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Monday, January 1, 2024

Some thoughts on AI and the Ongoing Debate on What is Real Art and What Isn't

 I've been a professional artist for 25 years (at the time of this writing). I'm watching the AI trend with the same feel I had about NFTs. It's a tempest in a tea pot. It will either go away or fade into the backdrop of mediocre art. Like NFT's there is technology that is valuable and has uses, but for the artists I do not think it can survive the scrutiny of the professional art world. The magician can only palm the coin so many times before someone catches on. 

With that said there is one aspect that upsets me. I despise when someone sees a piece of my work and asks me if it's AI. It's fine for people who think they are making art with AI, but do not compare me to a machine.

I think the solution for artists is to make sure we're not just creating art on a computer or a pad. That goes for digital artists of which I am one.. Go back to your roots. Relearn what you know about traditional art and blend that into your work. I create a lot of digital art, but I call it my training ground. When I am onto a new concept I use digital art to refine my ideas. While I have thousands of digital pieces of art, I honestly don't consider them grand works of art. I consider them a necessary part of my process. My art often steps into uncharted territory. They are digital, they are photography, they are body painting, they are traditional painting, all blended together. When I began thinking seriously about the process, I realized that the "process part" is what makes me an artist, not the tools I am using. Sure, some can jump in with AI because its easy to create. But what are you really learning about your art? 

Ask yourself. Is it really satisfying? If you can create art in 20 minutes, are you really achieving anything as an artist except just another pretty picture? I don't create pretty pictures. I never want to create pretty pictures. 

AI isn't a threat to me anymore because it has no depth. Its like a woman who gets a facelift and spend the rest of her life getting Botox. There is no depth to the beauty. The beauty is in the wrinkles, the way they smile, the quirk in the corner of there eye. A real artist is not afraid to spend hours and weeks and months crafting those quirks into a painting. AI is just a pretty face with no depth. 

So lets talk about process. Every artist I meet seems to have a different interpretation of this word. Some consider process to be a dirty word. Those who call themselves an AI artist are literally devoid of process and most will admit that because there is nothing to back them up except a bunch of key strokes or key words. Consider at the time of this writing that AI has only been with us a year or so. Most artists who use AI haven't even been at it 6 months. Process does not happen in 6 months. Process is something an individual artist masters over a lifetime. And it constantly changes and adapts based on what the artist is engaged in. 

My goal was to smash the medium barrier. I chose early in my career to cross multiple mediums with my art. For example, early on I found that I didn't care for flat surfaces to paint on. I decided to combine sculpting and painting. Later I would learn to cut the canvas in places to create depth in my paintings, or I would build areas of the canvas up using unusual materials. I would discard the typical square or rectangle shape of a canvas and add to it with smaller canvases or materials so that the canvas ended up being a strange shape. I'd explore every shape I could in a single work and I would combine the mediums of acrylic, chalk, water color and even crayons melted onto the surface of the canvas. I refused to give in to the "single medium" concept. I wanted more. During this time I was also (unknown to me at the time) creating my process. 

Artists are naturally curious about working with different mediums. Some choose one medium to master, others may choose multiple mediums to work in. such as an artist who can paint and sculpt. Because I was self taught, I threw away the idea of mediums. There was no schooling to tell me that I couldn't or shouldn't do a thing. I smashed the medium barrier and I began creating my process.

AI art has no process. Perhaps over time as the software becomes more refined, artists will begin to think about process, but right now there is none and no AI artist can convince me differently. If anything its not the artist who is guiding the process, its the computer.

Over time, I realized that my work was slowly evolving into something new. But I couldn't exactly define what it was. With hindsight I now realize that the definition I sought was "process" When I would work with other artists or show my work, people often failed to see that my work had multiple levels within it. They saw only what was in front of them. But process was even then expressing itself in all that I did. Process creates depth, depth creates art. None of us have it when we are just starting out. It only happens over time.

This troubled me. When someone asked what my medium was, I tried to describe it. They couldn't grasp that my art was more than one thing. It wasn't for lack of intelligence, it was because I couldn't define it either. I'd stumble through explanations when I was asked what it was. Of course it didn't help that I was a surrealist. The work was already strange enough, never mind explaining all the mediums I'd used to create it. If I'd only understood process at the time, I might have been able to describe it and understand it. But like so many, I was a young artist and even if I'd had process explained to me, I am not sure I would have really grasped its importance. And that is exactly where AI artists are. I saw one person who said "why bother with process? I don't need it". But you do need it. Its vital to your evolution. As long as AI artists continue this way, then they are just making pretty pictures and they will disappear from the art world completely. They do not speak to the viewer of depth, they do not make the viewer want to stop and stare and contemplate what is before them.

The Mona Lisa is just another painted girl if you do not see deeper into her and deeper into the artist. She is depth. She is everything that DaVinci was because she was process. 

So while AI artists may create something in 20 minutes, rest assured that it is devoid of everything that has meaning in art. It has no more process than a 3 year old with a crayon. Smile and pat them on the head and say "nice work sweetie. You might be an artist someday". And then move on to create a masterpiece. 

This too shall pass. 

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