If an algorithm creates an illustration, why should it be called anything else than a tool creating an image? If an image is aesthetic, does it make it a work of art? If someone would use a program and click on a button to generate a picture, would that person be an artist?
The appearance of Artificial Intelligence “Art” has raised some very essential and relevant questions, and showed us the difference between actual genius and technical perfection.
A few weeks ago, an artwork called “Théâtre d’Opéra Spatial” created with artificial intelligence won the first place in a contest in Colorado (USA), which created a heated debate over the question of art and its definition.
Well, it also appears artist Jason Allen used Google Translate to find the name of his artwork.
Besides his poor knowledge of the French language, Jason Allen raises with his artwork some very essential and relevant questions and somehow defies modern arts in their most absurd form. Let’s dive deeper into those problematics.
First of all, it should fairly be said that this artwork hasn’t been created by simply clicking on a button. The program used here (called Midjourney) offers to transform texts into images using Artificial Intelligence. In so doing, this program is actually offering a new set of tools for creation, just as the apparition of Photoshop offered artists a new instrument for them to create. Naturally, each and every time new technical possibilities appeared in the realm of arts, we got to witness the birth of a new artistic movement, which isn’t necessarily symptomatic of the death of the previous ones: the apparition of oil tubes (made possible by the use of aluminium on an industrial level) allowed artists to go out of their ateliers and go paint in nature, faster and more spontaneously than ever before (that was the birth of the Impressionist movement), the apparition of digital tools such as Photoshop or Illustrator along the development of computers made digital arts possible, which created or least generalized new forms of art such as Graphic Design or computer-aided illustrations. So there is really nothing new here, and time has shown enough that those new opportunities should really be embraced instead of us succumbing to our fear of being replaced. AI is no more than a tool, it can become brilliant in the hands of a genius but will never be of genius solely by itself.
This being said, it is fairly obvious that some opportunistic persons will create whatever pictures using AI and label them art, without them having anything whatsoever to do with art. Simply because they use this label, it does not mean anyone should validate this in any way.
Ironically, this piece also raises the issue of aesthetics which had been questioned and argued over for a century, namely since Marcel Duchamp decided to place a urinal upside down and to call it art. By using a classical aesthetic language, “Théâtre d’Opéra Spatial” (really that name does not make sense) replaces aesthetics at the very centre of the artistic field. It may have been created digitally, yet the technics on this piece are aesthetically perfect.
I believe this is the very reason why the debate surrounding this artwork has emerged in the first place: it would be wholly different if we would be speaking about some comic-like monkeys drawn within a minute on Illustrator like many NFTs, for that would be so ludicrous that a debate would have had no reason to happen in the first place. Here though, we are confronted with an artwork that genuinely looks very artistic and beautiful (the composition is structured, the subjects look truly feminine and antique aesthetical codes are being used), which subject is metaphysical (that which is sung (music) is creating, or sung for, a circle-shaped opening to the cosmos, to Light itself!), which language is intemporal (there is no need for intellectual interpretation to understand the scene being represented, and the aesthetic codes of representation are linking to the Renaissance, associated symbolically with a time of intellectual enlightenment).
By using those codes, the artist somehow challenges the absurdity of modern arts: whereas modern arts are falling more and more into a contest of the absurd in which artwork after artwork we get to witness the same pseudo-intellectual argumentations over and over by arrogant “artists” justifying the monstrosity they created by explaining to us that the so-called symbolism in it is too subtle for the average brain to understand it (i.e. the gigantic plastic “Tree” actually looking like a sex toy erected place Vendôme in Paris in 2014 by Paul McCarthy), the production of M. Allen, on the contrary, shows aesthetics that are, as is it, perfect (that is, without technical defaults).
Would that plead for the return of classical aesthetics as a central element in art?
Now, the development of these new techniques of creation is in fact the symptom and chance of our epoch: as the world is shifting into a more scientific paradigm, it would be quite absurd for art to be left on the side, and I believe we should embrace those new opportunities instead of immediately raise our wrath against them. Technologies have become an essential aspect of modern life, and although few can use them without being used by them, we simply cannot fully ignore nor reject them.
This being said, the creative use of those technics can happen only if we employ our genius to generate actual art. If one sits still in front of a machine and expects it to work a masterpiece by itself, I’m afraid one will be disappointed. Artificial Intelligence is activating this eternal fantasy of man to create perfection, a dream explored extensively through literature, whether by Mary Shelley in her novel Frankenstein or by Goethe in Faust to mention a few. To a certain extent, this is this very dream that robotics is desperately trying to reach, by creating perfectly made false humans (those would be the humanoids), or perfectly made false art (which would be AI Art generated by itself, purely mechanically).
Unfortunately, those purely mechanical creations are no more than just that, somehow they always seem to lack the spark of divine creation. This spark of life that cannot be faked, this part of divine light each and every one of us carry within ourselves and that is the very mystery of our coming into being. This is this genius that cannot be replaced, which has little to do with the attainment of a technically perfect piece but much with the transmission of a supernatural image, character, of a poetic setting…
This is the part of art called genius, which is directly related to the originality and particularity of the artist.
Finally, what AI Art is teaching us is maybe not that “it can do it better” but that it can’t do it without a soul. Here it is putting light on an eternal truth for us: humans are blessed with a soul, this is our genius, it makes us unique and should be treasured. So maybe it is time for us to get in touch with it again. The good thing is, we now have an entirely new set of tools to do so.
About the author
Founder of Mythopoetic.