technically masterful but not among the greatest, if there is nothing else to it beyond technicality.
And I disagree that art isn’t anything beyond artistic. It can serve an explicit function. A Cathedral, such as St Vitus in Prague, can function as well, a Cathedral with an active community.

John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago

All art is “artistic”, by definition. None of it is anything else.
You seem to equate art with skill; but a pole-vaulter is skilfull, so might be a politician or a plumber. Skill is simply a means to an end, and it’s the end that is the point.

Madeleine Jones
Madeleine Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  Stephen Magee

I’m confused. Architecture and objects can be art. My point is that excellent art (whether painting, sculpture, illustration, novels, music) requires a level of talent and skill, which is rare among humanity.
I do not like the Trevi Fountain because it is old, but because it is aesthetically pleasing and artistic.

Stephen Magee
Stephen Magee
1 year ago

I completely understand – and share – your sense of appreciation of old buildings and objects. However, that is not a matter of aesthetics or “art” appreciation.

Madeleine Jones
Madeleine Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  Stephen Magee

Because seeing and studying it feels special / important. It’s like walking into St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague as a tourist from Australia. Most buildings in the world are not like Vitus, which I saw in 2017. Broadly speaking, buildings like St. Vitus are rare, and only exist due to preservation, donations, the appreciation of others, volunteers, a dedicated community, academic interest, etc.
Also: I consider talent to exist among a variety of people. Yet few will turn this talent into mastery, and thus, accomplished art automatically turns rare. This is exciting because it’s a good feeling to know that individuals, in the past, have reached awesome heights and maybe I, and others, will in the future Great art, music and literature are words of encouragement from the past. It’s the opposite of looking at a Jackson Pollock and going ‘that’s so easy, I can do that.’ Appreciating rare art means 24 hours on a plane from Sydney to Rome, walking down the Spanish steps while jetlagged in the morning, and arriving at the Trevi Fountain. You think: ‘that’s so magnificent, I know many of us can do that.’

Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
1 year ago

Yeah – wouldn’t disagree with any of that. I think music is a lot further down this road than visual arts are, actually. I’ve heard AI generated music in the style of existing musicians that would probably tick the boxes for some people. And I’ve long suspected that Gary Barlow has developed some sort of diabolical algorithm. But you wouldn’t call it art. Just my opinion.

Stephen Magee
Stephen Magee
1 year ago

Why do you find rare art exciting?

Andy O'Gorman
Andy O'Gorman
1 year ago

I am no Luddite, yet I hope not. That would make us redundant!

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
1 year ago

Yes – I feel there is a lot denial going on here. I suspect AI will be able to do most things we do – but better – within my lifetime- and I am in my 50’s. Raw computing power and perfect memory are fearsome tools. However – like Elons vision through Neuralink – we will likely start becoming trans human and start working with AI to create hybrid content.

John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter Johnson

We’re already becoming trans human in all sorts of ways (I think the current cultural obsession with trans-gender is part of this), and I wonder what, if any, place there will be for the non- (or pre-) human, what we used to call Nature.

John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter Johnson

We’re already becoming trans human in all sorts of ways (I think the current cultural obsession with trans-gender is part of this), and I wonder what, if any, place there will be for the non- (or pre-) human, what we used to call Nature.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago

When it gets that powerful it will likely stop caring so much about what appeals to us and start trying to please itself. Hopefully not too broadly.

James Jenkin
James Jenkin
1 year ago

Yes, and with music and writing too. It’s quite straightforward to describe the form of a Beethoven sonata or an H.D. imagist poem

Madeleine Jones
Madeleine Jones
1 year ago

Some of the best art is innovative and does new things concerning composition, scale, colour, line, value, emphasis, etc. This is why I love Art Nouveau because it is exciting and captures a ‘vibe.’ (Sounds corny, but stick with me). Can an A.I create an art movement? Introduce a new perspective on aesthetics + style?
I find art is more exciting when it’s rare. There are only so many Renaissance paintings. But with A.I image makers, I can generate billions of potential images. This loses some of its specialness.
A.I will be a useful tool for graphic designers and digital artists. But I don’t see it as replacing certain genres of art: painting and illustration in particular. A new form of multimedia art, so to speak.

Andy O'Gorman
Andy O'Gorman
1 year ago

I am no Luddite, yet I hope not. That would make us redundant!

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
1 year ago

Yes – I feel there is a lot denial going on here. I suspect AI will be able to do most things we do – but better – within my lifetime- and I am in my 50’s. Raw computing power and perfect memory are fearsome tools. However – like Elons vision through Neuralink – we will likely start becoming trans human and start working with AI to create hybrid content.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago

When it gets that powerful it will likely stop caring so much about what appeals to us and start trying to please itself. Hopefully not too broadly.

James Jenkin
James Jenkin
1 year ago

Yes, and with music and writing too. It’s quite straightforward to describe the form of a Beethoven sonata or an H.D. imagist poem

Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
1 year ago

As computing power increases though, and it’s gathering of source material becomes more comprehensive, it *will* get ever closer to the way a human mind regurgitates previously witnessed “stuff” to produce a ”new” idea.

Madeleine Jones
Madeleine Jones
1 year ago

What’s strking about certain artworks is that some areas get more emphasis than others. A famous example comes from Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper (Milan) where individuals and the table are positioned in a certain way. I’m not sure A.I can replicate the brilliance of emphasis. Sure, you may give a prompt ‘a little girl wearing a pink tutu practices ballet in a room with other dancers.’ Will an A.I know what areas to attract the human eye? Will it produce an Edgar Degas’ The Star? There’s something flat, and perhaps ordinary, about A.I art. It’s not bad and can create good images. I’m sure graphic designers and digital artists will use A.I in unique ways. But it cannot, via text prompts, replicate an acclaimed painting.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
1 year ago

I was having a drink with a group of friends once. The group included two of their early twenties sons, Chris and Wayne. Chris was waxing lyrical about the charms of Wayne’s new German girlfriend, ending with the statement “the problem is Wayne’s German sucks.”

Without missing a beat, my friend Gary responded “I’m sure Wayne’s delighted his German sucks.”

In my view, right up there with Churchill’s warm champagne, but nobody will ever write articles about it because Gary isn’t famous.

In answer to the question “why didn’t you do it,” I would point out that I create an unmade bed every morning. It’s never become an art work because, unlike Tracey Emin, I’m not well enough connected to have “tastemakers” round to enthuse about it.

Great art is deemed great when a specific group of people, in a specific segment of society, say it is. One day they’ll decide a piece of AI art is great.

I will continue to avoid being told what to like. If a piece of AI art moves me one day, then it’s great art in my eyes.

Last edited 1 year ago by Martin Bollis
Tom Watson
Tom Watson
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

I like that – “what turns wit into genius? Influential friends.” Especially friends influential enough that they misremember you as Churchill (the quote actually comes from Disraeli, I believe).

John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

But whatever you think of Tracey Emin, she was once entirely “unconnected”.
She wasn’t born in the New York Gagosian Gallery- she grew up in a working class family in Margate.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  John Holland

How very fortunate, ‘Dreamland’ and that splendid, golden sand beach.
And, I almost forgot, Rossetti is just down the road in Birchington.

Last edited 1 year ago by CHARLES STANHOPE
John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago

Personally, I can’t bear Rossetti, all silly ‘hey nonny no’, wan-looking bints staring out of castle turrets and berks in scarlet pointy shoes.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  John Holland

Yes, you have a point there, and I cannot disagree, but at least he was vaguely original was he not?

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago

Worth it for his models

John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago

If that’s what you’re after, you can get it much more efficiently on the internet, I’ve heard.

John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago

If that’s what you’re after, you can get it much more efficiently on the internet, I’ve heard.

John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago

Originally faux-Medieval, I suppose. Although actually, not even that.
Plenty of Victorians, distressed by the reality of their new industrial world, were harking back to a fake past of Princesses trapped in towers, and Holman hunt was far more original as a painter.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  John Holland

Agreed on Holman Hunt.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  John Holland

Agreed on Holman Hunt.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago

Worth it for his models

John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago

Originally faux-Medieval, I suppose. Although actually, not even that.
Plenty of Victorians, distressed by the reality of their new industrial world, were harking back to a fake past of Princesses trapped in towers, and Holman hunt was far more original as a painter.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago
Reply to  John Holland

Good to hear from another who doesn’t appreciate the pre-Raphaelites.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  John Holland

Yes, you have a point there, and I cannot disagree, but at least he was vaguely original was he not?

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago
Reply to  John Holland

Good to hear from another who doesn’t appreciate the pre-Raphaelites.

John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago

Personally, I can’t bear Rossetti, all silly ‘hey nonny no’, wan-looking bints staring out of castle turrets and berks in scarlet pointy shoes.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  John Holland

How very fortunate, ‘Dreamland’ and that splendid, golden sand beach.
And, I almost forgot, Rossetti is just down the road in Birchington.

Last edited 1 year ago by CHARLES STANHOPE
Tom Watson
Tom Watson
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

I like that – “what turns wit into genius? Influential friends.” Especially friends influential enough that they misremember you as Churchill (the quote actually comes from Disraeli, I believe).

John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

But whatever you think of Tracey Emin, she was once entirely “unconnected”.
She wasn’t born in the New York Gagosian Gallery- she grew up in a working class family in Margate.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
1 year ago

I was having a drink with a group of friends once. The group included two of their early twenties sons, Chris and Wayne. Chris was waxing lyrical about the charms of Wayne’s new German girlfriend, ending with the statement “the problem is Wayne’s German sucks.”

Without missing a beat, my friend Gary responded “I’m sure Wayne’s delighted his German sucks.”

In my view, right up there with Churchill’s warm champagne, but nobody will ever write articles about it because Gary isn’t famous.

In answer to the question “why didn’t you do it,” I would point out that I create an unmade bed every morning. It’s never become an art work because, unlike Tracey Emin, I’m not well enough connected to have “tastemakers” round to enthuse about it.

Great art is deemed great when a specific group of people, in a specific segment of society, say it is. One day they’ll decide a piece of AI art is great.

I will continue to avoid being told what to like. If a piece of AI art moves me one day, then it’s great art in my eyes.

Last edited 1 year ago by Martin Bollis
Tony Reardon
Tony Reardon
1 year ago

Here in Australia, we had a court case over whether a couple of paintings are real or fake. These are or are purported to be, by a modern Australian artist Brett Whiteley who died in 1992. His widow says that the works are fake and the original court case agreed but, on appeal, they have been deemed to be genuine. Apparently we just can’t tell. Clearly the question of real or fake involves large sums of money but, while we all seem to agree on this and understand it, why is it so? What makes something indistinguishable from something else so much more valuable. If someone offers you, say, Jimi Hendrick’s guitar, it would be somehow worth much more than an another identical guitar.
Similarly with uniqueness. One of my friends is a working fine artist, that is he makes his living by painting pictures. Because he spent some time in one of the oil producing Arab states, he has been commissioned to paint portraits of members of the royal family there – a task he does not enjoy but it pays the bills. One prince was so pleased with his portrait that he wanted my friend to produce five more identical copies that he could give as presents and had to be dissuaded from this (because my friend couldn’t stand the idea) by explaining that real art was unique and copies made it essentially kitsch and worthless.
One further twist: my friend has to sign different style paintings under different names. He cannot offer modern art as the same painter who does realistic portraits or landscapes. Apparently we want an artist to have a recognisable style to make that style of work valuable.
Authenticity and uniqueness appear to be essential to the value we put on art, even though there is no physical difference between objects – so is our idea behind the object everything or is there some other explanation? If it is the idea, then would machine produced ‘art’ be a non-starter?

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Reardon

The idea or “consensus narrative” is most of what’s used in assigning a price, monetizing a work of art. In that respect, the Hendrix-guitar comparison is very apt. A Stratocaster he never played is judged to be worth a small fraction of the one he did, just as a true Rembrandt draws exponentially more auction value than a nearly indistinguishable copy by one of his best students.
That doesn’t get at the elusive property called intrinsic value, of course, and things like $100,000 guitars and $100M paintings are in some major sense, absurdly overpriced. But in another way, a hoax is still a hoax, a copy still a copy, and viewers–not just buyers–ought to be told whatever is known about the provenance.
That’s part of the overall contextual import. A machine made copy may fool many, or even everyone, but marked identification should still be demanded. If and when the day comes that my inexpert eye can’t usually detect any difference between an established/new masterwork and the original (not a sheer composite or duplicate) product of a machine intelligence, I still want to know which is which, whether or not that can be discerned by anyone’s eye in every instance.

Last edited 1 year ago by AJ Mac
Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Reardon

A very good point, which actually gets to the very heart of what constitutes art. The concept of an object, an objet d’art if you will, not only determines its intrinsic value but its financial value, the latter based upon the former of course.
One of the things i do to overcome the possibility of being faked (not that it’s an issue right now…) is to make my own canvases rather than buying a ready-stretched canvas that we often see in galleries, and which just look too uniform to my eye. I’m pretty sure it’d be more difficult to reproduce the exact method of making the blank canvas, including use of materials and priming, etc. than it might be to reproduce the artwork itself! In terms of authenticity, it just can’t be beaten.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Reardon

The idea or “consensus narrative” is most of what’s used in assigning a price, monetizing a work of art. In that respect, the Hendrix-guitar comparison is very apt. A Stratocaster he never played is judged to be worth a small fraction of the one he did, just as a true Rembrandt draws exponentially more auction value than a nearly indistinguishable copy by one of his best students.
That doesn’t get at the elusive property called intrinsic value, of course, and things like $100,000 guitars and $100M paintings are in some major sense, absurdly overpriced. But in another way, a hoax is still a hoax, a copy still a copy, and viewers–not just buyers–ought to be told whatever is known about the provenance.
That’s part of the overall contextual import. A machine made copy may fool many, or even everyone, but marked identification should still be demanded. If and when the day comes that my inexpert eye can’t usually detect any difference between an established/new masterwork and the original (not a sheer composite or duplicate) product of a machine intelligence, I still want to know which is which, whether or not that can be discerned by anyone’s eye in every instance.

Last edited 1 year ago by AJ Mac
Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Reardon

A very good point, which actually gets to the very heart of what constitutes art. The concept of an object, an objet d’art if you will, not only determines its intrinsic value but its financial value, the latter based upon the former of course.
One of the things i do to overcome the possibility of being faked (not that it’s an issue right now…) is to make my own canvases rather than buying a ready-stretched canvas that we often see in galleries, and which just look too uniform to my eye. I’m pretty sure it’d be more difficult to reproduce the exact method of making the blank canvas, including use of materials and priming, etc. than it might be to reproduce the artwork itself! In terms of authenticity, it just can’t be beaten.

Tony Reardon
Tony Reardon
1 year ago

Here in Australia, we had a court case over whether a couple of paintings are real or fake. These are or are purported to be, by a modern Australian artist Brett Whiteley who died in 1992. His widow says that the works are fake and the original court case agreed but, on appeal, they have been deemed to be genuine. Apparently we just can’t tell. Clearly the question of real or fake involves large sums of money but, while we all seem to agree on this and understand it, why is it so? What makes something indistinguishable from something else so much more valuable. If someone offers you, say, Jimi Hendrick’s guitar, it would be somehow worth much more than an another identical guitar.
Similarly with uniqueness. One of my friends is a working fine artist, that is he makes his living by painting pictures. Because he spent some time in one of the oil producing Arab states, he has been commissioned to paint portraits of members of the royal family there – a task he does not enjoy but it pays the bills. One prince was so pleased with his portrait that he wanted my friend to produce five more identical copies that he could give as presents and had to be dissuaded from this (because my friend couldn’t stand the idea) by explaining that real art was unique and copies made it essentially kitsch and worthless.
One further twist: my friend has to sign different style paintings under different names. He cannot offer modern art as the same painter who does realistic portraits or landscapes. Apparently we want an artist to have a recognisable style to make that style of work valuable.
Authenticity and uniqueness appear to be essential to the value we put on art, even though there is no physical difference between objects – so is our idea behind the object everything or is there some other explanation? If it is the idea, then would machine produced ‘art’ be a non-starter?

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
1 year ago

New technologies do indeed present artists with challenges, which has always been the case. But I’m not sure that the challenge of art made with artificial intelligence is all that different from the challenge of art made by primates or elephants. Both cases reveal the underlying problem of defining art at all in our time.
Historically and cross-culturally, art has had many definitions and served many functions. These have seldom included the ones that feature in most of the comments here. My purpose is to offer a larger context for this discussion, which has so far been somewhat narrow and arid in my opinion. But that’s true of almost all discussions of art in our time, not only those on this blog.
The current notion of art emerged after the advent of two new technologies: (a) photography, which raised questions about continuing to use older methods of imitating nature (or doing so at all) and (b) mass-reproduced photography (including cinematography), which raised questions about uniqueness and therefore also innovation as defining features of art. But bear in mind that art is a universal feature of human existence. Not every person produces art or even cares about it, but every society has. Not every society, however, has defined art in the same way or assigned it the same functions.
The purpose of art has sometimes been to encode symbolically and thus preserve practical knowledge such as which plants are edible and which are not. Or to advertise the status and power of chiefs or kings. Or to glorify the ancestors (as carved on the totem poles of American’s northwest coast) and make possible the redistribution of property (at potlatches). Or, as sacramental objects, to mediate the sacred. Or to aid in meditation. Or to foster the appreciation of beauty.
Unlike the Greeks, the Egyptians did not value either uniqueness or innovation per se. On the contrary, they valued fidelity to tradition. Their artistic styles did change, slowly, but not (with one notable exception) because they felt any urge to experiment or improve on ancient paradigms. The Chinese followed this pattern. They, too, did not value innovation. Artists might paint the very same branch of bamboo over and over again, for years, before finding its essence. They wanted artists not to express themselves, at any rate, but to discover the eternal Tao in nature and convey that in visual terms. Similarly, the Japanese did not–and still do not– restore their fragile temples. Instead, they keep rebuilding these structures–that is, copying the prototypes exactly over and over again. The gods or spirits themselves don’t seem to mind if their dwelling places were ten years old instead of a thousand years old.
In the West, medieval artists seldom signed their own work. Nor did they establish the iconography, which the Church did for them. To this day, Eastern Orthodox Christians recreate ancient icons. They insist on painters who demonstrate personal piety, not personal ambition.
At the moment, as I say, art is defined almost exclusively in connection with uniqueness and innovation. Artists no longer starve in proverbial garrets on the Sein’s Left Bank, but they do try to retain the public image of avant-garde figures in the struggle against “bourgeois” values. Many artists describe their work in connection with societal and political reform or revolution. Other artists, following the current preoccupation with individualism, use their work to express themselves psychologically. Still other artists use scientific language to describe their work, as if they were doing experiments to learn about the physics of light or of optical phenomena. In this context, it makes sense to wonder if a work of art is an original one (with both artistic and financial value) or a copy (with little or no value at all).
I’ll conclude with a note on my own experience. I own a wood-block print by Hiroshige. My copy was printed from the original wood block, supposedly, but not in the nineteenth century. So it’s old but also new. And I don’t care about that. I wouldn’t care, in fact, even if it were nothing more than a photographic copy from some magazine. What I do care about is its beauty. I think that this would make Hiroshige smile.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

That’s a good post, and shows a breadth of knowledge of artistic endeavour. Such a shame you had to spoil it right at the outset by condemning this debate. The “larger context” you feel you’re introducing to the debate is something i’d suggest the majority of positive contributors are well aware of.

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Yes, Steve, I see what you mean. Thank you. I won’t make that mistake again.

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Yes, Steve, I see what you mean. Thank you. I won’t make that mistake again.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

That’s a good post, and shows a breadth of knowledge of artistic endeavour. Such a shame you had to spoil it right at the outset by condemning this debate. The “larger context” you feel you’re introducing to the debate is something i’d suggest the majority of positive contributors are well aware of.

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
1 year ago

New technologies do indeed present artists with challenges, which has always been the case. But I’m not sure that the challenge of art made with artificial intelligence is all that different from the challenge of art made by primates or elephants. Both cases reveal the underlying problem of defining art at all in our time.
Historically and cross-culturally, art has had many definitions and served many functions. These have seldom included the ones that feature in most of the comments here. My purpose is to offer a larger context for this discussion, which has so far been somewhat narrow and arid in my opinion. But that’s true of almost all discussions of art in our time, not only those on this blog.
The current notion of art emerged after the advent of two new technologies: (a) photography, which raised questions about continuing to use older methods of imitating nature (or doing so at all) and (b) mass-reproduced photography (including cinematography), which raised questions about uniqueness and therefore also innovation as defining features of art. But bear in mind that art is a universal feature of human existence. Not every person produces art or even cares about it, but every society has. Not every society, however, has defined art in the same way or assigned it the same functions.
The purpose of art has sometimes been to encode symbolically and thus preserve practical knowledge such as which plants are edible and which are not. Or to advertise the status and power of chiefs or kings. Or to glorify the ancestors (as carved on the totem poles of American’s northwest coast) and make possible the redistribution of property (at potlatches). Or, as sacramental objects, to mediate the sacred. Or to aid in meditation. Or to foster the appreciation of beauty.
Unlike the Greeks, the Egyptians did not value either uniqueness or innovation per se. On the contrary, they valued fidelity to tradition. Their artistic styles did change, slowly, but not (with one notable exception) because they felt any urge to experiment or improve on ancient paradigms. The Chinese followed this pattern. They, too, did not value innovation. Artists might paint the very same branch of bamboo over and over again, for years, before finding its essence. They wanted artists not to express themselves, at any rate, but to discover the eternal Tao in nature and convey that in visual terms. Similarly, the Japanese did not–and still do not– restore their fragile temples. Instead, they keep rebuilding these structures–that is, copying the prototypes exactly over and over again. The gods or spirits themselves don’t seem to mind if their dwelling places were ten years old instead of a thousand years old.
In the West, medieval artists seldom signed their own work. Nor did they establish the iconography, which the Church did for them. To this day, Eastern Orthodox Christians recreate ancient icons. They insist on painters who demonstrate personal piety, not personal ambition.
At the moment, as I say, art is defined almost exclusively in connection with uniqueness and innovation. Artists no longer starve in proverbial garrets on the Sein’s Left Bank, but they do try to retain the public image of avant-garde figures in the struggle against “bourgeois” values. Many artists describe their work in connection with societal and political reform or revolution. Other artists, following the current preoccupation with individualism, use their work to express themselves psychologically. Still other artists use scientific language to describe their work, as if they were doing experiments to learn about the physics of light or of optical phenomena. In this context, it makes sense to wonder if a work of art is an original one (with both artistic and financial value) or a copy (with little or no value at all).
I’ll conclude with a note on my own experience. I own a wood-block print by Hiroshige. My copy was printed from the original wood block, supposedly, but not in the nineteenth century. So it’s old but also new. And I don’t care about that. I wouldn’t care, in fact, even if it were nothing more than a photographic copy from some magazine. What I do care about is its beauty. I think that this would make Hiroshige smile.

Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
1 year ago

How we Philistines tax the patience of the author! But, to make a comparison, like most Philistines I wonder if the problem isn’t my lack of fashion sense, but rather that the Emperor is in fact naked.

John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago
Reply to  Ray Andrews

One day I shall read a condemnation of contemporary art that doesn’t drag out that particular cliche. Where would we be if Hans Christian Andersen hadn’t written that tale…
Having to think up our own metaphor for uncreative, lazy thinking, I suppose- which is ironic.

Romi Elnagar
Romi Elnagar
1 year ago
Reply to  John Holland

We use the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes so often that it becomes a cliche because it speaks to something in our shared human experience.
And THAT, I think, is both the essence of art, and why I don’t think AI will ever create anything more than superficially pretty pictures. It cannot create something that communicates to other human beings, because to do it, it must first have human experience to share.
And that is one thing it cannot have.

Romi Elnagar
Romi Elnagar
1 year ago
Reply to  John Holland

We use the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes so often that it becomes a cliche because it speaks to something in our shared human experience.
And THAT, I think, is both the essence of art, and why I don’t think AI will ever create anything more than superficially pretty pictures. It cannot create something that communicates to other human beings, because to do it, it must first have human experience to share.
And that is one thing it cannot have.

John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago
Reply to  Ray Andrews

One day I shall read a condemnation of contemporary art that doesn’t drag out that particular cliche. Where would we be if Hans Christian Andersen hadn’t written that tale…
Having to think up our own metaphor for uncreative, lazy thinking, I suppose- which is ironic.

Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
1 year ago

How we Philistines tax the patience of the author! But, to make a comparison, like most Philistines I wonder if the problem isn’t my lack of fashion sense, but rather that the Emperor is in fact naked.

Tzvi Freeman
Tzvi Freeman
1 year ago

Perhaps, then, AI art is nothing more than art by the global cooperative. Just as we have sewn humanity’s commerce and communication together with a global internet, so we have begun to blend the aesthetic vision, craft, creativity, etc of the whole.

Tzvi Freeman
Tzvi Freeman
1 year ago

Perhaps, then, AI art is nothing more than art by the global cooperative. Just as we have sewn humanity’s commerce and communication together with a global internet, so we have begun to blend the aesthetic vision, craft, creativity, etc of the whole.

Russell Sharpe
Russell Sharpe
1 year ago

¹We are used to hearing such petulant ressentiment, especially in connection with the 20th-century avant-garde in the figurative arts: “I could have entered a urinal in an exhibition, too”; “I could have painted an all-white monochrome, too”; etc. The simplest response is, “Yes, but you didn’t”.¹
Indeed I didn’t; I had (much) better things to do.

Last edited 1 year ago by Russell Sharpe
Russell Sharpe
Russell Sharpe
1 year ago

¹We are used to hearing such petulant ressentiment, especially in connection with the 20th-century avant-garde in the figurative arts: “I could have entered a urinal in an exhibition, too”; “I could have painted an all-white monochrome, too”; etc. The simplest response is, “Yes, but you didn’t”.¹
Indeed I didn’t; I had (much) better things to do.

Last edited 1 year ago by Russell Sharpe
Philip Clayton
Philip Clayton
1 year ago

I only have one contribution to make. The quote attributed to Churchill is in fact Disraeli. If Churchill ever did utter it he stole it.

Philip Clayton
Philip Clayton
1 year ago

I only have one contribution to make. The quote attributed to Churchill is in fact Disraeli. If Churchill ever did utter it he stole it.

Richard Ross
Richard Ross
1 year ago

“I’m a critic and I’m here to tell you….”

Last edited 1 year ago by Richard Ross
Richard Ross
Richard Ross
1 year ago

“I’m a critic and I’m here to tell you….”

Last edited 1 year ago by Richard Ross
Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
1 year ago

This is a weird use of the term “philistine”, which is usually seen as synonymous with “barbarian”, one who does not understand or want to understand.
Someone who looks at a pure white canvas and says “I could have made that” isn’t a philistine. They’re not ignorant; they simply reject the pointlessness that is the point of such so-called art.
People understand Duchamp fine; they just think he’s crap — ironically the one thing you can’t do with his most famous installation.
And whether Jimi Hendrix lights his guitar on fire or a suburban kid in his garage does the same thing, it’s still a waste. Destruction is never art. Nihilism is never art. Believing it so is the real barbarism. Art is supposed to inspire you to something outside or above yourself. It is supposed to help you see the beauty of the world in a new way. It is supposed to reveal something previously hidden. It is supposed to be a window into a form of transcendence. Just because some guy who made it insists “it’s art”, or even when a bunch of stupid people agree with him and want to buy it, doesn’t mean it actually is.

Last edited 1 year ago by Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
1 year ago

This is a weird use of the term “philistine”, which is usually seen as synonymous with “barbarian”, one who does not understand or want to understand.
Someone who looks at a pure white canvas and says “I could have made that” isn’t a philistine. They’re not ignorant; they simply reject the pointlessness that is the point of such so-called art.
People understand Duchamp fine; they just think he’s crap — ironically the one thing you can’t do with his most famous installation.
And whether Jimi Hendrix lights his guitar on fire or a suburban kid in his garage does the same thing, it’s still a waste. Destruction is never art. Nihilism is never art. Believing it so is the real barbarism. Art is supposed to inspire you to something outside or above yourself. It is supposed to help you see the beauty of the world in a new way. It is supposed to reveal something previously hidden. It is supposed to be a window into a form of transcendence. Just because some guy who made it insists “it’s art”, or even when a bunch of stupid people agree with him and want to buy it, doesn’t mean it actually is.

Last edited 1 year ago by Brian Villanueva
Tony Price
Tony Price
1 year ago

What an excellent article and a whole slew of intelligent comments with no obvious political angle – breath of fresh air!

It is worth noting that a computer can be just as much an artist’s tool as a brush and paints. An artwork produced digitally on a screen using a mouse and keystrokes rather than painted on a canvas is just as much a human creation. And of course the two could be combined, and may well be often for all I know, maybe by creating an outline on a computer then printing onto canvas and overlaying that with paint. Is that much different from an artist drawing lines on canvas to guide their perspective? Also the algorithms used by AI to interpret instructions and knock out a graphic are the creation of a human – is that human not an artist as well?

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Price

That is certainly true; I use digital tools on my computers all the time to create original work. But that’s the key word: original. Much of the AI being produced uses the art someone else created to mash up a new image. That’s not art. That’s theft.

Stephen Magee
Stephen Magee
1 year ago

I think that the article was actually concerned with the current wave of AI art, which is completely original, rather than a mash-up.

Tony Price
Tony Price
1 year ago

Is that much different to a human artist being influenced by another human artist?

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Price

I agree, and much as i dislike using quotes, Picasso said:
“Good artists copy, Great artists steal”
No artist has ever created anything in a vacuum, entirely uninfluenced by another. Having said that, i’d have liked to have witnessed the first cave artists as they went about their work.

John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I’m interested to know what Picasso meant by that- what exactly was he differentiating there between copying and stealing?
It’s a typical Picasso quote; clever and memorable, it sounds good- yet what does it actually mean?

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  John Holland

Give me Sorolla any day, at least he wasn’t a pretentious prat.

John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago

He may well have been a total arse, who knows? He painted perfectly pleasant, cheery pictures.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  John Holland

IMHO Sorolla did better. His ‘wife with the ring’ for example.

John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago

I’m not sure how one could compare two such completely different artists- Picasso did so much in so many different ways, from neo-Classical portraits to inventing new ways of conveying space and perspective, whereas Sorolla painted very accomplished but pretty conventional semi-Impressionist portraits and landscapes. He’s huge in Spain, much less known elsewhere, for some reason.

John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago

I think Alfred Munnings is the British equivalent. Both made Impressionist techniques popularly palatable, and both painted what their compatriots liked to see- beautiful women in white dresses for the Spanish, horses for the English.

John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago

I’m not sure how one could compare two such completely different artists- Picasso did so much in so many different ways, from neo-Classical portraits to inventing new ways of conveying space and perspective, whereas Sorolla painted very accomplished but pretty conventional semi-Impressionist portraits and landscapes. He’s huge in Spain, much less known elsewhere, for some reason.

John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago

I think Alfred Munnings is the British equivalent. Both made Impressionist techniques popularly palatable, and both painted what their compatriots liked to see- beautiful women in white dresses for the Spanish, horses for the English.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  John Holland

IMHO Sorolla did better. His ‘wife with the ring’ for example.

John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago

He may well have been a total arse, who knows? He painted perfectly pleasant, cheery pictures.

Romi Elnagar
Romi Elnagar
1 year ago
Reply to  John Holland

Ah, isn’t that what is often said of an artist’s work? especially when s/he breaks new ground, as Picasso did?

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  John Holland

Give me Sorolla any day, at least he wasn’t a pretentious prat.

Romi Elnagar
Romi Elnagar
1 year ago
Reply to  John Holland

Ah, isn’t that what is often said of an artist’s work? especially when s/he breaks new ground, as Picasso did?

John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I’m interested to know what Picasso meant by that- what exactly was he differentiating there between copying and stealing?
It’s a typical Picasso quote; clever and memorable, it sounds good- yet what does it actually mean?

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Price

I agree, and much as i dislike using quotes, Picasso said:
“Good artists copy, Great artists steal”
No artist has ever created anything in a vacuum, entirely uninfluenced by another. Having said that, i’d have liked to have witnessed the first cave artists as they went about their work.

Stephen Magee
Stephen Magee
1 year ago

I think that the article was actually concerned with the current wave of AI art, which is completely original, rather than a mash-up.

Tony Price
Tony Price
1 year ago

Is that much different to a human artist being influenced by another human artist?

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Price

That is certainly true; I use digital tools on my computers all the time to create original work. But that’s the key word: original. Much of the AI being produced uses the art someone else created to mash up a new image. That’s not art. That’s theft.

Tony Price
Tony Price
1 year ago

What an excellent article and a whole slew of intelligent comments with no obvious political angle – breath of fresh air!

It is worth noting that a computer can be just as much an artist’s tool as a brush and paints. An artwork produced digitally on a screen using a mouse and keystrokes rather than painted on a canvas is just as much a human creation. And of course the two could be combined, and may well be often for all I know, maybe by creating an outline on a computer then printing onto canvas and overlaying that with paint. Is that much different from an artist drawing lines on canvas to guide their perspective? Also the algorithms used by AI to interpret instructions and knock out a graphic are the creation of a human – is that human not an artist as well?

Alan Hawkes
Alan Hawkes
1 year ago

So, what change resulted from Hendrix setting fire to his guitar, apart from the production of ash?

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Alan Hawkes

Has someone asserted that it resulted in momentous change? It’s just a wild and “iconic” moment that some have over-invested with meaning.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Alan Hawkes

Has someone asserted that it resulted in momentous change? It’s just a wild and “iconic” moment that some have over-invested with meaning.

Alan Hawkes
Alan Hawkes
1 year ago

So, what change resulted from Hendrix setting fire to his guitar, apart from the production of ash?

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago

This reads like a fair assessment. I like that Smith doesn’t universalize his own taste, preferring “vintage technologies” himself but rejecting any hard line of separation between art and mere artifice. Perhaps some of the most adept ancient cave painters would think that using a canvas was cheating.
In my opinion, this emerging tech should label itself for the foreseeable future, so that we can see what it really has or doesn’t have, or come closer to a honest appraisal once our resistance and outrage have subsided. I doubt any of it will rival great and enduring works of art, but if it does, keep it labelled “A.I.-product” anyway please.
The fastest machine does not “beat” the fastest human in a true sense. There’s a categorical difference. An engineered intelligence doesn’t truly create its output, at least not yet. Perhaps great artists don’t spontaneously create their all their works either, if one allows for muses, inspiration, and the like. But a person wouldn’t get away with taking credit for the beauty of a wild landscape. And a cubic zirconium can’t legally claim to be a diamond (even it it had personhood). The distinction between natural, human, and machine-simulated beauty remains significant–for now at least. That seems unlikely to change altogether, but if we’re headed toward some godawful, indistinguishable blurring of man and machine, I “demand’ that we keep tabs, and place identifying stamps, on our prospective robot overlords.

AndyH
AndyH
1 year ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Well, the first poster was right – it seems we do have a lot of time to waste…

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  AndyH

I was awakened on a very stormy night here in California, but fair enough. Thanks for taking the time to call out my disjointed post.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  AndyH

I was awakened on a very stormy night here in California, but fair enough. Thanks for taking the time to call out my disjointed post.

John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Why would you feel the need to “label” AI art, as if it were GMO food? If you really did think you couldn’t trust your eye and brain to see the difference for yourself, then there IS (for you) no meaningful difference; in which case, why care?
This is all based on the idea that AI art should be imitating ‘real’ art, like the early photographers I mentioned above trying to stage painterly tableaux, lighting them ‘artistically’ and hoping that the result might be an instant painting. We realised of course that photography wasn’t a way of faking a painting, but an entirely different art-form. No-one now worries if a photograph might ‘fool’ the viewer- it just is what it is, on its own terms.
I have no idea what forms AI art might take; but whatever it is, it will be AI art, not pretend painting, or pretend anything else.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  John Holland

Do you feel precisely the same way about A.I. generated journalism? That is: You’d have no objection to a computer advocating an ethical or political position, literally with no skin or heart in the game?
Perhaps there could be a grace period in which the machine intelligence or its human supervisor could try to fool people, after which the organic or machine composition of the artist would then be revealed. But like a reproduction or imitation precious metal, that should be made known at some point, in my opinion. Why?
I agree that it is/would still be art of whatever subjective value, like any “traditional” work–but not human art. This matters to me because, while I don’t assume a benign or discernible message to art made by people, at least I know there is some version of a human intelligence or consciousness at work behind it. I don’t believe that human consciousness is a mere epiphenomenon of matter or that people are no more than complex machines, so I’d like to be told the origin–human or machine–so that the human, and possibly malicious intent of the human engineers can be discerned, if applicable.
Or, in a sci-fi type scenario that I do believe is remotely possible: the malicious intent of the machine. Perhaps you see no chance of A.I. going rogue on an amplified, viciously creative scale. Some may think there’s no such thing as malicious art or sinister journalism, or to the extent its existence is acknowledged, that it shouldn’t matter whether any malevolent or chaotic intent has a human or machine origin. But I disagree with such a “who cares” view.
And if art were somehow created by chimpanzees or whales, wouldn’t you want to know?

Last edited 1 year ago by AJ Mac
John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

I’m confused by the apparent contradiction in your position here- that you believe human consciousness is uniquely different from any other physical phenomenon- it isn’t merely a hyper-complex machine- and yet you worry that AI will be able to create a completely believable simulacrum of human thinking. Which begs the question- if your first assumption is true, how would it be able to?
I simply don’t believe that AI could any time in the near future write a genuinely good piece of journalism, because I think that AI algorithms are idiots. They simply cannot do anything more than scan vast amounts of old journalism, without ‘understanding’ a word of it- never mind why any of it was written in the first place- and then assemble an imitation of the ‘average’ result. There’s plenty of rubbish journalism written by humans now that fits this exactly method.
The AI ‘art’ so far shown (that based on word inputting, at least) is the same- a wide-ranging scan of images and some sellotape, nothing more intelligent or genuinely creative than that. If, at some point in the future, pure AI could create art that genuinely fooled knowledgable and sensitive people that it was human, that would bring into serious doubt your essential belief in the uniqueness of human intelligence- it would be a far bigger issue than mere ‘mis-labelling’.
If there are “malicious”intentions involved, they will be human ones, same as they always were. The one area that I DO have some concern about with regard to disclosing the AI source is ‘deepfakes’- fakery being the essential point. It seems as though we are already in the situation where no image or recording of a person can be trusted as ‘real’, rather than the invention of a person with a computer. This is very worrying- though it should be remembered that this is still just a human liar with a tool.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  John Holland

I mostly agree with this. That is why I said the potential malice of the “human engineers” and called the other scenario “sci-fi and remote” but (in my estimation) still possible. But I think that now-ish or on the not-too-distant horizon machines could be “coded” maliciously, even murderously, in a self-regenerating, machine-learned sort of inert metastasis. So whether or not human consciousness transcends the material, as it does in my strong belief, a threat may still be one day levelled at our heads.
I don’t assume that consciousness is altogether unique to people or that humans a hold an earthly monopoly on it: I think that primates have it, whales have it, even “down the scale” to birds and perhaps beyond. I tend to stick with human consciousness in stating my views because it’s the one most relevant to this discussion, one that more people are likely to allow, and the category I know a little about first hand.
My main objection is to a reductionism or rigid scientistic materialism that claims consciousness will be or has already been explained away as an outgrowth of the material, “an epiphenomenon of matter”. That seems to me to be using an inherited, inscrutable faculty to minimize or deny the existence of that very faculty, often to promote an ideological bent such as logical positivism or zealous atheism.
However, even if my deeply held–in some measure emotional, irrational–intuition and belief about the transcendent (not therefore “eternal” or “magical”) nature of human consciousness is wrong, and machines can develop true agency that extends beyond “programmed-but-developing” will, I still want to know which is which. I trust or at least understand people more than machinery. Is that so absurd?
I admit there’s some inconsistency and uncertainty my opinions in this area; I’m only working with a human consciousness. I’m not too bothered about the current state of A.I. either, but perhaps allowing my mind to run a bit wild, which the article does seem to invite despite the yawing posture of the author.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  John Holland

I mostly agree with this. That is why I said the potential malice of the “human engineers” and called the other scenario “sci-fi and remote” but (in my estimation) still possible. But I think that now-ish or on the not-too-distant horizon machines could be “coded” maliciously, even murderously, in a self-regenerating, machine-learned sort of inert metastasis. So whether or not human consciousness transcends the material, as it does in my strong belief, a threat may still be one day levelled at our heads.
I don’t assume that consciousness is altogether unique to people or that humans a hold an earthly monopoly on it: I think that primates have it, whales have it, even “down the scale” to birds and perhaps beyond. I tend to stick with human consciousness in stating my views because it’s the one most relevant to this discussion, one that more people are likely to allow, and the category I know a little about first hand.
My main objection is to a reductionism or rigid scientistic materialism that claims consciousness will be or has already been explained away as an outgrowth of the material, “an epiphenomenon of matter”. That seems to me to be using an inherited, inscrutable faculty to minimize or deny the existence of that very faculty, often to promote an ideological bent such as logical positivism or zealous atheism.
However, even if my deeply held–in some measure emotional, irrational–intuition and belief about the transcendent (not therefore “eternal” or “magical”) nature of human consciousness is wrong, and machines can develop true agency that extends beyond “programmed-but-developing” will, I still want to know which is which. I trust or at least understand people more than machinery. Is that so absurd?
I admit there’s some inconsistency and uncertainty my opinions in this area; I’m only working with a human consciousness. I’m not too bothered about the current state of A.I. either, but perhaps allowing my mind to run a bit wild, which the article does seem to invite despite the yawing posture of the author.

John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

I’m confused by the apparent contradiction in your position here- that you believe human consciousness is uniquely different from any other physical phenomenon- it isn’t merely a hyper-complex machine- and yet you worry that AI will be able to create a completely believable simulacrum of human thinking. Which begs the question- if your first assumption is true, how would it be able to?
I simply don’t believe that AI could any time in the near future write a genuinely good piece of journalism, because I think that AI algorithms are idiots. They simply cannot do anything more than scan vast amounts of old journalism, without ‘understanding’ a word of it- never mind why any of it was written in the first place- and then assemble an imitation of the ‘average’ result. There’s plenty of rubbish journalism written by humans now that fits this exactly method.
The AI ‘art’ so far shown (that based on word inputting, at least) is the same- a wide-ranging scan of images and some sellotape, nothing more intelligent or genuinely creative than that. If, at some point in the future, pure AI could create art that genuinely fooled knowledgable and sensitive people that it was human, that would bring into serious doubt your essential belief in the uniqueness of human intelligence- it would be a far bigger issue than mere ‘mis-labelling’.
If there are “malicious”intentions involved, they will be human ones, same as they always were. The one area that I DO have some concern about with regard to disclosing the AI source is ‘deepfakes’- fakery being the essential point. It seems as though we are already in the situation where no image or recording of a person can be trusted as ‘real’, rather than the invention of a person with a computer. This is very worrying- though it should be remembered that this is still just a human liar with a tool.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  John Holland

Do you feel precisely the same way about A.I. generated journalism? That is: You’d have no objection to a computer advocating an ethical or political position, literally with no skin or heart in the game?
Perhaps there could be a grace period in which the machine intelligence or its human supervisor could try to fool people, after which the organic or machine composition of the artist would then be revealed. But like a reproduction or imitation precious metal, that should be made known at some point, in my opinion. Why?
I agree that it is/would still be art of whatever subjective value, like any “traditional” work–but not human art. This matters to me because, while I don’t assume a benign or discernible message to art made by people, at least I know there is some version of a human intelligence or consciousness at work behind it. I don’t believe that human consciousness is a mere epiphenomenon of matter or that people are no more than complex machines, so I’d like to be told the origin–human or machine–so that the human, and possibly malicious intent of the human engineers can be discerned, if applicable.
Or, in a sci-fi type scenario that I do believe is remotely possible: the malicious intent of the machine. Perhaps you see no chance of A.I. going rogue on an amplified, viciously creative scale. Some may think there’s no such thing as malicious art or sinister journalism, or to the extent its existence is acknowledged, that it shouldn’t matter whether any malevolent or chaotic intent has a human or machine origin. But I disagree with such a “who cares” view.
And if art were somehow created by chimpanzees or whales, wouldn’t you want to know?

Last edited 1 year ago by AJ Mac
AndyH
AndyH
1 year ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Well, the first poster was right – it seems we do have a lot of time to waste…

John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Why would you feel the need to “label” AI art, as if it were GMO food? If you really did think you couldn’t trust your eye and brain to see the difference for yourself, then there IS (for you) no meaningful difference; in which case, why care?
This is all based on the idea that AI art should be imitating ‘real’ art, like the early photographers I mentioned above trying to stage painterly tableaux, lighting them ‘artistically’ and hoping that the result might be an instant painting. We realised of course that photography wasn’t a way of faking a painting, but an entirely different art-form. No-one now worries if a photograph might ‘fool’ the viewer- it just is what it is, on its own terms.
I have no idea what forms AI art might take; but whatever it is, it will be AI art, not pretend painting, or pretend anything else.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago

This reads like a fair assessment. I like that Smith doesn’t universalize his own taste, preferring “vintage technologies” himself but rejecting any hard line of separation between art and mere artifice. Perhaps some of the most adept ancient cave painters would think that using a canvas was cheating.
In my opinion, this emerging tech should label itself for the foreseeable future, so that we can see what it really has or doesn’t have, or come closer to a honest appraisal once our resistance and outrage have subsided. I doubt any of it will rival great and enduring works of art, but if it does, keep it labelled “A.I.-product” anyway please.
The fastest machine does not “beat” the fastest human in a true sense. There’s a categorical difference. An engineered intelligence doesn’t truly create its output, at least not yet. Perhaps great artists don’t spontaneously create their all their works either, if one allows for muses, inspiration, and the like. But a person wouldn’t get away with taking credit for the beauty of a wild landscape. And a cubic zirconium can’t legally claim to be a diamond (even it it had personhood). The distinction between natural, human, and machine-simulated beauty remains significant–for now at least. That seems unlikely to change altogether, but if we’re headed toward some godawful, indistinguishable blurring of man and machine, I “demand’ that we keep tabs, and place identifying stamps, on our prospective robot overlords.

Stephen Magee
Stephen Magee
1 year ago

The only real-world significance of AI art is whether it can be sold (and, if so, the price). If someone is prepared to pay a gazillion for a piece of AI art, the question whether it is “art” is irrelevant. If nobody wants to buy it, academic debate about whether it is “art” may be interesting, but of little or no relevance to life on earth.

John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago
Reply to  Stephen Magee

This holds only if you believe that only money holds any significance. Yet I don’t think you really believe this, as no-one but a sociopath, and a deeply confused one at that, would.
For example, 95% of “life on earth” is not, and cannot- so far- be sold. Human beings have been sold at times in the past, but currently this practice is frowned upon. Do you think, therefore, that human beings have “little or no relevance to life on earth”? Of course not.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  John Holland

A view such as the one you’ve ridiculed here might reflect a belief that no art is worth much–except for its cash valuation. (Might, not does).
Still I don’t think it’s sociopathic to accept that human’s have invested money with significance and that it has practical, sometimes dire value. “Getting and spending we lay waste our powers / Little we see in nature that is ours”–absolutely, how right Wordsworth was, and is! Yet if, for example, you were to buy something presented as human art for a fortune, only to find that it’s algorithmically-generated (or whatever) and now your fortune is sunk into something that can’t be re-sold for much–rendering you and your family destitute–you may be justly considered foolish or too materialistic, but the seller has misbehaved too. An exaggerated, hypothetical scenario, but something similar is not implausible, I don’t think.
What of art forgeries by people? Is the inauthenticity irrelevant as long as no one can detect that it’s not a real Picasso, or at least the duped buyer couldn’t so tough luck, caveat emptor and all that?

Last edited 1 year ago by AJ Mac
John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Obviously, there are laws about correctly describing anything being sold- art is no different in this from buying a Rolex from eBay. The buyer has the legal right to expect the description to match the product.
Aside, though, from the legal, financial protections, there’s always a degree of caveat emptor- if you ignore investment value. If can’t tell the difference between the ‘real’ painting and an imitation, then you actually got what you wanted. 99.5% of fake paintings are terrible, and only someone who really hasn’t seriously studied the original would be ‘fooled’. The issue is really only about investment value, not aesthetics; it’s a legal issue, not an artistic one.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  John Holland

Not artistic proper, no. I think these “fancy new machines” open a new pathway for potential fraud that is part of the discussion, though not a central thread or one that you consider significant.
While I still stubbornly insist on the labelling, I agree that the art itself is what matters. I’d actually like to see machines create more beautiful, even artistic objects when they’re not too busy processing ones and zeroes. Heck, show us an exhibit of A.I. art alongside people pieces and let us see whether we can distinguish–once it’s a closer call.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  John Holland

Not artistic proper, no. I think these “fancy new machines” open a new pathway for potential fraud that is part of the discussion, though not a central thread or one that you consider significant.
While I still stubbornly insist on the labelling, I agree that the art itself is what matters. I’d actually like to see machines create more beautiful, even artistic objects when they’re not too busy processing ones and zeroes. Heck, show us an exhibit of A.I. art alongside people pieces and let us see whether we can distinguish–once it’s a closer call.

John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Obviously, there are laws about correctly describing anything being sold- art is no different in this from buying a Rolex from eBay. The buyer has the legal right to expect the description to match the product.
Aside, though, from the legal, financial protections, there’s always a degree of caveat emptor- if you ignore investment value. If can’t tell the difference between the ‘real’ painting and an imitation, then you actually got what you wanted. 99.5% of fake paintings are terrible, and only someone who really hasn’t seriously studied the original would be ‘fooled’. The issue is really only about investment value, not aesthetics; it’s a legal issue, not an artistic one.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  John Holland

A view such as the one you’ve ridiculed here might reflect a belief that no art is worth much–except for its cash valuation. (Might, not does).
Still I don’t think it’s sociopathic to accept that human’s have invested money with significance and that it has practical, sometimes dire value. “Getting and spending we lay waste our powers / Little we see in nature that is ours”–absolutely, how right Wordsworth was, and is! Yet if, for example, you were to buy something presented as human art for a fortune, only to find that it’s algorithmically-generated (or whatever) and now your fortune is sunk into something that can’t be re-sold for much–rendering you and your family destitute–you may be justly considered foolish or too materialistic, but the seller has misbehaved too. An exaggerated, hypothetical scenario, but something similar is not implausible, I don’t think.
What of art forgeries by people? Is the inauthenticity irrelevant as long as no one can detect that it’s not a real Picasso, or at least the duped buyer couldn’t so tough luck, caveat emptor and all that?

Last edited 1 year ago by AJ Mac
John Holland
John Holland
1 year ago
Reply to  Stephen Magee

This holds only if you believe that only money holds any significance. Yet I don’t think you really believe this, as no-one but a sociopath, and a deeply confused one at that, would.
For example, 95% of “life on earth” is not, and cannot- so far- be sold. Human beings have been sold at times in the past, but currently this practice is frowned upon. Do you think, therefore, that human beings have “little or no relevance to life on earth”? Of course not.

Stephen Magee
Stephen Magee
1 year ago

The only real-world significance of AI art is whether it can be sold (and, if so, the price). If someone is prepared to pay a gazillion for a piece of AI art, the question whether it is “art” is irrelevant. If nobody wants to buy it, academic debate about whether it is “art” may be interesting, but of little or no relevance to life on earth.

James Thomas
James Thomas
1 year ago

One important and much undervalued aspect of artistic creativity today is the imaginative genius demonstrated by the people who created our communications, A.I., internet, life-sciences and many other technologies that exist or are in their beginnings in todays world – it is truly breath-taking what these types of human mind can do. It is up to us lesser mortals and more conventional artists to help guide these technologies to be beneficial to the world.

James Thomas
James Thomas
1 year ago

One important and much undervalued aspect of artistic creativity today is the imaginative genius demonstrated by the people who created our communications, A.I., internet, life-sciences and many other technologies that exist or are in their beginnings in todays world – it is truly breath-taking what these types of human mind can do. It is up to us lesser mortals and more conventional artists to help guide these technologies to be beneficial to the world.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

Art Is Dead and We Have Killed It.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

Art Is Dead and We Have Killed It.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago

I can’t help thinking that the idea of an AI creating art is a way of giving it more credibility, making it more human than machine. In regard to AI it’s not important about what art is, what’s good art, what’s creative and original. Art in all its various forms and perception is a human endeavour, generated from the unconscious mind, a mystery that can’t be defined or cracked. If we can be convinced that an AI can produce art: original, imitation, high or low, it doesn’t matter, then those who support it can claim it to be much more advanced than a machine that can add up quickly, or feed off what it’s fed. From there it’s impossible to separate man from machine or to argue for the superiority of one over the other, because they’re both, supposedly, operating with the unconscious. If an AI can produce art then it’s closer to having a spirit or soul.
Our debating about what art is or isn’t distracts us from the subtle work of persuasion going on.

Last edited 1 year ago by Brett H
Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago

I can’t help thinking that the idea of an AI creating art is a way of giving it more credibility, making it more human than machine. In regard to AI it’s not important about what art is, what’s good art, what’s creative and original. Art in all its various forms and perception is a human endeavour, generated from the unconscious mind, a mystery that can’t be defined or cracked. If we can be convinced that an AI can produce art: original, imitation, high or low, it doesn’t matter, then those who support it can claim it to be much more advanced than a machine that can add up quickly, or feed off what it’s fed. From there it’s impossible to separate man from machine or to argue for the superiority of one over the other, because they’re both, supposedly, operating with the unconscious. If an AI can produce art then it’s closer to having a spirit or soul.
Our debating about what art is or isn’t distracts us from the subtle work of persuasion going on.

Last edited 1 year ago by Brett H
Richard Scully
Richard Scully
1 year ago

I have always felt that something (anything really), becomes Art when it is perceived in a context that allows for surprise and provokes a unique personal consideration.

Like sex the longer the consideration, the better.