The Controversy of AI in Art

StoriesNovember 8, 2022

Everything one looks at is false. 

I do not consider the relative result more important 

than the choice between cake and cherries after dinner. 

Tristan Tzara, “Dada Manifesto 1918”

Taking advantage of external sources of inspiration is not new to art. Experiments with shapes, forms, and subjects are second nature to artists. These kinds of combinations are part of a series of procedures that originated from the artistic avant-gardes of the beginning of the 20th. century.

For example, writers have been using resources like the tarot and the I Ching to look for answers to specific questions, develop characters or simply overcome creative blocks. Tristan Tzara, the Romanian poet that founded dadaism, encouraged writers to take a newspaper, and a pair of scissors and cut words from an article. Then, you had to put them inside a bag, shake it and take them out one by one to create a poem. Tzara thought this technique was “infinitely original” and had a charming sensibility. “The poem will be like you”, he said.

Nowadays you can write your own dadaist poem using a cut-up generator like the one created by the Lazarus Corporation. This software, inspired by William Burroughs, allows you to write using the help of an algorithm. 

But not only amateurs are taking advantage of these devices, renowned musicians, painters, and visual artists are doing the same thing. Everything in the world is worthy of becoming art, that’s why it is not a surprise that artists are leaning toward technology to expand the horizons of their craft. Others, perhaps more purist, are concerned about what the future of art will look like. 

American avant-garde artist Laurie Anderson recently gave a masterclass at the International Literature Festival of Buenos Aires (FILBA) called “The influence of Artificial Intelligence in the arts today”. Throughout her many years as a performer, she has navigated through different technological platforms in connection with her creative process. She has even been named NASA's first artist-in-residence. Anderson considers that technology is the bonfire around which we tell our stories. She is probably right, technology is here to stay, so why shouldn’t we take advantage of it? 

Machine Hallucinations: coral is an NFT composed of a succession of 1,742,772 digitally intervened images of corals. It was created by Refik Anadol, one of the most important digital creators in the world. At a special gala at the Colón Theater this "data monolith" was presented for the first time in Latin America. Through his art, Anadol wants to find the “emotions in technology". He believes that art should be understood by anyone despite their age, culture, and background. In that sense, he predicts that artificial intelligence will be the common language of the world. 

In the past year, Argentinian filmmaker Santiago Mouriño started creating paintings using DALEE-2. “Creatives and artists I admire were getting into it, but the main reason I was drawn to this technology was the idea of learning how to communicate with an AI using a new language”, he says. Santiago thinks that the challenge of understanding how an artificial intelligence thinks is the same as with any other (human) creative partner. “It has given me the possibility of experimenting with a new medium. In my case, since I come from the audiovisual world, describing images with words to someone else is part of my everyday job. With DALEE I was able to paint through my words instead of using a brush.”

To function, this software needs a bank of human-created images enriched with tons of metadata. One of the issues that are preventing some artists from embracing technology for their creations is that AI uses an image database that may contain copyrighted material. This is certainly a serious concern and one we should pay attention to going forward. 

Another valid argument is that the use of AI art tools will take money away from artists. They are afraid that people will start thinking: if a computer can design a logo for my company, why would I hire an illustrator? But the same thing was said more than 150 years ago when photography was invented. At the end of the 19th. Century photography allowed anyone to create lifelike pictures of a real person, object, or landscape. But that didn’t prevent visual artists from creating art. On the contrary, the new technology freed artists from the constraints of realistic representation and they were able to create more unique and original work. 

In conclusion, we don’t know how much AI tools will affect the future of art, but for the time being, we can use technology to experiment and look for new ways of expression. If we are lucky, artificial intelligence will help us to attain an inventiveness and virtuosity we can’t even imagine now. 

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