Some unfiltered thoughts on AI and art

January 27, 2024 ☼ aifuturemusic

Note: There was a lot of chatter today on Threads about AI and art. I had some thoughts that developed over the day and wanted to post them with some slight refinement after reflecting a bit. The following is still pretty scattered and unrefined thinking, but I wanted to put it somewhere.

Art (made by humans, based on new human experience) is vital. But I also think there are two types of people when it comes to perception of art:

  1. Those capable of gaining some kind of intangible, spiritual, non-financial value from experiencing art
  2. Those who cannot, and thus can only perceive its value as functional (primarily as entertainment, marketing or utility)

I think that’s what this whole AI and art situation comes down to. And I suspect those with money/power/influence in 21st-century America, where most of this debate seems to be happening, seem to be in the latter camp. The rest seems to spin off from there: the incentives put on media platforms to scale and optimize for mass consumption in exchange for surprise and discovery of new media, the increased homogeny and decreased uniqueness within popular” music, the hype within the tech industry about AI as a solution to make commercial art forms massively more efficient, the formation of niches online for folks in the first group (the art kids, I’ll call them) who are willing to pay perhaps more than before to support artists who desperately need it.

The fact that a small group of artists are able to partly fund their vocations with patron subscriptions and the like gives me hope; though I do wonder how much of this is driven by the thrill of voyeurism and intimacy among patrons, rather than a genuine interest in supporting an artist.

I don’t really care if AI ends up making the majority of the volume of what we today consider art”; there will always be a need for it and value put on it by someone. It will be important to know how to tune the garbage out. That also depends, I guess, on what you’d consider garbage, which is highly subjective and likely personal to the individual consumer.

Even if AI gets good” at making art and music in particular styles - to what extent would we call it art? What inspired it? What’s the context? What was the process of it coming to be? Is it even art in its purpose once created, or just marketing collateral designed to sell products and/or promote some brand? (That seems to be the majority of use cases for AI art, though I think it’s worth considering these questions for, say, AI-generated art submitted to art shows. Is the purpose to win first prize? Or is it to express some sentiment vulnerably of the individual who coaxed AI into making it?)

Related: is the feel-good hit of the summer any year really art, even if it’s meticulously crafted by a team of humans in a professional studio setting? Or is it marketing collateral for the musician/producer/brand who made it?

I personally think it depends on the creator’s context and listener’s interpretation. If you’re inspired by the creative process to get to that end product, you might think of this - or even just the process part - as art. If you’re listening to the feel-good bit of the summer as you sip cocktails at a hip club on the Vegas strip, I don’t think you’re thinking of the music as art in that moment.

Not trying to throw shade on all pop music – I love a lot of pop music. But it’s pretty open to debate whether all music is intended or perceived as art, regardless of who’s creating it.

Okay now let’s say you’re creating art with AI as a tool in your toolkit. To what extent is the AI whisperer” an artist, as opposed to a director of machines?

I made cover art” for my last 3 releases with an AI product called Stable Diffusion. Do I personally consider it art? Yes, because it triggered an emotional response in me when I saw it.

Do I consider myself a graphic artist? Absolutely not. If anything, the software is the artist and I simply commissioned a work from a piece of software.

Am I publicly promoting the cover art as art? Not sure. It is intended as a supplement to the music (which is the primary art for me), but it’s a cool companion so I’ll leave that question open for now.

There will always be people making art for the reasons they make art, regardless of the tools they use to do so. I hope desperately that there continues to be ways to find, be inspired by, and be challenged by new art of different forms.

This is the primary problem to solve. Spotify isn’t really solving it anymore, Google isn’t, the conventional music industry isn’t, AI is simply going to make the problem harder to solve in every format. If the people exclusively in charge” (ie. Run the dominant platforms, control the government, hold the money, etc.) are incapable of thinking of art beyond its ability to entertain or serve a low-grade function, then this won’t get solved. Those people simply have no reason or capability to perceive this problem; if they do, they will likely try to tackle it with different goals and incentives than those who want to simply find and experience more art.

The second? We need better words to describe this stuff. I’m not sure everything that we throw the label art” is even art. Maybe it is just marketing material for something else. Someone on Threads made the distinction of commercial art” which is helpful; we should start using that more.

© 2024 brandon lucas green