With every new technological development the world is changing, this is evident in technology's ability to challenge sociocultural norms and values. Cases of copyright and/or sampling are a resulting example of the way in which the ownership of art has been challenged, adding to the discourse surrounding the intentions of artists and their methods. With the emergence of the online tool, AI art generation, questions surrounding artistic ownership and integrity have been amplified. When viewing from the artists perspective - myself - it is easy to narrow down these questions to:
“Is the artwork I create using AI mine?”
Like most artists, valuing integrity and hard work compels me to ask this question. Through personal examination it seems intention plays a major role in the creative process. Looking at the way in which artistic processes and art has evolved, it is clear that intention is what unblurs the line between human and AI. To further explore the role intention plays in the artistic process it would be necessary to understand how technology has challenged and altered the value of art. Intention will be further elaborated on by noting the spontaneity of human error in challenging preconceived and traditional notions of technology’s role in the artistic process.
“The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet. He is supported on crutches, but lacks so much support of muscle. He has a fine Geneva watch, but he fails of the skill to tell the hour by the sun… His notebooks impair his memory; his libraries overload his wit…”
(Emerson, 2021, p. 56).
The emergence of new technology has regularly been the catalyst in critiques of art and sociocultural values. These critiques reveal the insecurities surrounding new technology, and in doing so blurs the line of what the question of art is. Although not particularly a negative or positive critique, Walter Benjamin’s (1936) work revealed how mechanical reproduction can take away an artworks ‘aura’; similar to saying it’s ‘uniqueness’. This then helped prompt works such as Adorno and Horkheimer's (1993) paper on the culture industry; an industry that commodifies art for financial and hierarchical gain, ultimately stripping it off its authenticity and uniqueness. For example, film studies has become an increasingly vibrant and integral part in art academia as a medium that, through critical analysis, uncovers the complexities of identity, politics, cultural and moral values, etc (Nelmes, 2011). Coincidentally, through technology film studies has been revisited and traditional forms of inquiry have been and continue to be challenged, especially as discussions outside of academia carry just as much if not more weight in critical (metaphoric) gold (Nelmes, 2011, p. 61). Similarly, video games has become an increasingly studied topic starting from about the turn of the 21st century with studies pushing from the formal and sociological aspects of video games, to more critical theories (Wolf & Perron, 2013, p. xxiii). Recent studies in video games have utilised the philosophies of McLuhan to argue that video games “have properties that precede their content”, providing an endless amount of potential branches of academia that the study of video games could take (Bogost, 2011, p. 4). These are just two consequences of technology’s ability to transform the way we think and talk about art. Academia around film and video games studies proves that eventually values of art can change to consider the artistic aspects of these mediums. As technology becomes an increasingly necessary element to the artist, discussions trying to answer for what art is and who created it have needed to change and evolve.
“The arts and inventions of each period are only its costume, and do not invigorate men. The harm of the improved machinery may compensate its good…The great genius returns to essential man”
(Emerson, 2021, p.57).
It could be argued that the past technophobia has been what’s restricting the scope and potential pathways academia of the arts could have been taking. With an open mind, art discourse could have assisted in the development of a better understanding of the role technology plays in our lives. In Benjamin’s epilogue of The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction he writes:
“The destructiveness of war furnishes proof that society has not been mature enough to incorporate technology as its organ, that technology has not been sufficiently developed to cope with the elemental forces of society”
Critical theorist Neil Postman noted the necessity of utilising education and advocated for social policy in order to minimise the negative consequences of technology (Vuur Van De Wolf, 2014).
“Technology giveth and technology taketh away. With every new technology we will have to ask, what will it give us and what will it take?” - Neil Postman
(Vuur Van De Wolf, 2014).
There is no doubt that in order to understand and utilise technology in positive and forward thinking ways we must understand humans. The relationship between humans and AI will help to uncover how art can evolve, and in doing this will illuminate that intention/the human aspect is an essential ingredient in the creation of art. Norman’s (2013) text The Design of Everyday Things discusses the interplay between technology and people in order to argue for engineers/designers to use the “human-centered design” approach; an approach that “puts human needs, capabilities, and behavior first, then designs to accommodate those needs, capabilities, and ways of behaving” (p.8). Norman acknowledges that human error is essential in discovering ways in which we can create, and positively utilise technology (2013, p.6). Norman’s text is useful in arguing that the spontaneity of human error is what separates humans from AI, and in arguing that suggests that the relationship between the two is interdependent. Understanding this relationship, researchers into AI have recognised the necessity to create “human centred artificial intelligence” that “can be broken down into two aspects: (1) AI systems that understand humans from a sociocultural perspective, and (2) AI systems that help humans understand them” (Riedl, 2019). AI developers have illuminated the interdependent relationship of human and AI by building a program that helps artists to create with a machine learning tool (Eck, 2016). The tool creates something new from previous musical ideas of the artists choosing, and from there the artist can use those ideas and manipulate them to fulfil their creative desires. There is no doubt that the spectrum of human input into artistic creation is expanding as technology develops. However, what is of most importance is the continuous discussion on how we are shaping our values surrounding technology. By continuing this discussion we will be able to evolve our relationship with technology in a more positive and progressive way.
In trying to answer the question
“Is the artwork I create using AI mine?”
I discovered that we have been missing out on a wealth of knowledge and progressive evolution of the relationship between technology and humans. It is quite human of us to fear the unknown, but at what cost, and at what point do we need to realise that it has only restricted our intellectual evolution? I am not concluding that we should completely push aside our fear, because that would defeat the argument that it is our human nature that separates us from technology. I am concluding with the idea that we should be thinking more logically and rationally in regards to technology. I am not yet able to answer the question with complete certainty, but at least I have started to accept the responsibility of better understanding the interdependent relationship between technology and artists, and how this will affect art discourse.
Benjamin, W. (1936). The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction. Transcribed by Blunden, A. Sourced from UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television. Schocken/Random House. https://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/ge/benjamin.htm
Bogost, I. (2011). How to do things with videogames. University of Minnesota Press.
Eck, D. (2016, June 1). Welcome to Magenta!. Magenta. https://magenta.tensorflow.org/blog/2016/06/01/welcome-to-magenta/
Emerson, R. W. (2021). Essays. Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.
Horkheimer, M., & Adorno, T. W. (1993). The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception. In Dialectic of Enlightenment, (pp. 120-167). New York: Continuum.
Nelmes, J. (Ed.). (2011). Introduction to film studies. Taylor & Francis Group.
Norman, D. (2013). The design of everyday things : Revised and expanded edition. Basic Books.
Reidl, O. M. (2019). Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. Human Behavior and Emerging Technologies, 1(1), 33-36. https://doi.org/10.1002/hbe2.117
Wolf, M. J. P., & Perron, B. (Eds.). (2013). The routledge companion to video game studies. Taylor & Francis Group.
Vurr Van De Wolf. (2014, June 28). Neil Postman Open Mind : Informing Ourselves to Death (shortened edit) [online video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ApPkTvQ4QM