Generative Art: Bad for artists, or a new genre? - SOPRG

The emergence of generative art has, understandably, created some tensions within the art world. Even though the concept is not tied exclusively tied with AI or algorithms, in an increasingly digitalized it is thanks to these types of technology that generative art has grown exponentially. So generative art has been increasingly tied with AI and algorithm technology. With AI being a mostly digital technology, the output tends to be digital, meaning it can only be viewed on a screen. As a digital artform, it could have been problematic, given how in the Internet it used to be quite hard to assign ownership. That is until art started to be tokenized in the form of NFTs thanks to be blockchain. Now, we live in a world where many different types of NFT artwork is done by an AI or algorithm —which are created by the artists—. What does this mean for artists, though?

Let’s look at the concept first, which was proposed by Max Bense back in 1965. The term describes art that is made through an automated process, by an autonomous system that is governed by a set of rules. So, in a way, the actual artistic creation is the process. And one is able to judge or appreciate that process through the outputs it creates. An autonomous system is a broad term that can encompass biology, chemistry, or other disciplines that can be used to create some sort of output. But when it comes to NFTs —a digital asset—, generative art is usually going to be done by an algorithm or AI.

The fact that one is able to create a system that can later on create endlessly is a frightening prospect to some. After all, a human being can only create in an artisanal manner what his time and energy allow. And this new thing can produce and reproduce far quicker than humans can. So, is this going to put artists out of work? Well, let’s not be so quick.

Proponents and defenders of generative art argue that when artist creates an autonomous system, this entity represents the artist’s vision and aesthetic taste. What is considered solely of the domain of the artist is the vision and taste. The ability to create can be automated. You could even argue that creating something that creates art, through a set of rules but also with a certain randomness, is a supreme act of creation as long as it represents a vision.

As AI technology advances and interacts with art, there might be some of those that could lose their jobs. But those are not going to be in the arts, at least not for the most part. The people that will be affected by the irruption of this type of technology will be those that are concerned with reproducing at more massive scales. In this arena, AI will always win. For now, what is truly the realm of the human artist is the vision that allows to produce art. What does he or she like and dislike? What is the artwork a critique of? What philosophical influences are present in the final work? For now, artists should feel safe. AI and algorithms are tools that are available for their use. If an AI develops its own vision and taste, then we’ll be able to say that artists should be wary. At that point, it will be huge wake up call for humanity as a whole, as machines and AI might have entered a domain that we think of as uniquely human. Perhaps that’ll be the point when machines can be considered sentient.

As of now, the most typical use case is exemplified by MidJourney, a lab that creates proprietary AI, which in turn generates an image from a text-based description. So, who’s using this AI? The advertising industry is one that has embraced with open arms this technology, as they have time and mass requirements that technology will always serve better. Also, some mass media outlets that use drawings to accompany certain stories have used MidJourney’s product to replace these drawings and illustrations with AI-generated images. This is an example of a use for stories that don’t need a photo of an actual event. What we can say about these use cases of AI is that this should not be considered generative art, just AI-generated images.

Finally, it has to be said that a person that used MidJourney’s AI won an art contest, which of course prompted a lot of controversy. The user created an image by prompting a description into MidJourney’s command prompt, which generated an image that he called Théâtre d’Opéra Spatial and entered with the name of “Jason M. Allen via Midjourney”. This is where a debate has to be had. Can Jason Allen’s prompt be considered artwork? Even if he did not design the AI, which is not in accordance to his own vision and taste? Is this the precise moment where a line needs to be drawn?

For now, SOPRG —as an art gallery— will always be concerned with art and the artists’ role in the process. Which is why there you can trust that you will always find works of art that are in accordance to a philosophical vision and an aesthetic taste. Something that is bred from human subjectivity. If an object or artifact is created without this, can it really be called a work of art? We don’t think so.

NFT painting - Prucha - Monet
NFT painting – generated by Prucha jr – Monet style, The Prague Castle