The end of Art as we know it?
Many conceptualise art as if it is a fixed entity with a single, universal definition; and yet, humanity, across time and geographical space, has been locked in continuous debate over what constitutes art. Whatever creations, expressions, subversions (et cetera) are celebrated, or simply tolerated, as art, in one moment or place; will be ridiculed, dismissed, or condemned in another. However, generally speaking, established cultural hegemons residing in the West – particularly prominent galleries, dealers, and connoisseurs – control what is defined as art, in a public context; which is usually influential enough to have international authority. Such institutions and experts, disseminate as empirical truth, their conceptualisation, or check list of criteria, for what art fundamentally is. This authority underpins the canon of art history, and acts as a gatekeeper for future contributions to that canon. This has lots of implications; many of them somewhat depressing, as only particular art created by particular people is driven to the fore. But primarily (for the sake of this particular discussion) it encourages, what we are going to define as, moments of widespread hysteria, that are triggered when an artist, medium, or approach that defies the established norm, rapidly emerges. These artistic phenomena elicit a cultural atmosphere whereby many believe that the concept of art as we know it, is RUINED FOREVER. The dawn of abstraction, the emergence of photographic technologies, the exhibiting of readymades in established galleries, and the ongoing popularisation of performance art (to name but a few), are all examples of such hysteria-inducing approaches; most of which have now settled comfortably into a canonised status. This centuries’ fresh point of contention is, can art produced by artificial intelligence be readily accepted as art?
Humanity, Authorship & Artificial Intelligence
The fast development of AI Technologies, which has characterised the 21st century thus far, has generated popular anxiety surrounding the stability of humanity’s dominance; as the species who have fabricated and maintained the construct of culture. Given that art, as a fundamental facet of culture, is regarded as a phenomenon that distinguishes humanity from other living and nonliving things; the idea that a non-human entity can produce something we label as ‘art’, has been met with ardent, and fear-fueled, opposition. This begs the question: can something ‘authored’ by a non-human entity be regarded as art; when art and humanity are so inextricably linked? Kelly (2019) regards art and humanity as fundamentally codependent, asserting that:
the capacity for genuine creativity, the kind of creativity that updates our understanding of the nature of being, is at the ground of what it is to be human [emphasis added]. 1
As a result, he vehemently states that “creativity is, and always will be, a human endeavor”, and therefore, if there is any perceived “greatness” in art produced by AI, “it is only an accident”. 2 He, thus, conflates art with creativity; the latter of which he defines as a solely human concept.
If, for the sake of one argument (which we will debate further, in blog posts to come) we decide that in order for art to earn its designation, it must bear creativity; and, if we also believe that creativity is exclusively human (another subjective assertion that we will debate at a later stage);
then can AI ‘art’ be defined as such? In some theories, art is defined, quite simply, as an expression or representation of something in material or immaterial form, by an author (an intention-fuelled creator). But other times, art is defined as such, after the production of its material form, or
immaterial performance. It becomes art when a human looks at it, and defines it as ‘art’. The latter underpins the idea that anything can be art, if a person conceptualises it in that way. All that matters is its reception, not the particular nature of its production. This is a very inclusive theory, because it facilitates and encourages the creation of art in all mediums, through all methods, and by all artists; because it accepts that art is a subjective notion, decided upon by the individual viewing it in that particular moment. In the case of AI, whilst its production lacks the creative intent of humanity; in its reception it is humanity that will, nonetheless, find value in it. It may not express an authentic understanding of “the nature of being”, it nonetheless can trigger a response, whether material or immaterial, in the humanity viewing it. Basically, to strip back all the jargon, it may not be made by the hand of a human, but it is conceptually made ‘art’ by humankind. Given all of this, surely we have two options: 1) we could perceive AI art as just another approach to art-making, with implications like any other, and make a value-based judgement on whether or not we, individually, like it (and it’s okay if we don’t!); or, 2) we could arbitrarily reject AI as art, based on our anxieties as a species; when, paradoxically, AI has no desire (or power) to strip our socially constructed ‘culture’ of its value to us anyway.
Can art produced by Artificial Intelligence be readily accepted as art?
This blog post barely touches the surface of what is a profoundly complex artistic, philosophical, moral, ethical (and more besides) debate over the place of AI in the world of human expression. For this reason, this is going to be the first of a series of blog posts on AI. It’s a contentious and sensitive topic of discussion that has not only conceptual and intellectual implications; but also moral ones; and delicate, personal consequences for working artists, present and future. As such, it deserves careful time and attention. But, for now, we feel that AI art shouldn’t be feared. It is simply another approach to a subjective and complex world of art; a phenomenon that will likely remain inextricably linked with humanity, until the species comes to an end. And, perhaps (we say with sickening optimism) AI art may even bring a positive shift in the art market, encouraging people to buy art they like, as the primary factor.
Thank you, and we hope you’ve enjoyed reading this blog post. Watch this space for the next instalment!
1. Ibid at: https://bit.ly/2OyBdlE (accessed 17/03/2019)
2. Kelly, S.D. ‘A philosopher argues that an AI can’t be an artist’, MIT Technology Review. February 21, 2019. Available.