Clickbait or creativity? The art world wrestles with AI

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Paris (AFP) – Online tools that can use artificial intelligence (AI) to create strange, absurd, and sometimes terrifying images have exploded in popularity, prompting soul-searching about the nature of art.

Tech companies tout their inventions as a liberating force for art for all, but purists argue that the artist is still the central cog in the machine.

Historian and AI expert Emily L. Spratt, whose upcoming book discusses the ethics and regulation of AI art, told AFP that the art world has yet to react to the potentially transformative technology.

Are we all artists now?

Enter a few keywords into the art tool — something like “Brad Pitt on a spaceship, Mondrian style” — and within seconds, bold, colorful line drawings of the Hollywood star appear and float across the stars.

There are many fans of tools like Midjourney, Stable Diffusion and DALL-E 2 who have heralded this as the democratization of art.

But Spratt believes these tools are more about “fun and clicks” than art.

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“This is a way to strengthen cooperation with platforms, which will certainly help these companies,” he said.

Spratt said:
“Creations like ‘The Sea Otter in the Style of Girl with a Pearl Earring by Vermeer’ click more than art,” Spratt said. © – / OpenAI/AFP/File

“The idea that it’s just an empowerment tool or that it’s democratizing the space is too simplistic — it’s naive.”

Instead, he sees the boundaries between AI and other technologies blurring, pointing to image processing applications that are already widely used.

“I see the future of AI as part of a comprehensive background architecture for all digital imaging processes,” he said.

“It will be hard to avoid because it permeates all our digital interactions, often without our knowledge, especially when we create, edit or search for images.”

Are there AI masterpieces?

Beyond the simple online tools that anyone can use, there are many artists who work on their own algorithms with custom datasets.

These works sell for tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands.

A notable practitioner, Spratt said, is German artist Mario Klingemann, whose “Hyperdimeric Engagement Series, Bestiary” is a high point of the genre.

Emily L Spratt said the traditional art world has yet to respond adequately to AI
Emily L Spratt said the traditional art world has yet to respond adequately to AI © Dominic Bindle / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File

“It’s a video of seemingly organic forms moving from one physical person to another, momentarily appearing as recognizable animals,” he said.

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“To be honest, it’s a little frustrating, but it works well as an explanation of the dividing lines between material and immaterial and the limits of artificial AI to replicate the natural world.”

He said his art constantly asks questions about AI as a tool and more broadly about the nature of creativity.

What will the art world do with AI?

Until recently, there was very little buzz around AI outside of video installations because there was no bank of digital images with clear labels.

Without source material, there could be no AI art as we know it today.

That changed ten years ago, when several projects began to offer large amounts of digital images, which led to an explosion in creativity.

Apparently, “Portrait of Edmond de Bellamy” was sold in 2018, but the code is mostly borrowed © Timothy A. Clary/AFP/File

A French collective called Obvious sold an artwork for more than $400,000 in 2018 after accepting the idea that AI “created” it.

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This sale became very controversial after it was revealed that they used an algorithm written by artist and programmer Robbie Barratt.

“The reason Obvious sold, especially at that price, was mainly because it was advertised as the first AI artwork to be offered at a major auction,” Spratt said.

“It was really an art market experimenting with offering AI artwork in step with the old ways of selling fine art.”

At that point, he said, there was a lot of interest in bringing together the technology sector and the art world.

But the tech industry has since suffered a severe economic downturn, and investment and interest have waned.

Major auction houses such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s have since worked hard to create separate platforms for selling AI art.

“It’s as if they don’t want to desecrate fine art with these new digital innovations,” Spratt said.

And the critics have yet to reach the industry and really express good, bad or indifferent, he said.

“Unfortunately, the AI ​​art discourse doesn’t exist yet, but I think it’s on its way, and it has to come from the field of art history,” he said.


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