Monday, September 12, 2022

DO AI ARTISTS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP?

 Sigmund Freud claimed there have been three great shocks to the human ego:

  1. The discovery that the earth is not the center of the universe but is instead a tiny, vulnerable planet adrift in a cold and inhospitable universe.
  2. The discovery that humans descended from "a hairy, tailed quadruped" rather than being the divinely appointed progeny of Adam and Eve.   
  3. The discovery that humans are not sublimely rational creatures, but are instead controlled to a disturbing degree by our unconscious and the spasms of our residual lizard brains
Each of these three great shocks diminished our concept of humanity.  They also challenged us to re-define our species in a manner consistent with the new reality (reality defined as "that which, when you don't believe in it, doesn't go away.") 

To put it mildly, humanity has not responded well to these challenges.  Angry disbelievers wage violent rearguard wars.  In 1925 the famous Scopes monkey trial in Tennessee convicted a teacher for the crime of teaching evolution.  The judge refused to permit scientists to testify at the trial, ruling that scientific evidence would "shed no light."  It took more than 40 years before the US Supreme Court overturned that prohibition.  Nearly 100 years later, law and science remain no match for the resilience of disbelief:

Tennessee farmer O.W. Wooden: "Trying to tell you people come from monkeys
and all that stuff.  Couldn't be right!  Monkeys to me, like a chicken, you know?"

Today's question is whether it is time to add a fourth great shock to Freud's list: has artificial intelligence advanced to the stage where it is time to rethink our unique human ability to create art? 

Machine art has been rumbling like distant thunder for a long time.  Photography, moving pictures, reproduction technology and Photoshop have all transformed our historical concept of art.  They've reduced the difficulty (and therefore the mystery and value) of human skill.  They've significantly altered some of the fundamental goals of art, putting an emphasis on concept rather than execution, substituting curation of images for creation of images (using a whole new vocabulary such as "appropriation art," "re-contextualization," "sampling" and "augmentation.").  "Photo-illustration" has swallowed up whole categories of work that was once profitable for artists.  Digital art, which can be infinitely reproduced in perfect copies, has attempted to restore uniqueness and authenticity with the artifice of NFTs.  

None of these changes to traditional art would have occurred if traditional art wasn't forced to redefine itself in reaction to the boarding house reach of machine art.

Now artificial intelligence is rattling our door. 

In the past year, affordable off-the-shelf AI software (such as MidJourney and DALL-E2 ) has empowered adolescents with no discernible talent to create images using words alone.  If you know how to spell your illustration assignment, you can receive an offering of customized solutions within seconds.  As one self-styled "AI artist" exulted: "I felt so liberated bc drawing is the one creative thing I can't do AT ALL but I have a lot of hyper specific art ideas...." 


You can hear the "Yipeee!" echoing all across the internet. 

Discussions about the significance of AI art now abound, including in the comment section of my last blog post.  Predictably, a lot of the traffic on social media is precipitous as well as factually, legally and economically misinformed.  Still it's not too early to grapple with the question: have we finally arrived at Freud's 4th great shock?  If we attempt to deny it, are we any different from O.W. Wooden?  And perhaps most importantly, if the 4th shock is indeed here, how can we define our creative species in a manner consistent with the new reality?

There is no single answer because art is not a single discipline.  The shock waves from AI art will affect multiple artistic categories (economic, legal, educational, professional, and yes, creative) differently.

I think it's a mistake to take too much comfort from the fact that people with taste are still able to distinguish AI art from high quality human art.  Any serious ontological analysis must take into consideration the growth trajectory of AI, and search for qualitative barriers that AI won't be able to cross in the future.  

Pixar's ungainly CGI experiment, Tin Toy , came out in 1988. A mere seven years later Toy Story was released as a persuasive, full length CGI feature. 

111 comments:

Laurence John said...

Before the broader AI 'art' ethics debate kicks off I'll give my first quick impressions of using Stable Diffusion online (I didn't download the code to try it that way).

As an instant whacky idea generator it's pretty good. I was amazed at some of the bizarre juxtapositions it threw up. I didn't expect it to be quite so surreal and cubist; spaces are mashed together, multiple figures often have three legs, deformed arms and hands, distorted faces etc. Good if you want to create trippy Francis Bacon meets the Chapman Brothers scenarios. Not so good if you don't.

I like the way it can blend a photographic, painterly / illustrative and model-like appearance into a seamless surface, although I had little control over where and when this would happen.

The main problem is that it just isn't steerable / controllable enough. If you wanted to create a multi figure composition of a specific dramatic scene, it would at the very least have to give you a first stage wire-frame which you could
rotate and pick your angle / composition. Then you'd also have to be able to move and pose the figures, dress them, light them, etc.

In other words, you may as well just learn a CG modelling programme like Maya.

The technology is very impressive, but it's nowhere near to being a useful compositional tool yet.

So far it feels like a gimmicky - press the button and create an instant cool image for your social media page - generator. I think the novelty of that will wear off very quickly. We'll see in time whether the developers will address any of the issues i mention above.

xopxe said...

Agree with Laurence John, for some technical and economic reasons I suspect we're not at revolution as the ones presented by Freud.

Anyway, an interesting property of these shocks is that they replaced a human construct with another much bigger, more rich and fertile. One that could not be even envisioned from within the previous structure. At the time they "won" just because they looked unavoidable, which gives us hope, I guess.

Laurence John said...

David: "I think it's a mistake to take too much comfort from the fact that people with taste can still distinguish AI art from high quality human art "

Yes, AI generated imagery will almost certainly confuse people into thinking it was created by someone with actual skill. I'm not sure at this stage what the longer term ramifications of that are, but I don't feel positive about it.

My main ethical concerns around AI generated 'art' are to do with authorship. Can you really say you are the creator of an image just because you typed some words into a programme (which you didn't create) and pressed 'go' ?

Also, I worry that a certain type of person, who has never lifted a pencil or paint brush, will genuinely start to believe they are an 'artist' because they 'created' a load of images using this software. The self delusional aspect troubles me maybe more than the possibility of the same person fooling other people that they have some sort of real artistic talent.

xopxe said...

Speaking of ethical implications. People here made the experiment of feeding a simple prompt, like "human portrait" into Stable Diffusion (output here: https://youtu.be/95dVDu-lT4Q?t=2455). The amount of blue eyes is notable. This shows the main hidden trap of modern AI systems, the training data set (which links to the authorship problem). There's a truism in Machine Learning academic circles: "Machine Learning is money laundering for bias".

Albert Campillo Lastra said...

The other day I was telling a coworker that we should learn more about the metaverse or, failing that, how to make wicker baskets.

mj said...

It's already winning contests. Folks are creating photoshop plugins that allow you to work iteratively with the AI. The fact that these tools are weeks old means this is just the beginning. Images generated using Midjourney/Stable Diffusion/DALL-E are already being used in online articles and game art. I have no idea what the future holds, but these things are here and being used.

Wes said...

I'm confident that someone complained about paint from tubes when they first came out.

I'm pretty sure that photography was resisted as art.

I still doubt the value of computer generated art, but I like some of it.

Most comic book art now appears computer generated, but some of the old comic book artists really sucked at drawing. Still, I'd rather read old Sad Sacks.

I'm reluctant to give up my 3 year old subaru, because I'm worried that new subarus with stick shifts are going to be hard to find.

I didn't want to read a poem done by AI because I'm not sure it was a poem. It did, however, look like poem.

If the "medium is the message", I think the message is that a quadriplegic may become an artist.



Richard said...

On the tool --
I've been using AI at work for some time and have studied ML programming at Columbia, so I was familiar with the techniques, technology, and fundamental linear algebra. Until recently, I still considered the Art problem to be a long shot. The amorphous blobs of eyes generated by Deep Dream did not inspire confidence that AI would create real Art any time soon.

Fast-forward, and I saw that Scott Robertson mention that he started using a tool called midjourney to assist him in his ideation phase for vehicle design, which garnered him a lot of criticism. I respect Scott, and was struggling with ship designs myself, so I thought I'd give it a shot. I sought out an invitation to the closed Beta.

It was like reading a significant other's secret love letters. I was horrified at first, but couldn't stop myself from typing into the prompt. I came in and out of a fugue state for a few days.

Entering the bargaining stage of grief, I noticed that the other users were generating commercial, vapid garbage. "So what, it can make shitty concept art" I thought, this isn't real art. For a day or two I felt better.

Then I tried typing in Edward Georgi, Tom Lovell, Norman Rockwell.

I'm now somewhere in the 4th or 5th stage -- this thing is here.

From what I've seen, I anticipate that in two years' time AI will play a major role in commercial studios, and by the end of the decade the AI will be central to most commercially-viable workflows.

Midjourney is still a toy in many ways; it lacks several clear and easily implemented improvements, such as the wire framing Laurence mentioned, the photoshop/midjourney workflows mj referred to, picture completion, tools to work directly on existing pictures, and more. Given how much funding is pouring into midjourney right now, I expect these features to be implemented soon.

On the Ethics --
The entire business model of midjourney is predicated on piracy. They have not licensed any of the works they use, and are consuming them without permission. But this kind of unauthorized "borrowing" is standard fare in the internet economy, from songs on YouTube, photographs on Instagram and Pinterest to TV clips on Facebook. The government does not seem very interested in policing piracy against creatives.

I'd be okay with these tools if the living artists that trained the algorithms had a voice in their inclusion in the collection and could negotiate payment for it. But we live in a time when you can go to Google Images and download virtually any living artist's copyrighted works for free, I don't see much changing on that front.

Smurfswacker said...

I feel the front line of the battle over AI art technology will not be art, but legal challenges. It's significant that these AI art programs don't exactly produce NEW art. They mash up and rearrange fragments sampled from a vast library of existing images. The end result is a new work, yes, but one derived from images that were swept up without considerations of permission or copyright. A recent Atlantic article pointed out that large portions of the sample libraries consist of images scraped from places like Pinterest, Tumblr, Deviantart, and stock photo houses. Artists have seen pieces of their original works pop up online in AI-generated pieces. Expect another round of shouting matches over what constitutes a derivative work and what "fair use" means.

Any moment now media lawyers will be launching a barrage of lawsuits challenging the AI companies' right to scrape and repurpose images. It's like what happened with sampling in music. The music precedent will probably shorten the present "wild west" period of AI imagery. Media companies will sponsor legislation guaranteeing IP control and protecting their profit streams, and everyone will end up very confused. It's the magic (and the curse) of digital media that limiting its spread is akin to herding cats, only cat herding is much easier.

Amanda Bynes said...

I have been playing around with these tools a lot recently, they fascinate me and I'm still wrapping my head around it all.

I have seen much consternation about the AI art they produce. Much of it is sensationalist and reactionary but many concerns are valid. On the one hand they democratize creative image making in the same way the invention of photography did. Now, those without image making craft skills can easily visualize their ideas.

On the other they threaten to displace and transform an already precarious industry to participate in. Emerging talent may struggle to find work and grow in a market saturated with the seductive economic efficiency of an AI solution. The potentially homogeneous imagery pumped out by these tools could also stifle innovation and visual literacy as people trend towards prompting an AI for an easy win, rather than visual problem solving using foundational design language.

There's also a mountain of ethical and copyright issues that absolutely no-one is prepared for as previous comments state.

In saying that, these tools and the imagery they pump out merely reproduce the surface but have zero meaning on their own. They bring into sharp relief the realization that imagery can't really be isolated from context and narrative. In most cases with art and imagery, the final look is simply an artefact of process or intention. Its visual sophistication means very little on it's own. If you approach prompting superficially with no appreciation and care for how the images you are producing fit within a cultural and historical context then you're going to produce work whose sole value lies in novelty and spectacle.

This leads to the essence of the creation, the prompt itself. The real artistic process here is the authorship of your prompt, the final image lives and dies by this prompt. So if you can claim authorship of the prompt, I believe you can own the art it generates, and call it your work - but like any work, the media involved in its production should be made transparent as these choices ultimately influence the read of the work.

Anonymous said...

As mentioned, the leap from deep dream (2014?) to Dalle or Midjourney is massive, and I expect the next leap will be sooner and greater. There are a lot of artists now using AI in conjunction with their work, and I suspect AI whisperers will replace most product designers, character designers etc. Dalle's ability to turn out 4 often somewhat usable images in a minute means that for cost reasons alone game companies or anything that hires studio artists are going to use AI. But there will always be a niche for trad artists. Especially for artists who reject digital media almost completely.

Laurence John said...

Dave McKean might have a good case to be able to sue Midjourney for copyright infringement. See Nicolas Uribe's youtube video on his first go with Midjourney. The programme appears to have been schooled on his work. It produced McKean-like painterly images even without the inclusion of his name in the prompt.

Amanda Bynes: "On the one hand they democratize creative image making in the same way the invention of photography did. Now, those without image making craft skills can easily visualize their ideas"

This relates to the last paragraph in my previous comment. I don't see how enticing a younger generation of unskilled people into believing they are 'artists' - because they have expended minimum effort to produce slick, seductive imagery using an AI - can be a good thing.

Richard said...

“It produced McKean-like painterly images even without the inclusion of his name in the prompt. ”

You can’t own a style or visual design language. This is why fashion companies have to update their look every year and cover it with trademarked logos, because there’s no law against their competitors from copying their styles, only their brand.

You would have a better chance suing because it will generate characters who are still under copyright — Mickey Mouse, Batman, etc. Still, even if you could win some Civil damages in the US, we live in a global world, they could easily move their operations overseas.

David Apatoff said...

Laurence John wrote: "The technology is very impressive, but it's nowhere near to being a useful compositional tool yet."

I think it's the "yet" part that everyone is focused on. The number of AI products is proliferating so rapidly, their capabilities are evolving so impressively, and the economics are so compelling, the day will come when it much more "steerable / controllable" I don't think it's premature to project a day when AI will be able to perform very substantial portions of the creative process for unskilled neophytes.

Laurence John also wrote: " I worry that a certain type of person, who has never lifted a pencil or paint brush, will genuinely start to believe they are an 'artist' because they 'created' a load of images using this software."

If we define an "artist" as someone who creates art, it's difficult to argue with them.

xopxe wrote: "an interesting property of these shocks is that they replaced a human construct with another much bigger, more rich and fertile."

Another interesting property is that they all dramatically reduced our status as human beings. Much of the glory and nobility that caused us to value human status turned out to be illusions. When we argue that people shouldn't be treated as mere meat, everyone points to Beethoven and Michelangelo as evidence that we have seeds of the divine in us. When Beethoven and Michelangelo can be replaced with AI, I fear that the world will become a much more brutal place.

Mark, Man of TIN said...

It’s when the AI starts blogging regular posts about art and illustration that I should get really concerned ...
P.S. I ticked the box to confirm I am Not a Robot.

David Apatoff said...

Albert Campillo Lastra-- I foresee a future where we all find new level of contentment weaving straw hats for burros.

mj-- agreed. When people here comment on the gaps in the AI software, I have to wonder how many of those gaps can be plugged by other existing technologies. Not just photoshop plug ins but cg modeling programs, etc. It won't take long for different companies to recognize it's in their best financial interest to enter into cross-licensing agreements.

Wes-- I agree that some of the old comic book artists really sucked at drawing. In fact, most of them did. Their one redeeming feature, in my mind, is exactly what's missing from the AI work I've seen so far: their humanity.

kev ferrara said...

One should not be able to put another person's IP or data into any algorithm or AI engine without their express permission. Unless the material has fallen into public domain.

There should be no method of using the computer to take another person's IP or data that has not fallen into public domain.

The law is very very behind the issues.

The internet is a cultural decimator, allowing millions of people to steal and trade that which is not theirs. I see 'fans' all the time putting up image after image - the entire output sometimes - of living artists, without having the slightest notion of just how they are devaluing and impoverishing their artistic hero (or their family) by doing so.

The technology of the internet teaches people to steal IP without thinking about it. If there are no mass lawsuits, things will only get worse.

David Apatoff said...

Richard-- Thanks for an excellent contribution. That is exactly the kind of input I was hoping for when I started this blog, from people who had actual practical experience wrestling with such issues in a professional context.

As for your point about piracy, if you read the deluge of tweets about MidJourney and similar products you get a sense for truly naive and childlike these would-be artists are. They write: "everyone should agree not to scrape any copyrighted pictures." "We should have a code of transparency where everyone has to reveal the pictures they fed into MidJourney to make their picture." "If we agree to end capitalism, piracy won't be a problem."

Smurfswacker wrote: "I feel the front line of the battle over AI art technology will not be art, but legal challenges."

Gosh I hope not, given how badly the legal system has mishandled these issues up until now. When the second circuit court of appeals had to decide whether artist/loathsome thief Richard Prince had violated the copyright laws by assessing whether his reproduction of someone else's picture was sufficiently "transformative," the one honest judge on the panel wrote, "It would be extremely uncomfortable for me to [resolve that question] in my appellate capacity, let alone my limited art experience." And the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is a testament to how badly Congress is outmatched.

xopxe said...

"Another interesting property is that they all dramatically reduced our status as human beings. Much of the glory and nobility that caused us to value human status turned out to be illusions."

But that actually was a good thing. We just discovered that most of that "greatness" was self congratulatory and made up, and a sign of (natural and very human) weakness and immaturity. If we're to find dignity in humanity today it's better if it does not depend on the earth being the center of the universe or humans being created to the image of a god or having a potential divine seed in it. If you want (european) individuals that show that humanity is not mere meat and has greatness I think of Spartacus, Galilei, Goya and Mayakovsky: struggling, conflicted and defeated.

kev ferrara said...

I find it impossible to trust those who cannot see the greatness, glory, and nobility in humanity, or who cannot recognize our great achievements and unique abilities and natures.

Struggling, conflicted, and yet achieving at a high level or victorious in some difficult and worthy endeavor; that is greatness.

Struggling, conflicted and defeated can define any run-of-the-mill loser, addict or quitter. We all have our struggles and conflicts. And our failings.

Wes said...

"I find it impossible to trust those who cannot see the greatness, glory, and nobility in humanity, or who cannot recognize our great achievements and unique abilities and natures."



A beautiful aphorism, truth, and ethical imperative. Very well said.

xopxe said...

What? Spartakus, Galilei and Goya were run-of-the-mill losers? Believing defeat comes only upon the quitters is some kiddy-level hollywood thinking.

The whole Greek tragedy concept is built over defeat.

xopxe said...

But I guess it's very human to have a mob yelling "loooosers" to Prometheus or Icarus. Or Jesus while we're at it.

Anonymous said...

"can define" "can define" "can define"

Reading comprehension please.

Caterina said...

as a painter and someone with many painter friends in different fields: AI art is a future problem for the industry artist. the color designer, the background artist, the concept artist. not as a full replacement of course but as something that creates the expectation of working faster. Like photobashing it will be another tool, not to make a better final product. but to expedite mediocre output.

in the short run I just say that unless you are a very mediocre instagram artist AI art will not replace you (and most mediocre instagram artist are already just doing mediocre AI art that only looks good if you scroll superfast.
another funny thing: a friend of mine tried to use those AI art creators for his DnD campaign and it was completly useless.

Richard said...

as a painter and someone with many painter friends in different fields: AI art is a future problem for the industry artist.

The other day I was thinking about what these tools mean for politics.

It's easy to see how they could be weaponized in the hands of those with propagandistic intentions. I would bet that during the next presidential election, midjourney images will be used as political ammunition. It would provide a strong new weapon in the meme-warrior's arsenal. Activists are already producing daily political cartoons of Trump as a baby or some other such thing in the midjourney chatrooms.

(And the script writes itself, as Midjourney comes under media attack for allowing inflammatory imagery of an African American politician to be produced by 4chaners. Racism, evil tech billionaires, etc.)

It was while gaming this out that I decided to experiment making "paintings" of Joe Biden holding a gas container. [1]

What the hell does this have to do with what you said?

Long story short, while they still have psychedelic artifacts and anatomical abnormalities of earlier midjourney prototypes, I believe these Biden pictures are worth noting for one fundamental reason. While most of the mid-journey work you see on Instagram is pop commercialism, the technology isn't limited to anime girls and psychedelic landscapes.

After a few years and a few software updates, I believe this AI will be able to generate paintings that rival those of Big-A Artists.

[1] ref

xopxe said...

If this is the end of surrealism and psychodelia, then at least we will have that.

Caterina said...

Thats an interesting point RIchard. altrough it would be good to remember that the people that own this technology are by an large silicon valley people. whose dreams are never bigger than selling their tech to the competition for billions of dollars and then be mad in twitter. There is a lot of snake oil selling going on with all this stuff. of course Im not naive and understand the posibility. but unlike most I dont have much faith or fear of technology.

kev ferrara said...

It's easy to see how they could be weaponized in the hands of those with propagandistic intentions.

Twenty plus years ago, canvasing for design work, I walked into the shed-studio of a creepy computer jockey who spent every waking second with his eyes glued to CNN. Without ever turning his head away from the TV, he explained that he made his living using photoshop to slightly distort photographs of political candidates in order to make them subtly more demonic-looking. He was the go-to guy in New York for this kind of work, regardless of party.

Benjamin De Schrijver said...

AI is here to stay and it's pretty scary. I see two ways it can go...

Either it continues the current technocratic trend of slowly trying to program us to control us, turning us into robots (even before those that want to actually merge us with physical robots get their chance).

Or it releases us from the mental tasks the computer can do better and faster than us, allowing us--or forcing us--to spend more of our capacities going deeper into our subtle selves, discovering more of what makes us human. Like someone who turns blind discovering how to use their hearing in ways that those who can see can't even imagine.

I have to say I'm pretty pessimistic...

Laurence John said...

David: "If we define an "artist" as someone who creates art, it's difficult to argue with them"

Surely the AI itself is the 'artist' rather than the prompter ?

After all, the prompter merely asked the AI to produce an image from some word suggestions. The AI did the realisation (however wonky).

When David Cope in the 80s created a computer programme that could write JS Bach style chorales, he didn't claim that he was the composer of each new computer-generated chorale, even though he had programmed the computer himself.

___


Richard: " After a few years and a few software updates, I believe this AI will be able to generate paintings that rival those of Big-A Artists"

And that is a good thing in what way ?

David Apatoff said...

Caterina-- The impact on careers of artists-- separate from the ethical and philosophical and technical and metaphysical issues-- will, I think, be heartbreaking. When we hear the story of John Henry's race against the steam drill, it never occurs to us that it could apply to us.

Richard wrote: "After a few years and a few software updates, I believe this AI will be able to generate paintings that rival those of Big-A Artists."

Don't think that it will end there. After software digitizes your creativity it will digitize your immortal soul.

Kev Ferrara-- Despicable people like your computer jockey make me think we could do a lot worse than to turn this enterprise over to robots.

David Apatoff said...

Laurence John-- if someone ties a paint brush to a donkey's tail, I'd say that person remains the artist, at least conceptually. The donkey is just the extension of a painter's brush. The AI question is a little tougher, but I'd still say that the prompter remains the artist, the one making discretionary decisions. The problem is, it's a role for the artist that is so diminished, it's difficult to believe anyone would want it or find it meaningful.

I sometimes think that artists today have to satisfy themselves with mere table scraps from the banquet that used to be the mission of the arts. AI will certainly accelerate that process.

Øyvind Lauvdahl said...


Larry Law said it best: "Once an experience is taken out of the real world it becomes a commodity. As a commodity the spectacular is developed to the detriment of the real. It becomes a substitute for experience."

There is nothing new here.

Richard said...

And that is a good thing in what way ?


I’m not yet ready to call it a good thing or a bad thing in total.


But I can put on my seer hat, and string together together a few arguments for it being a good thing:

1. If we're being frank, most digital artists resort to cheating - tracing or photobashing, color selecting from other paintings, or relying on pre-made 3D models. There is already little human artistry in the majority of today's digital artists' work.

It's debatable whether an AI-generated work is any more mechanistic and false than many of the "paintings" created in Photoshop. Perhaps even the opposite.

There is a sense in which the AI effort is more genuine. By being trained on the outstanding human painters from the past who worked from life and models, had a poetic soul, and were genuinely capable of drawing. I'd choose the AI-generated Biden images I showed you above over work by most Instagram/YouTube celebrity artists.

The audience will be given better art, even though it was made by a machine.


2. As soon as the demand for any trend is saturated, that trend will lose its appeal. AI means that saturation process can happen overnight. I expect many people will get tired of seeing meaningless anime girls and concept art, and instead look for content with more substance.

3. When pre-teens with midjourney accounts can upload images from their parents' basements of a higher quality, the institutional artworld will have a hard time lionizing the works of their current celebrity art darlings. Goodbye Kahinde Wiley.

4.As people seek lost authenticity, they will take a closer look at artists from the past. As every contemporary digital artist is suspected of cheating, I believe people will gravitate back to Rockwell and Wyeth's work.

5. There's a good chance it will lead to a revival of interest in traditional works on canvas and paper. I like works on canvas and paper.

6. The shift will separate those who are passionate about art from those who crave attention. The artists who genuinely love their work won't stop making pictures, but the latter will disappear like a bad dream.

7. For the artists who create art because they have to, the presence of AI tools should force them away from simple victories (pretty girls, etc.) and towards making pieces that only they can make -- works that communicate uniquely from their heart.

8. I hate the Hollywoods and Activisions of the world. I would be happy to see skilled artists leave them in droves, even if those artists aren't happy about it. In the long run, a reliance on AI will empty their creative well, and leave the studies hallowed out and brain-drained. Their products will decline in popularity, and hopefully, they will die.

kev ferrara said...

I’m not yet ready to call it a good thing or a bad thing in total.

Anything parasitic is bad.

Commercial use of other people's IP without their permission is bad.

Every artistic shortcut that lowers quality while winning market share is bad.

Gaining market attention for low quality product is bad.

Indoctrinating the audience into low quality product is bad. Especially as it defines the tastes of children, who grow up to define the tastes of the nation.

Automating the generation of hypnotic pseudo-meaning is bad. (Sensation without nutrition is bad because it leads to addiction.)

Same with the deliberate implementation of the 'Chasing the Dragon' phenomenon of similar actions leading to wildly variable dopamine results - the gambling hook - that has made the bones of quite a number of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and engineers.

Pandering is bad (bestowing honorifics like "Artist" for pressing the buttons of machines. Which, once bestowed, is very difficult to revoke.)

David Apatoff said...

Richard and Kev Ferrara-- I have friends who love to write with a fountain pen. They pay close attention to the nibs and the inks and the papers; they feel that making marks with a finely crafted instrument adds a touch of elegance and grace to their day. I get it. If you sensitize yourself to the experience, all the aesthetics are there to be appreciated. The problem is, you have to be able to detach yourself from the competing values of speed, functionality, price, etc. which tend to dominate in a frenetic culture.

The costs of the fountain pen experience include carrying a bottle of ink wherever you go, pausing to refill your pen frequently, having your pen leak and stain your fingers (or your new blazer), etc. Some people will be willing to pay that price, but most people will give up and say, "Ahh, a ballpoint pen is good enough."

If your art form depends on a mass audience business model (such as illustration, cartooning, animation) those odds do not look promising.

Wes said...

David,

You raise an excellent point.

The aesthetic experience of doing the work is distinct from the aesthetic quality of the work produced.

The artist may love the experience that produces dreck, or may hate the experience that produces genius.

I vaguely recall reading here and other places the misery the early illustrators suffered in having to meet deadlines for covers for pulp novels, magazines etc. Their tools were difficult in those days, right, often use of oils etc for large canvases? Can't have been easy. The artist often was burned out by the experience, but they produced amazing stuff. I recall looking at what some of them produced later, by choice, calmly, without deadlines or corporate pressure, and thinking, their genius was produced during their meat grinder days, not so much when they could think calmly and make artistic choices for themselves.

Some of them probably realized that the tools they had used under great pressure were a more significant factor in what they produced than their "vision".

Who's to say that all these new technologies don't provide an aesthetic experience to the "artist" even when we doubt their products? My 30 year old tech whiz nephew finds the digital age tools fascinating, stimulating and innovative. I prefer a pencil and a legal pad.

I was a meat cutter for twenty years before I practiced law. I got more aesthetic pleasure out of wielding a knife than I did in crafting legal memos, but I'm sure my more important work (product) was a legal outcome for my clients, not a pretty T-bone in the meat case.



Richard said...

If your art form depends on a mass audience business model (such as illustration, cartooning, animation) those odds do not look promising.

I think it would be more accurate to say "If your business model depends on mass audiences, those odds do not look promising."

Artforms aren't business models. Illustration and cartooning haven't had mass audiences for half a century. Poetry doesn't have any market at all.

You can still get paid for Visual Development, but Visual Development is to Art as Copywriting is to Poetry.

People make art because they love it, stained fingers and all. We've long been in fountain pen territory.



Every artistic shortcut that lowers quality while winning market share is bad. [...] Indoctrinating the audience into low quality product is bad.

I agree, but what exactly are you trying to save? Ours is a culture in decline.

Is midjourney barbaric? Yes. That is fitting for a bunch of barbarians.

We're not going to rebuild the Republic into a civilized, sober, classical society that debates about Kant and thinks critically about art. I don't mean to sound like an edgelord, but people literally can't even read.

If you want to make things better, build The Foundation.

kev ferrara said...


I agree, but what exactly are you trying to save? Ours is a culture in decline.


"The horse is always dying underneath you," goes the old saying. Just as true now as back when.

One of the main obstacles to fixing culture (or anything else for that matter) is the people who have already given up and who blithely propagate their defeatism/nihilism. Emotions and deeds spread, especially negative emotions and negative deeds. And they have an effect on the world because people are, if nothing else, resonators.

Human beings are full of potential. They are always good soil, and good soil is always ready for seeding and farming, always ready to sprout flowers and fruit trees.

Luckily, not all adult human beings are corrupt, degraded and degenerate. More than enough still like real food and real flowers and real fruit. And real love, real family, real friends, real work, clean water, clean air, sunshine, beauty over sensation, honesty over the reverse, solutions instead of scare tactics, community beyond politics, and so on. Maybe most of them choose to stay low profile outside the hot insanity. But they are there. And they are still appreciating and buying real art.

I'd say we are in the burnoff stage of a part of our culture that has grown terribly corrupt. And we are witnessing the thrashing that comes when a beast has been cornered and badly singed. This is the dangerous moment to be sure. People get scared off.

But, I think what you're not imagining properly at all, is just how much worse things can get when the good people give up. In all the areas you are concerned about, not just culture. So if you have no interest in getting heavily involved in the culture war, doing one's small private or personal part to conserve what is worth conserving, and to support courage in others, is not much to ask.


xopxe said...

Art is communication, and artists will use any technical mean available. Be it the written word, film, or interactive computer games. An artist will understand the medium and master a language.

Unlike some other art supports, like the example of poetry, or theater, the production of images has been made extremely cheap, borderline free. There was a time than when people would be impressed by mere graphical representation. Today imagery is blasted all around us and is just noise. But if we can not convey value in images outside them being rare or technically difficult, then perhaps there's something wrong with our artistic drive.

Modern Neural-Networks based AI systems are extremely good at picking up and reproducing patterns and formalisms from big bodies of examples. The results are so impressive because they find patterns we did not suspect were there, and even have trouble articulating when presented (NN systems are "black boxes", they reproduce without giving an insight on *what* they are doing). On the other hand, by design they are completely blind to uniqueness and meaning. Perhaps seeing AI based "art" is an opportunity to think about what we've been passing as art but was only convention, and meditate on what we actually do not see in these pieces.

Richard said...

One of the main obstacles to fixing culture (or anything else for that matter) is the people who have already given up and who blithely propagate their defeatism/nihilism.

Admitting short-term defeat is not always nihilism, in some cases it's the only sensible strategy.

Continuing to fight an unwinnable battle will deplete your time and resources, lower morale, and provide your adversary a reason to further fortify their position against you.

Accepting defeat can help you improve your long-term position by giving the opponent a false sense of security, allowing you to focus on preserving resources for conflicts when you have a chance of winning, and preserving your pride.

The Luddites and other historical techno-phobes were convinced that they had a chance of bringing industrialism down, and they militarized around that goal. Unsurprisingly, they were crushed.

The Amish understood defeat, that's why they still exist.

The Amish said "Okay, you win. We're not going to fight you. We will not publish treatises against you or politically oppose you in any meaningful way. We're not going to march. We're just gonna go over here and make some furniture and have 7 kids in the middle of nowhere."

The Amish population has increased by more than 51x in the last 100 years. Meanwhile, the US birthrate at large is only 1.64, well below replacement and racing towards a demographic collapse.

Be as the Amish.

What's done cannot be undone -- you can't any more put midjourney back in the bottle than you could the camera or textile mill. Societies have inertia; it would take nothing less than the collapse of our way of life, and a fundamental replacement of everything from our institutions to our religious beliefs and 400 years worth of historiography, philosophy, ethics, and politics to remove AI from the art world now.

David Apatoff said...

"We've long been in fountain pen territory."

Have we? For 40,000 years picture-making has been considered the prime real estate. It was the core of the magic spawned in the caves. It enabled Christianity to outpace Judaism and Islam when the latter two religions, fearful that the power of graven images might lead to idol worship, imposed aniconistic restraints banning images while Christians were allowed to proselytize illiterate populations with pictures. Until the invention of photography, artists were the only source for sexual images, a monopoly which gave them incredible leverage over humanity, or at least over men. And so it went, and so it went, until as recently as 100 years ago golden age illustrators were among the highest paid people in society, the image makers who shaped the culture, the Steven Spielbergs and George Lucases of their day. If we've been evicted to fountain pen territory in such a short period, that's truly a tectonic shift.

Something is surely afoot. A huge percentage of the discussions of standards on this blog evolve into variations of "Is ours a culture in decline?" or "Is the horse dying underneath us?"

Are we overreacting? In one of my favorite essays, Ralph Waldo Emerson admonishes us to use our minds to maintain a sense of proportion and not be stampeded into over reaction: "Let him not quit his belief that a popgun is a popgun, though the ancient and honorable of the earth affirm it to be the crack of doom." If you read the wonderful annuals from the Society of Illustrators going back to the 1950s, at least every ten years someone lamented how easy the previous generations had it, and how the best years of illustration were now behind them.

Perhaps these anxieties are part of our nature. 200 years ago Thomas Carlyle was fretting that "great outward changes are in progress.... The time is sick and out of joint." At the same time, John Stuart Mill bemoaned living in an epoch where "mankind have outgrown old institutions and doctrines, and have not yet acquired new ones." The industrial revolution, was pulverizing medieval traditions, destroying family life and social order, yet it made possible the placid paradise we now regard as the golden age of illustration.

There are plenty of good reasons for concluding that this time really is different. And we don't want to miss armageddon if it's truly coming. But as we grope our way along, I often find myself thinking of a love poem by Sharon Olds that goes:

Even though
we did not know where we were, we could not
speak the language, we could hardly see
. . . .
We did not turn back,
We stayed with it, even though we were
Far beyond what we knew.


Richard said...

It enabled Christianity to outpace Judaism and Islam when the latter two religions, fearful that the power of graven images might lead to idol worship, imposed aniconistic restraints banning images while Christians were allowed to proselytize illiterate populations with pictures.

The allowing of idols is just one part of the story.

The Greek and Roman practice of Interpretatio graeca, the theory that all dieties among cultures are different names for the same diety, meant that they didn't need to replace the old Gods, only modify their practices of worship. Christianity adopted a system Interpretatio Christiana, and the Pagan laymen were not allowed to read the book lest they discover the categorical differences between the new religion and their own.

The God of Christianity was called Deus in Latin, (etymologically from Dyeus-Pater or Jupiter), God in the germanic cultures (etymologically from Godan, or Wodan), Dieu in French (from Tiu, a sky god), the Coptics call him Panoute (etmologically from pa-, the male prefix, and Nuti the sky goddess of ancient Egypt), and in the Finnic languages he is Jumala (from Jumal, the Finnic god of Rain).

They permitted Mary to be worshipped as a Goddess to replace the female dieties of the pagan practices, worked in a Devil to take the place of various cthonic gods (e.g. the Finnish word for the Devil, Perkele, derives from the pagan God Perkwunos), they regularly made comparisons between God/Jesus to Zeus/Appollo, Wodin/Baldr, and the Holy Spirit they used as a replacement for Hermes and other intercessor/messenger dieties.

To this day, in Germanic Christian cultures god's birth is celebrated with a Yule log, a Freyan Pig, and an Elf, and his death is celebrated on a day named after the spring goddess Eostre, and in fall we celebrate Samhain.

I'm not trying to diminish the significance of pictures in Christianity's spread, but merely wish to draw attention to how Interpretatio Christiana/Graeca paved the way for that toleration and all of the mechanisms by which Christianity achieved popularity among the pagan public.

Perhaps these anxieties are part of our nature. 200 years ago Thomas Carlyle fretted that "great outward changes are in progress.... The time is sick and out of joint."

The same decline, which Carlyle worried about in culture at large and fretted over, is what I'm talking about in a more focused way with regard to art. He was apocalyptically concerned with utilitarianism; he feared that the democratization of movements like Chartism would decrease his generation's cultural standards; he criticized scientism; and he was concerned that contemporary philosophers were "turning so-called ‘useful knowledge' into a Pascal-like engine for the mechanical transformation of every area of life."

Cultural decline takes centuries, and many of the most significant benefits come in a culture's twilight. After-all, Alexander's Hellenic period directly proceeded the decay of Greek cities and Roman domination of Greece, and Augustine published his City of God in 426, just 13 years before the Vandals sacked Carthage.

kev ferrara said...

What's done cannot be undone -- you can't any more put midjourney back in the bottle than you could the camera or textile mill.

It seems to me, the larger legal/governmental issue is Intellectual Property rights and Privacy Rights, not Midjourney per se. Although, of course, MJ without its parasitism of extant IP would hardly be worth a mention; a machine without a ghost.

Well crafted and sensible law has put many 'tragedies of the commons' back in the bottle. If you start shrugging your shoulders at encroachments on personal property or sovereignty of one type, don't be surprised when others are encroached upon as well.

If nothing is done to prevent tech from stealing or encouraging the stealing of IP or personal data... there will be no more culture or privacy. And we will truly live in the utterly derivative world envisioned by the postmodernists. And locked into it into perpetuity by the globalist technocratic oligarchy.

Taking a few moments here and there to advocate for sensible changes in law, or to explain to people why Midjourney produces obsessive dreck at the aesthetic level, while simultaneously pointing people toward the real deal hardly makes me either a fool or a threat worth subjugating.

Lastly, I started putting up Walter Everett images on the net about fifteen years ago. And now I see artists from all over the globe citing him as an influence. Small consistent taps with a little hammer can do a lot of terraforming over time.



Richard said...

Although, of course, MJ without its parasitism of extant IP would hardly be worth a mention; a machine without a ghost.

I don't agree. This business model is already fully possible without stealing, because just about everyone has already handed a nice big license to their art and photography to somebody already.

Instagram: "By displaying or publishing ("posting") any Content on or through the Instagram Services, you hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, worldwide, limited license to use, modify, delete from, add to, publicly perform, publicly display, reproduce and translate such Content, including without limitation distributing part or all of the Site in any media formats through any media channels, except Content not shared publicly ("private") will not be distributed outside the Instagram Services."

Facebook: "Specifically, when you share, post, or upload content that is covered by intellectual property rights on or in connection with our Products, you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, and worldwide license to host, use, distribute, modify, run, copy, publicly perform or display, translate, and create derivative works of your content (consistent with your privacy and application settings)."

Pinterest: "You grant Pinterest and our users a non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable, sublicensable, worldwide license to use, store, display, reproduce, save, modify, create derivative works, perform, and distribute your User Content on Pinterest solely for the purposes of operating, developing, providing, and using Pinterest."

Adobe CreativeCloud: "Solely for the purposes of operating or improving the Services and Software, when you upload Content to the Services or Software, you grant us a nonexclusive, worldwide, royalty-free, sublicensable, and transferrable license to use, reproduce, publicly display, distribute, modify (so as to better showcase your Content, for example), publicly perform, and translate the Content."

YouTube: "By providing Content to the Service, you grant to YouTube a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicensable and transferable license to use that Content (including to reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works, display and perform it) in connection with the Service and YouTube’s (and its successors' and Affiliates') business, including for the purpose of promoting and redistributing part or all of the Service."

Blogger:
"This license allows Google to:
-host, reproduce, distribute, communicate, and use your content
- publish, publicly perform, or publicly display your content, if you’ve made it visible to others
-modify and create derivative works based on your content, such as reformatting or translating it"

Richard said...

> I started putting up Walter Everett images on the net about fifteen years ago. And now I see artists from all over the globe citing him as an influence.

Much obliged. I remember the shock of seeing his work when I was a boy at the Delaware Art Museum. I consider that a Foundation building activity.

Laurence John said...

Richard: " 3. When pre-teens with midjourney accounts can upload images from their parents' basements of a higher quality, the institutional artworld will have a hard time lionizing the works of their current celebrity art darlings. Goodbye Kahinde Wiley."

I don't think AI art will make the slightest difference to the type of art / artists that get selected by the Gagosians and David Zwirners of the art world. They have their modernist and post-modernist canon that needs to be upheld. Their reality doesn't intersect with the sci-fi whimsy / concept art / trending on Artstation / traditional painting reality.

I can already imagine an artist like Jordan Wolfson using AI to make more of his disturbing art ... perhaps a large scale video installation of moving / animated AI generated imagery.

kev ferrara said...

Richard,

Those disclaimers don't all say the same thing, aren't all in lockstep with the underlying basis of your argument, and Midjourney is not among them.

I mentioned earlier that rapacious social media companies enable - I would say encourage - their users to steal IP and 'publish' it as their own content. Ads are sold on the basis of views not ownership (unless the content offends the woke cult/pokes the corrupt and panicking establishment, and then we get demonetization/censorship).

Since the techmedia companies (unless forced by lawsuits) blithely ignore any distinctions between original and stolen content - pushing it off as the result of (who they purport to be) the actual 'publisher' - the user (as if the companies aren't also policing content, providing the tools of cyber theft, or running the presses) - they could very easily be disclaiming their own use of stolen material for all they care or know.

A number of discussion in the illustration world have cropped up regarding MJ's seeming prefamiliarity with the works of Dan Dos Santos, Dave McKean, Nicholas Uribe, and other famous living artists. I'd like to see a lawsuit to find out just how derivative MJ is. And since the AI is running in a black box fashion, its makers would not be able to prove they weren't stealing IP.

Regulatory capture is the very biggest problem of all. Clearly, to prevent the tragedy of the cultural commons, some laws need clarification, or minor but crucial changes, and a few new laws need drafting. But big tech domination is a very powerful political control tool, the next worst extension of big media domination. And the deals made with certain politicians and factions are fairly clear. And enormously dangerous. It once went without saying that combining business and government to censor dissent and unperson opponents on behalf of a particular faction was definitionally fascism. However, Silicon Valley is filled with hyperfocused coding savants with zero civic or historical education except for the worse-than-nothing brief glimpses at cable tv news. So, fffft to all that.

Øyvind Lauvdahl said...

I honestly do not understand how this phenomenon can experienced as a sudden shock to the system. Is it really that CGI has become so integrated into everyday life that everybody just forgot what the acronym stands for? Already AI-assisted programs such as Photoshop were always pictoral art creation simulators, and the tendency towards the software being able to effectively run these simulations with a steadily diminishing need for human assistance isn't a bug, it was always the main feature.


Had Benjamin lived to see this dazzling and Spectacular wonder, he might have included it as a foot note in his The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. But he really needn't have, so he might also have not.

Chris James said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

This AI thing is the weirdest phenomenon to me. Its like everyone knows its fretted with problems and every year we are heading closer and closer towards the world of WALL-E. And yet, no one seems to want to stop creating and developing the technologies. Its like we're on a roller coaster headed towards the precipice and every just keep increasing the speed of the coaster. Ultimately I think this is going to be a case of "pride comes before the fall."

I understand that many new technologies were held in suspicion in their time. However, I do think that AI is different. Never in history have humans been entirely stripped of every endeavor that makes us human. Not that we are there now, but if we don't begin to be cautious with development of this tech, that is where we are headed.

I think it is naive to think that a universal basic income and no one working anymore will be some sort of utopia. Humans were made to work, we need structure and constraint to thrive. Certainly some people will take advantage of this type of situation to do things of value. However, I fear that the vast masses will resort to inane, mindless-numbing amusement and frivolity. We are made to seek the path of least resistance and despite what each of us may believe about ourselves, most of us will end up overweight, mindless, floating around in chairs, zonked out in a sea of flashing screens.

On the upside, as history is full of actions and reactions, I believe there will be more and more of a push back towards the hand-made, the organic, the human.

Richard said...

Unknown -

AI and Universal Basic Income should have no effect on how much people work. People will continue to work as long they can improve their social status, acquire sex partners, or buy luxury goods and shiny baubles by doing so.

The necessities of life are already available for free in America. Every city has a homeless support system complete with free cots, showers, cellphones, clothing, socks and shoes, toothbrush and toothpaste, electricity, and nutritious food. Internet is free at the library. The ER will treat you without insurance. No one needs to work to survive, we get for free what Somalian pirates kill for -- we work because we want more than that. UBI would no more change the fundamental nature of man to want more than does the shelter system.

As far as AI is concerned, it will not take every job because there are an infinite number of things people will pay for. Even if every material object were free (impossible because of the limited nature of resources), people would still want a wide range of new services.

I call this the frivolity principle of economics. If there's an existing technical term for this, I'm not aware of it.

Every new generation spends their money more frivolously than the previous one did -- at least, that's what the previous generation believes.

Explain to someone a hundred years ago that it is now standard practice to hire someone to wash your dog, or that people pay a fortune every month to go into a building just to be told how to stretch and to pick up heavy things and put them back down. They won't understand.

To someone from the 1800s it would sound insane to throw out torn clothes instead of taking them to the mender, but in the 1600s it would sound insane that you would pay someone else to repair your clothing for you. In the 1400s it would sound insane that you would ever pay someone else to cook for you. For a caveman living in a dirt-floor hut it would sound insane to trade valuable resources to have stone floors put in.

Anything you could possible pay for, above and beyond a sharp stick, loin cloth, and a dry cave was pointless to somebody.

Similarly, the jobs and products of the future are so stupid that we can't even wrap our minds around what they might be. For example, I except it will become common practice for lonely American men to pay for young foreign women to play video games with them online every night. This might sound outrageous, but in comparison to paying a doctor $100/hr just to listen and nod sympathetically about your inconsequential problems, I don't think it is.

Richard said...

I don't think AI art will make the slightest difference to the type of art / artists that get selected by the Gagosians and David Zwirners of the art world.

Laurence,

I expect you're right, the art institutions will try to keep on like nothing has changed. I mean that the audiences and influencers may be less easily swayed by those institutions.

Run the thought experiment --
You're President Kamala Harris, the year is 2032. Will you want your presidency immortalized by Kahinde Wiley, when there are millions of Democratic teenagers capable of generating John Singer Sargent-grade portraits of you with the midjourney app on their cellphone?

When every teenager on snapchat has a profile picture painted by Nicholas Uribe, you're going to have an official portrait painted by Sharon Sprung?

kev ferrara said...

AI and Universal Basic Income should have no effect on how much people work. People will continue to work as long they can improve their social status, acquire sex partners, or buy luxury goods and shiny baubles by doing so.

Good economists necessarily give a great deal of attention to Perverse Incentives. So there is a substantial body of literature on the topic. (Which no demagogic, ideological, idealistic, pandering, or populist politician has ever read.)

(AI) will not take every job because there are an infinite number of things people will pay for.

Actually, the more people are given stuff for free, and the less money they have, the fewer things they will pay for. (In the direct sense of 'pay'. Since there are no free lunches, everybody is paying for everything in some way.)

Every new generation spends their money more frivolously than the previous one did -- at least, that's what the previous generation believes.

Lest we forget, the sun also sets.

mj said...

This podcast gives a pretty good overview of what's currently happening with the 3 big AI models being used (DALL-E, Midjourney, and Stable Diffusion), what people are doing with them, and touches on some of the legalities and ethical questions from 3 working software developers.

Chris James said...

"Run the thought experiment --
You're President Kamala Harris, the year is 2032. Will you want your presidency immortalized by Kahinde Wiley, when there are millions of Democratic teenagers capable of generating John Singer Sargent-grade portraits of you with the midjourney app on their cellphone?"

Depends if she cares about having a physical object or not. I suspect she's not the type to be so discerning, which is maybe why you used her specifically. People have been able to fake Sargent through digital tools for a long time already. Yet Tony Blair still had his portrait painted by Phil Hale during this time.
The AI would need to be attached to a mechanical body capable of carrying out the physical labor to replace that. But then you have the element of prestige that comes with a skilled(and pricey) human being glorifying you through their craft. I don't see a walking color printer tickling a person's vanity like that.

The way I see it, the "problem" isn't the AI. The problem is and has been, for a long time, that for the audience at large good enough is good enough. Public art has been on the decline for decades. Even during the so-called Golden age of illustration, a lot of talent was thrown towards marketing and selling detritus. We admire the work, because of the strength of the image makers back then, despite that. But we haven't had illustrators as good on average for a long time. It's not that the AI is good as Sargent (I don't think it is, but then what does that even mean specifically?), but it's close enough for the general public. They can't see past the surface, and they can't even see that with much discernment. For instance, anything that is not abstract all falls under the umbrella of realism to most people. You'll see this in many art history discussions, as if Rubens and Chuck Close were even remotely related.

To your point, the "good enough" people (like KH?) vastly outnumber the discerning connesuirs. Seems like the only people who even give a damn about still images today are the kids growing up on what I call "gamer art*", and the AI can pretty much equal most of that stuff. That's a low bar to clear, but that's good enough.

*In wish I include mainstream comics post-Image, anime/manga, meme art, fan art/DeviantArt, etc.

Chris James said...

*In which

David Apatoff said...

If we're going to try to blend economic theory with the future of AI technology, I'm afraid we'll have to call in Hari Seldon. Personally, I can't say whether AI and Universal Basic Income will have an effect on how much people work, but if they replace only the jobs performed at the lower rungs of the ladder, will those people have the motivation or the ability to replace that work with tasks on the higher rungs?

Richard, I've been told that "the necessities of life are already available for free in America" and I've read some federal regulatory programs that aspire to make that happen, but I've also worked in the gap between supply and demand for those necessities and it ain't that easy. There are huge numbers people who, due to mental disabilities or PTSD or just mistrust of the system would rather sleep on the street than sign into one of the "homeless support system complete with free cots, showers, cellphones" that you describe. There are others who are unable to wait for hours in long lines without losing their horrible jobs or without finding someone reliable to take care of their children. There are others who find that sometimes the civil servants running those systems are predators.

The point is not central to our discussion of AI, I just didn't want to leave uncontradicted your point that "No one needs to work to survive" because I've personally witnessed, in legal aid clinics and family courts, desperate people without heat in the winter, afraid to go to shelters where abusive husbands might locate them or social workers will take away their kids, and they work damn hard to survive every minute of the day (that is, when they're not on drugs). They'd consider it paradise to receive the benefits you describe, preferably someplace where stray bullets can't reach their kids.

In my view, most economic theories of human behavior turn out to be more psychology than they are economics. While the ones you describe sound plausible, I think the dominant economic principle in art among the upper classes today is that art is the kind of property that economists call "positional goods" which means it is valued for being unique so that other people can't have it, rather than because of its inherent artistic quality. Positional good are not just the raison d'etre for the fraudsters running the wealth machines at the Gagosian and Zwirner galleries, but also for more conventional auction houses selling comic art.

How will AI affect the market price for positional goods? That's the dilemma on which the future art market hinges. But the mystics who peddle NFTs seem to me to be well on the way to a solution: fake digital scarcity secured by algorithms so complex that even AI can't crack it.

kev ferrara said...

I think the dominant economic principle in art among the upper classes today is that art is the kind of property that economists call "positional goods" which means it is valued for being unique so that other people can't have it, rather than because of its inherent artistic quality.

In the High Art World it is often difficult to differentiate Tax Havens from Positional Goods...

In parallel to the most fashionable Positional Goods, and often the cultural justification for them, are Luxury Beliefs (a recent footnote to Veblen); which might include radical/destructive political or philosophical views coupled to absurdly permissive attitudes toward standards of quality, morals, or ethics in the arts.

The fact that the twisted standards cause a societal ruckus is the reason the art hoaxes make the papers. Which publicity is then the imprimatur of unique (positional) cultural value that justifies the big dollar amounts of the fake sales that make the tax scams possible.

Among the twisted standards is the postmodern disdain for the idea of authorship and originality. (Or, *gasp*, 'talent.')

Yet, it would seem that the high art tax scam must still have an original physical representation as the putative store of its value. Otherwise it cannot be institutionally protected. NFT's have already shown that they can crater in value.

Which goes to the point made earlier by "Unknown" that "history is full of actions and reactions, I believe there will be more and more of a push back towards the hand-made, the organic, the human." Original artworks of all kinds are doing quite well these days. From the brilliant to the fraudulent. Illustration was gallery art before it was commercial art anyway; why not track back that way? Especially if computation cannot follow.

But we'll know that such a counterreaction is in full swing only when the captured institutional cradling of postmodern hoax art ends. Which will take a cultural war to accomplish.

Richard said...

I've heard people try to relate AI art to the degrading philosophy of institutional art, but the piece won't fit.

For all of their egalitarian talk, the Gagosian idea of an artist remains entirely Randian. Like trad art movements, the veblun value of art to the institutional art world is founded on a mythologizing of the individual artist.

To the art institutions, the artist is the "Great Man" -- a genius, touched by the muses, and tempered in the furnace of unique life experience. They fault audiences for not recognizing how great the Great Man and his Great Art is because they are illiterate/unrefined/etc. Clearly the commoners can't see the Great Man's originality, talent, and authorship. Absent the Great Man, as far as the art institutions are concerned, you don't have Great Art (read, worth spending a fortune on).

(Richard Prince, for what it's worth, is no exception. Gagosian didn't believe he was opposing authorship and originality, but rather "questioning what constituted authorship". The thesis was that photographing an Instagram post creates a new and unique form of authorship.)

The traditional conception of Artist is not unlike theirs in that sense. Where the two parties vehemently disagree is on what constitutes greatness -- what constitutes originality, talent and authorship, and how those three things intersect with traditional skill.

AI art is in an entirely different camp. There is no "Great Man" in their story, just as my toaster isn't a great cook. No, the toaster is simply a toaster; it's just that it's able to produce fantastic toast.

To the audiences of AI Art, the artist is irrelevant, only the picture and the audience mean anything at all. The AI Art has thus tracked the meme world -- no one knows who first made a Pepe meme, the kids just think it's funny. The kids don't care who generated the first leafy astral fairy organic-architectural AI environment, the kids just think it's cool and they all want to make their own.

The strongest reaction to AI art will likely come from the very places on which the honorable commenters here have declared war. No one has more to lose from artificial intelligence than people like Gagosian. The only reason institutions like these exist in the first place is to celebrate and profit off of their pseudo-geniuses. What happens when there is no artist? Both Institutional art's philosophy and business model fall apart.

And, conversely, the Visual Development industry, which traditional art has previously regarded as a sometimes friend, may become a clear adversary. It's easy to imagine how AI could become yet another wonderful tool toward their primary objective: telling stories that please audiences and make money.

But we'll know that such a counterreaction is in full swing only when the captured institutional cradling of postmodern hoax art ends. Which will take a cultural war to accomplish.

If the postmodern art institution collapses, don't expect it to be immediately replaced by a better traditional institution. The lives of Monarchies and Oligarchies are usually punctuated by Mob Rule, exactly of the variety that midjourney represents.

Richard said...

There are huge numbers people who, due to mental disabilities or PTSD or just mistrust of the system would rather sleep on the street than sign into one of the "homeless support system complete with free cots, showers, cellphones" that you describe.

Having spent a couple years homeless myself, and having built close personal relationships with homeless people, it is my experience that people don't want to stay in shelters because:
a. you can't walk in clearly intoxicated
b. the doors usually close at 7, which means your night is over
c. the other guys smell like pee, say weird shit about lizard people, and will steal your sneakers

But yes, this is irrelevant to the AI art discussion. We can leave that one for another time, my point wasn't that poverty is easy per se, but that the reason we do more than the bare minimum now is the same reason we would do more than the bare minimum under a UBI/AI/Robots scheme.

David Apatoff said...

Richard, do you really think the "Great Man" marketing strategy can be sustained by a reed as slim as a "unique form of authorship"? A rhesus monkey can be trained to "photograph an instagram post" or perform many of the other creative functions of the Gagosian stable of artists. How long can they continue to mythologize artists who play on a rubber tire and eat from a stock of bananas?

When it comes to AI, I'm not sure we can say that the artist is "irrelevant" as long as the artist's style remains relevant. Teenyboppers making AI art will feed the trendy artists they like into the homogenizing machine but the leafy astral fairies or the Frazetta barbarian women or the manga characters they produce show that the DNA of the source artists does remain relevant.

Your most interesting point, from my perspective, is that "kids just think it's cool and they all want to make their own." That may well be the best assessment where much of art is headed-- a recreational game for children.

I'm sorry to hear about your time homeless-- if you'd been in the Bronx or the south side of Chicago I would've been happy to help out. But I do respect the added perspective that time gives you.

kev ferrara said...

the Gagosian idea of an artist remains entirely Randian.

It was about the time that Picasso was able pay for dinner with a scribble on a napkin that intrinsic value or greatness was replaced by the "Valuable Brand" model. And, as with other brands, product is only one part of the equation. And often a distant second in comparison to association with high-status, media saturation, product placement, publicity stunts, stock price manipulation, and the like.

It became obvious that the cutthroat competition for media attention was the name of the game. The killer app that evolved out of that hothouse was outrage. The multipolar trap became the race to the bottom to find the next transcendent outrage that could sell newspapers and art. If you weren't playing that game, you were still playing the old game, the stiff game. And so we got Francis Bacon and Andy Warhol, blank or black canvasses, then crap in a can, pseudo-Disney metal balloon animals, dead sharks, and stolen paperback cover art.

That bald marketing outrages could be defended on aesthetic grounds by self-regarding intellectuals shows the power of Luxury Beliefs. The obsessive need for so many social-climbing twits to differentiate themselves from the lower order has nothing to do with values, culture, or philosophy. It is differentiation by any ready means necessary; well-coifed savages scrambling for holiness.

Fyi, the Thorstein Veblen reference above was to his The Theory of the Leisure Class.

Richard said...

You've highlighted the most newsworthy abuses of institutional art's overlords, but your theory of outrage fails to explain the bulk of the criticism, writing, or exhibitions in modern art. It does not, for example, in any way explain Greenberg's praise for Frankenthaler or her National Medal of Arts. Frankenthaler isn't enraging anyone.

When I was young and I first saw Twombly, I too was enamored. I had no clue who he was or what was written about him, but his Baccus sang to me at ten years old. It was just like the kinds of pictures I liked to make. They didn't grow out of it; I did. Simple application of Hanlon's Razor.

The Whitney's last contemporary artist exhibit was that of Jennifer Packer. She stinks, but within the context of their theoretical system, her presence in the exhibition is coherent. Writing about her inclusion, the curator says, "Her intimate renderings of friends, family, and flowers evoke the art historical genres of portraiture and still life, while also highlighting the politics of representation."

I think we can safely take the Whitney at face value. She's a black woman with dreadlocks who paints wishy-washy pictures of black people. They're being logically consistent in their definition of what matters - her race and dreadlocks provide her uniqueness and authorial value. Because she can paint on canvas at all, she meets their catastrophically low standards of talent. All of this adds up to make her a Great Artist within their ill-constructed framework.

This is still the Great Man concept at work. It's just an ill-informed, carelessly implemented version of it.

Richard said...

Your most interesting point, from my perspective, is that "kids just think it's cool and they all want to make their own." That may well be the best assessment where much of art is headed-- a recreational game for children.

At this point in the Art kali yuga, I can't imagine anyone I'd rather entrust with dominion over art than the children. When the emperor has no clothes, hand the senior editor position at the newspaper to a 5 year old.

kev ferrara said...

Richard,

If the selling point is politics, we are also not in the 'great man' paradigm.

The performative politics of the art world is status symbolic. Status is controlled by a very small obsessive club that makes sure it is in constant contact - via high-end mediation and agents/minders of various sorts - with the affluent and well-connected, who are said to number some seven million in the U.S.

Many millions more are wanna-bes to this exclusive club who are as obsessive about adopting the latest status symbol signals as the status controllers are about propagating them to the affluent and connected.

The status mediation plays a demonization vs sacralization game. Status, wealth, holiness, and youth are utterly intertwined in the primitive mind. This is why any taint of lower class-ness or oldness is avoided like the plague.

Once anything is successfully branded as lower class or passé (narrative, say) the windsocks immediately swerve to saying they never liked it in the first place and never knew what it was anyway. They flee The Low on command as if from evil itself. And so the status propaganda - even when obviously perverse - has the quality of holy edict.

Outrage relates to Radical Chic. Which is only one method of distancing oneself in status from the rabble. That radical chic views, when implemented, are a disaster for the average or lower class person is exactly why they are Luxury Beliefs. They are "exciting and daring" shibboleths to an "exciting and daring" club, and little else. Thus they can easily be prima facie nonsense and socially destructive.

All status symbols are fashions. So they need to change periodically, whether the change is warranted or not. They aren't necessarily upgraded. They are simply swapped out. If the new sucks and is insane, at least it isn't old hat. This is a perverse incentive for new and fresh at any cultural cost.

Other perverse incentives include peer pressure, "publish or perish", status anxiety, ennui, rejecting anything beautiful, classical, conservative or well-understood, the need for publicity without earning it with quality (and so on).

All of these perverse incentives lead to cultural distortions.

And what each distortion has in common is that it inevitably causes Art Marketing to be mistaken for the Arts themselves. And there you can find Art Basel and Gasosian and all the rest of the upper class barnacles.




Richard said...

Even though most of institutional art's target audience is interested in partisan politics, the internal logic of their representation narrative doesn't rely on partisanship. Were their implicit assumptions correct, representation would indeed lead to Great Men --

Europeans have a rich history of art, dating back to the Löwenmensch 40,000 years ago. Our official pantheon of artists includes Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Cassatt, Rubens, Carravagio, Turner, Renoir, Velazquez, Monet, Wyeth, and whoever sculpted Laocoön - all of whom who have recorded the internal lives and experiences of European people through the ages.

There is, however, no such pantheon nor such artists among sub-Saharan Africans and their diaspora in the Western world.

If one accepts that races have unique ethnic identities which border on a spiritual quality, if not at least a temperamental quality, then it means that there are works of art missing from the world which can only be created by black people.

"Representation" then is not only a political objective, but an aesthetic one that taps into a unique ethereal African energy. By revealing this hidden spirit, they would necessarily make a unique and important aesthetic contribution to the world.

A black artist's artwork would consequently have intrinsic authorial value and originality simply because it exists; it is corporeal effuse of their racial soul, which has not yet been documented. It would be inherently original because it is birthed from a specific essence which white people don't have.

I'm not in complete disagreement with them. I believe that there is such a thing as black art, and that it has non-political value for its authorial distinctiveness from white art. Jazz, for example, is just such an art form that I don't believe white people would have ever invented. It's wonderful that it exists, even if I think the genre is inferior to classical.

Where the Whitney's representation thesis falls down is that without being told, one would not identify Jennifer Packer's work as black art.

There is, as yet, no such thing as black painting. There is no such Jazz of black painters, and so the rest of Institutional Art's supposition about the authorial value of representation collapses. But! If there was such a thing as black painting, a Jazz but for Art, their "representation" goal would be completely sound and would certainly lead to the discovery of new Great Men.

All of which is to say, once again, hanlon's razor should be applied even to institutional art. Institutional and Trad Art aren't all that far apart in the broader picture. AI Art is the one true anomaly in the room, as it goes against everything that either camp believes about artists, authorship, originality, talent, and skill. By comparison, Gagosian is your second cousin.

kev ferrara said...

Jazz, for example, is just such an art form that I don't believe white people would have ever invented.

Unfortunately I have a memory good enough to recall when you argued just that on this blog. Though I can't now remember the specific name of the French composer you touted as its originator.

I don't have time to fish that particular conversation out of the ether, but I recall pointing out at the time that Jazz was a co-creation born out of the melting pot of American as well as European influences (and instruments.)

Regarding its rivalry with classical music, you may be right. But then again, Gershwin only lived to 38. So it may not have been a fair fight.

I confess I don't much care about paintings categorized by "racial spirit." I only care about good paintings and consider composing with aesthetic forces to be a universal language, a method of sharing structured thought via sensation-symbols that all can partake in.

Tribal decorative styles might be a different matter, as they could seem more racially determined. But they also might be more geographically determined - reference and resource-dependent.

AI Art is the one true anomaly in the room, as it goes against everything that either camp believes about artists, authorship, originality, talent, and skill. By comparison, Gagosian is your second cousin.

Gagosian, given that he is a soulless disembodied curator of mindless attention-whoring bs who doesn't care about imagination, skill, meaning or humanity, is the natural close relative of AI here.

And if he could make a buck off it he'd readily marry into his own bloodline.

chris bennett said...

The American black musicians of the early 20th century could not, generally, read music and so, very broadly speaking, evolved and developed a means of playing together that built on their call and response worksong and blues roots; that is to say, an improvisatory, orchestration-on-the-fly mode of performing. So, in my view the 'birth of jazz' is more tilted to circumstances rather than race.

This, I think is somewhat supported, though I admit a little obliquely, by an anecdote involving Miles Davis who, when asked why he hadn't employed a black pianist on recording 'Kind of Blue', replied (I'm quoting from memory); "If there was a black motherfucker who could play as good as Bill Evans then I'd have hired them".

chris bennett said...

That said, there is also the huge consideration of differing cultural factors. The black big bands of Basie and Ellington swung better than the white orchestras of Kenton and Goodman. And then there's the flavour of Bepop, evolved in the minds of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie living on the East Coast in the metropolis of New York compared to the flavour of 'West Coast Jazz' that emerged mainly from the white Hollywood session musicians when working after hours in California.

Richard said...

Unfortunately I have a memory good enough to recall when you argued just that on this blog. Though I can't now remember the specific name of the French composer you touted as its originator.

Yes, I remember that discussion. I argued that the narrative of Jazz's creation was "culturally appropriative", as the popular account was written in such a manner that black artists invented Jazz from scratch, and this story neglects french impressionist music's important sonic influence. I'd say the same about blues music in relation to Scotch-Irish Appalachian tunes.

I still feel that way. Those two concepts are not mutually exclusive. An art form may be ethnically specific while also being highly reliant on the contributions of other cultures. Greece is indebted to Egypt in terms of sculpture. Yet Egyptian statues are ethnically Egyptian and Greek sculptures are ethnically Greek -- one will not mistake the one for the other.

Celtic music is indebted to the Muslim Middle East via Spain, but Celtic music is ethically Celtic. It has the ancient misty hills and pagan gods in it, one will not detect the slightest hint of sand or sumac on the tongue.

The music of the Celts is indebted to the Muslim Middle East via Spain. Celtic music, however, is ethically Celtic. One will not detect a hint of meditteranean sun or sumac on the tongue, it is all ancient misty hills and pagan gods on the palate.

This does not mean that only Celtic people can make Celtic music. When people from one culture create art within the forms of another, they've adopted and internalized that other culture. African Americans have a derogatory term for black people who adopt white ethnic culture and participate in it -- Oreos, black on the outside, white on the inside. While this might seem crude, there is truth in it. A black woman opera singer doesn't sing Black Opera -- she sings Italian opera based on Italian sensibilities. To do the music justice, she has to adopt those sensibilities as her own.

I confess I don't much care about paintings categorized by "racial spirit." I only care about good paintings and consider composing with aesthetic forces to be a universal language

I whole-heartedly agree that visual art is universal because it operates under the same pretenses regardless of culture or time period.

However, an artist's specific poetry is personal and thus reflective of their ethnic identity – something that will not change until/unless we have a homogenized global culture. Maybe it is less ethnically-specific in the United States in the present year, but that's both the exception, and is concommitant with American culture becoming flavorless and empty. When American Art was great, it was ethnically WASP. Great art is born of a specific time and place as well as a people's attitudes, traditions and customs, their ethnic spirit or temperment if you prefer.

Richard said...

The American black musicians of the early 20th century could not, generally, read music [...] built on their call and response worksong and blues roots [...] So, in my view the 'birth of jazz' is more tilted to circumstances rather than race.

Who in history could not read music, had call and response worksongs and blues, had a cultural memory of polyrhythms, and lived in a western culture at the cultural moment that classical forms evolved into impressionist ones where they would be exposed to both classical instrumentation but also amiguous tonality and extended harmony?

That particular cluster of circumstances (and the hundreds of others we're not addressing) was unique to the black American diaspora during the early 20th century, and it wouldn't have happened in isolation.

It's just semantics to argue if that's race or circumstance, the two were inseperable. I believe my point remains -- absent the black race, we would not have Jazz. Whether you want to see it as emanating from their ethnic soul or deconstructing it into a set of a thousand circumstances, one thing is certain: It belongs to them.

Institutional Art aspires to do the same with the visual arts by way of representation, in an attempt to create new Great Men. They've yet to discover anything significant with their representation experiment, but there's no telling if they won't in the future. We may be only a decade away from black painting, in which case their program may have all been worth it.

kev ferrara said...

I whole-heartedly agree that visual art is universal because it operates under the same pretenses regardless of culture or time period.

It is universal because humans are so very alike.

chris bennett said...

It's just semantics to argue if that's race or circumstance, the two were inseperable.

You're saying there is something about the pigmentation of their skin that distinguishes them from others with different pigmentations in regard to their response to circumstances?

Richard said...

You're saying there is something about the pigmentation of their skin that distinguishes them from others with different pigmentations in regard to their response to circumstances?

No, I'm saying black people are the only people who were ever in that circumstance, so saying it's race or circumstance is meaningless.

If white people had been living tribally in the Congo making polyrhythmic call and response music for the last 10,000 years, and then dehumanized because of their skin color and enslaved in America, where they were introduced to classical and impressionistic music, they would have been black people.

Richard said...

It is universal because humans are so very alike.

In many ways they are. In many other ways they are not. There is no timeline in which Mary Cassatt is a man.

The rules that govern the communication of men's and women's art are identical. Yet, a world in which no woman paints is a world in which you would be deprived of half of what there is to say.

chris bennett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chris bennett said...

If white people had been living tribally in the Congo making polyrhythmic call and response music for the last 10,000 years, and then dehumanized because of their skin color and enslaved in America, where they were introduced to classical and impressionistic music, they would have been black people.

Yes, that's my point, it's a matter of circumstance, not race.

Richard said...

Yes, that's my point, it's a matter of circumstance, not race.

If I was named George Washington, and made Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, and unanimously selected by the Electoral College, then I would be the first president of the United States of America.

It's a matter of circumstance, not person.

chris bennett said...

Merit is also a part of circumstance.

chris bennett said...

And character.

xopxe said...

You're saying there is something about the pigmentation of their skin that distinguishes them from others with different pigmentations in regard to their response to circumstances?

This is weird, African slaves in America were much more that a pigmentation. There where several whole cultures and millenary traditions involved, literally from the dawn of humanity.

I whole-heartedly agree that visual art is universal because it operates under the same pretenses regardless of culture or time period.

Then if you casually find that the best art is produced be people just like you I'll be very skeptical. It's a European cultural tradition to do that sort of thing. Like, we came up with harmony and like it -> everybody should be the same -> everybody should care about harmony -> these people give a crap about harmony -> their music is crap -> we have the best music and jazz is the music of savages.
It reminds me of the IQ test made to US immigrants in the late XIX / early XXc. Many were ranked as "imbeciles" just because they did not speak english. Eugenics was the hot new idea back then, promptly picked back in Europe.

Here's a thought: for a visiting alien the art that represents humanity, its language and sensibility, was made somewhere in China or India.

tim lowery said...

Wow, how on earth did a commentary on AI Illustration turn into these screeds of race science? You all could have saved some paragraphs by writing you don't like or respect black art. Period. No one such as Edward Mitchell Bannister, Henry Ossawa Tanner, Robert S. Duncanson, Dean Mitchell, Elizabeth Catlett, Dean Williams or aaron douglas will have merit.

Stay shaking your fist at the clouds.

chris bennett said...

Tim,

I suggest you read our posts more carefully - they imply the exact opposite of what you are carelessly accusing us of.

Richard said...

Wow, how on earth did a commentary on AI Illustration turn into these screeds of race science?

Pretty straight forward actually. I was arguing that a benefit of AI was that it would undermine institutional art.

In their opposition to authorship, originality, and talent, Kev identified a link between Institutional Art and AI art.

I argued that Institutional Art still celebrates some notion of authorship, originality and talent, they just have different definitions, and gave an example of the Whitney celebrating a painter because of her "representation" of black folks.

Kev argued that representation is politics, and thus not really about originality or authorship.

I argued that representation can be aesthetics, because race is part of a person's identity and thus central to their poetic expression.

Which led us to discussing the intersection of race and art, and race and circumstance.

Richard said...

Then if you casually find that the best art is produced be people just like you I'll be very skeptical. It's a European cultural tradition to do that sort of thing.

That's because European people have banned themselves from having racial preferences.

Every other race also prefers art produced by people like them, but they can give honest answers about it. A Black or Chinese guy has no qualms about in-group preference.

But for Europeans it's considered in bad taste to outwardly show preference for their own art. (Talk about a Luxury Belief!)

Thus, they come up with convoluted explanations for why they just so happen to prefer art from the European tradition. They're forced to argue that their aesthetics are discovered rather than invented -- as if art were mathematics or biology.

This is not the case in Art alone. The only way a European may prefer anything of his own, while remaining sufficiently fashionable, is if he denies ownership of it entirely — whether that be forms of government, literature, ethics, morality, philosophy, music, clothing, architecture, etc.

Kev writes incredibly thorough defenses of this universalization, which all rely on a sufficient knowledge of Kant, for which Kev is ultimately the judge. I can't speak to their correctness, having only read bits and pieces of Kant. :)

kev ferrara said...

"Her intimate renderings of friends, family, and flowers evoke the art historical genres of portraiture and still life, while also highlighting the politics of representation."

Kev argued that representation is politics, and thus not really about originality or authorship.


Please read the above two sentences slowly. You posted both.

Kev writes incredibly thorough defenses of this universalization, which all rely on a sufficient knowledge of Kant, for which Kev is ultimately the judge. I can't speak to their correctness, having only read bits and pieces of Kant.

Kant has no part in this.

Human beings share narratives in the abstract, and emotional responses to those narratives. They also share sensory abilities and the physical world.

More technically the subjects involved include: the orienting reflex, the nature of poetic insight and poesis in the context of memisis, suggestion and evocation, imaginative closure, aesthetic signs and (actual) abstraction/form vs code symbols and reference, mirror neurons and the intuition of aesthetic meaning, Peircean semiotics, static motif/scalar self-similarity vs thematic development, and the narrative-logical structure of epiphanies. (In simpler terms, Composition circa 1905.)

The theme of this response is 'best speak for yourself.'

Richard said...


Kant has no part in this.

Pretty sure he does, because the list you just gave only provides mechanisms.

Xopxe's accusation was that you're only experiencing in-group preference, so to defend a universality of the qualitative comparison of art works and movement, you would have to go further than simply describing how it functions.

You would need to defend a universality of aesthetic judgement, which I believe starts at Kantian sublimity.


Please read the above two sentences slowly. You posted both.

I did not argue that the Whitney was apolitical. I argued that a defense of black representation could be made on aesthetic grounds. Nor do I believe that art needs to be apolitical -- Art can be and often is, even in the best cases, political, pornographic, propagandistic, "limbically hot", and the rest.

xopxe said...

That's because European people have banned themselves from having racial preferences.

This is a relatively new thing. Race had been used as explanation by European supremacism for a long time, and is still not dead.
It appeared as a rationalist replacement for the other driving force for that supremacism, which is religion. Christianity is actually the first application of the "sorry it's the rules" trick. It came with the idea of "there's a single true God and it's everyone's god, even if they never heard of it". Unsurprisingly, the right thing for this God just happened to be whatever the Europeans wanted to todo at a given time. (The first to understand and apply this property of christianism were the Romans, of course)
At some point the religious card stopped working, but the taste for having a rationalization for why you are implicitly better and it's not your fault was there. And the expertise to how achieve it was there: just build a rule against which everything should be measured, and make this rule be modeled after you. European empires producen huge amounts of literature explaining why they were justified by reasons (white's burden, superior culture, darwinism, the market forces... ), even tough they didn't have to. Whom they were trying to convince?

kev ferrara said...

Xopxe's accusation was that you're only experiencing in-group preference

That accusation was aimed at your quote, not mine.

You would need to defend a universality of aesthetic judgement

No. Aesthetic experience is intuitive; pre-judgement. That is why it is so powerful. (And so feared.)

The offered list was of intellectual labels for intuitive processes and the sensual signs or structures that cause them. These are conserved across the spectrum of humanity in the Normal Distribution of apprehension sensitivity.

Taste, on the other hand, for example, is a judgement. One may find some aesthetic experience utterly objectionable on any number of grounds. But that experience was still aesthetically apprehended otherwise its quality could not be found objectionable. In other words, you must taste something in order to find it distasteful. Aesthetics is light speed; it is sensed and understood before it can be assessed.

Our unconscious apprehension of aesthetic phenomenon goes unchecked unless there is a disability of sensitivity. Or unless there is a specific (usually trained) symbolic/conscious stopgap in place that puts judgement ahead of aesthetic experience, which one sees with the highly ideological, purposefully resisting, or people who are otherwise code-indoctrinated to the point of losing natural abilities with visual aesthetics.

Art can be and often is, even in the best cases...

Art can be many things. But it first must be essentially artful. Which is to say, suggestive in the poetic sense. It also must be unified in purpose. From these basic tenets many others logically follow.

Richard said...

Art can be many things. But it first must be essentially artful. Which is to say, suggestive in the poetic sense. It also must be unified in purpose. From these basic tenets many others logically follow.

Sounds to me like this is the first five sentences of a formulation of the objectivity of judgment. I’d wager that the list that “logically follows” would consist of all the reasons why your art preferences are not actually preferences at all, per Xopxe’s misdirected critique.

Within that impenetrable wall of intellectual edifice, you can safely pretend that everyone is going to wake up, that the European forms are inherently better, and won’t merely die off the moment that Europe as a distinct cultural and racial entity dies off.

Surely any moment, our new pluralist society will wake up and realize they never actually liked AI Art Environment Paintings, or Abstract Expressionism, or Photography, or Street Art, or Anime, or conceptual art, or Soviet Propaganda, or Pornography at all. It was all just lies they told themselves, when really they all secretly prefer NC Wyeth because he’s objectively better.

Laurence John said...

I'm sure the young generation of AI prompters will be into NC Wyeth when they eventually discover his work.

Their taste is more traditional than one might expect judging by the amount of times they put in the names of Greg Rutkowski and Alphonse Mucha.

chris bennett said...

A good point Laurence, and implies a wider truth than the observation alone.

Anonymous said...

"Celtic music is indebted to the Muslim Middle East via Spain, but Celtic music is ethically Celtic. It has the ancient misty hills and pagan gods in it, one will not detect the slightest hint of sand or sumac on the tongue.
The music of the Celts is indebted to the Muslim Middle East via Spain. Celtic music, however, is ethically Celtic." 

News to us here in Ireland, unless you're talking about the modern introduction of stringed instruments into it. There was very little intercourse between Spain and Ireland (the shipwrecked Armada sailors have been attributed with a lot of impossible things, the Basque links are hypothetical at best and presumed prehistoric), and there is no evidence of any moorsish stream in the music here. The oldest sung forms do not show it, and the instrumental forms can only be identifiedas having a stream from the european baroque (quite a strong one).

kev ferrara said...

(It) sounds to me like this is the first five sentences of a formulation of the objectivity of judgment.

That's because you don't really pay attention in good faith. You just sniff for random tactical openings.

Once more, reworded:

Epiphany structure is found in every culture. Because every race, culture, and physiologically normal person has insights and intuition. And we all share natural logics.

Aesthetic perception is inherent to humankind. Humans share the experience of aesthetic phenomena because we share senses, minds, and experiences.

Poesis consists of a few basic structures held together by a few basic principles based on the above two truths. This is why the effect of poesis on most human minds is strongly conserved.

The basic structures and principles of poesis logically lead to others. Contradictory principles and structures would not be among those natural sequelae.

Though the effects of poesis on the attentive human mind are conserved prior to judgement, taste in individual poems, subject matter, and styles can vary widely. Because a great many factors influence judgement. And even more influence interpretation.

Caterina said...

Dang we are having a nice conversation about art and suddenly you are all measuring skulls.

No wonder anti intelectualism is on the rise if people that care about the beauty of art are such weirdos.

Richard said...

That's because you don't really pay attention in good faith.

I don't think so, I reread your message several times over the course of the day to make sure I wasn't misunderstanding you --

You're attempting to separate judgment from the definition of what is art. This is a No True Scotsman strategy to defend the objectivity of judgement.

You don't need to deal with, for example, photography or AI Art if you've already classified them as Not Art. You're pretending that the Epiphany -> Aesthetic -> Poesis model is descriptive, yet you use it prescriptively.

kev ferrara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wes said...

Its an interesting debate, the point not that easy to decipher after 99 comments.

Kev tends toward aphoristic writing, most of his aphorisms valid, resonant, and interesting. Resonance is the key. Some of his aphorisms are not resonant, and sound like judgment. Learn to distinguish. Neitzsche wrote in the same manner and many of his aphorisms fell flat. Kev probably has a better batting average than Nietzsche, actually.

"True Scotman" devices are tools of professors. A workingman would kick your ass for raising such intellectual devices.

Notions that Celtic music is derived from the Moors is questionable, and are digressions. Get to the point, if there is one.

Jazz is just improvisation; we'd have it regardless of the clear historical roots. Overrepresentation is rampant, according to Deleuze and Santayana. Be cautious.

AI is here to stay and will be useful in ways we cannot imagine.




kev ferrara said...
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kev ferrara said...

I don't (agree that I don't pay attention in good faith and only look for tactical openings), I reread your message several times over the course of the day to make sure I wasn't misunderstanding you --

You're attempting to separate judgment from the definition of what is art. This is a No True Scotsman strategy to defend the objectivity of judgement.


Doesn't agree that he argues in bad faith and doesn't really pay attention except to find tactical ways to attack.

In next sentence, he ignores all reasoned arguments I made as if they never happened. And attacks his opinion of my motivations for the argument instead.

Meanwhile simply reasserting his premises.

Brutal.

It is a simple axiom of experience that everything has its essential nature separate from judgement. The phenomenal world is phenomenally consistent, even if you don't believe in it. And, as far as anybody can tell, that consistency is caused by a consistency in structural dynamics. Unique structural dynamics make for unique essences.

The qualitative effect of anything ~ which is caused by its inherent dynamic organization ~ is the actual definition of anything.

What has a different effect has a different inherent dynamic organization, a different definition, and is a different thing. Which is why blood plasma is understood as distinct from water, even though it is 92% water.

If you can well describe the essence of art without including poesis or unity I'm all ears.

If your tactic is going to be to simply reject the idea of an essential nature of art, you simply undefine art and it can mean anything. So what are we even talking about? (Well, usually the magic power of personal declaration to bestow the honorific 'art' on anything you like.)

Richard said...
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Richard said...
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Richard said...

All things have natures. All things have structures. The world is real, etc. I agree.

Let's go back to the beginning -- What is it that we're talking about when we define Art, what is it that we're describing the nature and structure of exactly?

Is it the historical practice of skilled individuals expressing abstract truth through visual poesis? On the face of it, that seems eminently reasonable, and your model is the best I've heard. Undoubtedly, that is what the word meant until the early 20th century, and this blog's audience is predisposed to prefer that definition.

But here is where the bait-and-switch occurs --
power to bestow the title 'art' on whatever you like.

We're no longer simply discussing an activity; we're now discussing a title. You rail on the Institutional Art world for applying Art as a loose honorific, but you obviously value it as a label as well.

Reasserting this premise again, a bit more explicitly --
To begin, you give an excellent definition of this historical human activity. This draws a border around it to exclude other types of behavior. You then slide the honorific significance back in, so that the only possible beneficiary of the honorific is the historical activity.

It's a beautiful rhetorical device: substituting one word for its homonym mid-argument in order to give the impression of being disinterested from the outcome, hiding your personal investment in that meaning's acceptance.

Because if we didn't care about the titular value of Art, then we would simply call it something else. Clearly the language at large has moved on. A new term to describe that historical activity could be "Visual Poesis". Take your pick, you are eminently more qualified to coin a term for what NC Wyeth did than I.

BUT, if we honestly want to define the concept of "Art" descriptively, as people use it, we would examine it solely as an honorific. We would analyze how modern speakers of the language use the label to confer honors onto a wide variety of new activities that have no connection to its historical meaning. We would delve into the structure of THAT behavior.

So yes, as you request, a definition of the essence of art without including poesis or unity --


Art, noun.

a: A title that conveys esteem upon an object or action, in observation of its perceived cultural significance, prestige or relevance.

b: (before 1920) [Your definition here]

chris bennett said...

Wes,

Jazz is just improvisation; we'd have it regardless of the clear historical roots.

I don't think that's true. Improvised elements in European classical music (the cadenza for example) and Indian classical music (say, the Raga) do not really sound like jazz. And yet Bach's Air on a G string played by Jacques Loussier does. I think anyway.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2dd3azWAg4
And there are plenty of opera singers who sing 'I Got Plenty o' Nuttin'' or 'I Got Rhythm' and sound the very opposite of what jazz feels like.

All to say I consider that jazz can be better defined broadly as 'a way of playing'. A 'way of playing' that emerged out of an improvisatory, composing on-the-fly, playing by ear mode of performance that was naturally attuned to the flow of music rather than the transmuting into sounds of dots on manuscript paper grouped inside bar lines.

On your point about AI: yes there will be as yet unmined utility in it, but on the down side one only has to look at, for example, the homogenised sludge being churned out by the once great Disney corporation to see how an increasingly mechanistic, utilitarian and literalist mindset (the hallmark and speciality of AI) is dehumanizing the end products to the point of the spiritual numbness described in Huxley's Brave New World.

kev ferrara said...

"Art, noun."

The Shnizzle, noun.

a: A title that conveys esteem upon an object or action, in observation of its perceived cultural significance, prestige or relevance.


(Need I say more about the paucity of this definition?)

"b: (before 1920) [Your definition here]"

Art has been around a long time...

(Btw, you can add Waterhouse, Fechin, Daniel Garber, Rubens, Levitan, Klimt, Emil Soren Carlsen, Uglow, Mucha, Brangwyn, Kotarbinksy, Berkey, Boldini, Dewing, Uribe, Beaux, Segrelles, Whorf, Arthur Mathews, Degas, Tiepolo, Remington, Kuhn, Everett, Hopper, Michael Leonard and two thousand other names to N.C. Wyeth, A. Wyeth, and J. Wyeth.)

...And it didn't stop in 1920. Great artists and real artists are at work right now. So many I couldn't name them all. Unfortunately too many aren't producing physical art, just the digital simulacra of art works that could have been. Which saddens me terribly.

We're no longer simply discussing an activity; we're now discussing a title. (...) You then slide the honorific significance back in, so that the only possible beneficiary of the honorific is the historical activity. (...) It's a beautiful rhetorical device: substituting one word for its homonym mid-argument

It wasn't mid-argument. I had made the argument already several times.

I was just then flagging up a classic under-the-radar pseudo-argument (word-based as most are) that is indifferent to the presence of profound inconsistencies under the hood.

That other pseudo-arguments have no merit is not at all an integral part of my argument. Although they are helpful guides to fallacious thought-traps one should avoid.

kev ferrara said...

You are correct that the word art does still have power, mostly because of its attachment to prior greatness. That it is wielded by knaves to propagate scams and push political power plays is a stain on the names listed earlier.

That it is also wielded by the simple and good to offer praise to what they like is also, just as you say, cows long out of the barn.

Nevertheless, an important aspect of what I'm getting out, if it is still not clear yet, is that there is this real aesthetic phenomenon outside of the honorific, outside of the word, outside of judgement, outside of the scams or pronouncements of culturistas and critics. More importantly, outside our era and our lives.

And no matter what has happened to word 'art' since '1920' that phenomenon carries on. And it will have many a new day again as the eons continue to unfold.

I've called it "Visual Poesis" many times in technical writing. But, to the public at large, that is something like calling a dog a Canis Lupus Familiaris.

kev ferrara said...

Jazz is just improvisation...

Jazz is an improvisatory playing-by-ear mode of performance naturally attuned to the flow of music...


There are too many Jazzes to talk about as a singular thing. But fundamentally…

If Classical is about formalizing “acceptable” narrative-emotional experiences in the abstract, I think Jazz is about somewhat relaxing that formalization, and expanding out considerably what emotional experiences can be expressed. (The former allowing for the expression of the latter.)

For example, it was considered improper to make music that caused the body to shake to the beat. Meanwhile Jazz (once also called Jass, natch?) could make you bop from top to bottom. Sociologists prior to Jazz would make studies of African rhythms, considering them primitive because they shook the body and booty.

So syncopation and swing and sexiness are a big part of Jazz’s inherent nature.

Interestingly ‘swing’ can be broken down into triplets where one of the notes in the triplet is missing. In classical we have ¾ waltz time, which has the same triplets, but played so much slower that the ‘swing’ is more of gliding undulation. Like an ocean wave rising and falling, which is a ‘proper’ experience to poeticize.

Jazz’s relaxation of Classical’s abstract framework allowed for the use of key changes without Rachmaninoffian modulation. So Jazz allowed for the quick movement between major, dominant 7, minor and diminished… which expresses something like, well, emotional swings, bordering on manic depression. Again, not a “proper subject” for “proper people” but a bit of real life that informal artists were perfectly willing to broach.

In this light, all the other ‘wild’ sounds of Jazz; all the growls, whoops, scatting, slaps, sassiness, and glissandos fit into the idea that more narrative ideas and methods of expressing them were allowed in Jazz’s emotional deregulation ethic.

With Rock we get still more deregulation of emotion coupled to the transformational power of electrical technology to express those new emotions and narrative ideas. Among those new ideas was Power itself: Backbeats and Power Chords and massive Marshall stacks for amplification.

chris bennett said...

Kev,

I very much agree with all the above and it draws notice to many of the technical effects that characterise this thing we call Jazz.

As an addition to what you said about the triplet nature of the 'swing feel' (so often misleadingly notated as dotted quaver and semiquaver) it is interesting to see that dancing to a waltz or a swing tune will naturally involve traversing the floor; 'gliding or sweeping' in the case of the former and 'shifting or trotting' in the case of the latter. This is in stark contrast to what happens when dancing to Rock where the dances generally remain on the spot and throw shapes with their bodies within the limits of where they stand.

All to say one way of describing the nature of syncopation is rhythm that induces a sense of falling continuously forestalled by its own movement.

Interesting you mentioned Rachmaninov - I've always felt his harmonies (and to some extent even his rhythms) to be curiously close to those of jazz (more convincingly so than Gershwin I'd say) yet, as you point out, more poetically modulated. Which possibly explains why I listen rarely to jazz nowadays and spend much more time with that great composer and many others of the romantic era. (I confess that Rachmaninov's 2nd symphony has been one of my favourite pieces for a very long time)

kev ferrara said...

Interesting you mentioned Rachmaninov - I've always felt his harmonies (and to some extent even his rhythms) to be curiously close to those of jazz (more convincingly so than Gershwin I'd say)

I also love Rachmaninoff's 2nd, its opening chords being my go-to mental model for the idea of modulation. (That and This Whole World by the Beach Boys - written by Brian Wilson - which is an entire pop song, and a coherent one, without a stable tonal center; a kind of compositional miracle.)

However, I totally disagree that Rachmanifof is more jazzy than Gershwin. Rachmaninoff sounds very Russian and very late classical/romantic to me.

Whereas I think of Gershwin as an essential figure/spirit in the history of Jazz and American Music and arguably the only one in the style that showed it to have the variety, complexity, and range to rival classical. (Concerto in F being his shot across the bow at Rachmaninoff. And Porgy and Bess his stare-down with Puccini.)

There is a joyful free-spirited attitude and syncopation-mania to Gershwin's composing (and more new ideas per minute than anybody since Mozart) that goes to the very heart of everything that Jazz is.

In fact we are well to think of it as Gershwin's very assignment in the 1924 Whiteman show (where he premiered Rhapsody in Blue) to expand the tonal and melodic vocabulary of Jazz. Where he came through with flying colors. While also laying the groundwork for the tonal/melodic palette of the best of Rock. (The Beatles' I Am The Walrus, for example, has parts with strong tonal and melodic similarities to Rhapsody in Blue.)