Clickbait or creativity? The art world wrestles with AI

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Paris (AFP) Online tools that use artificial intelligence (AI) to create amazing, funny and sometimes terrifying images have exploded in popularity, sparking soul-searching over the nature of art.

Tech companies tout their inventions as the liberating force of art for all, but purists say the artist is still the protagonist in the machine.

Art historian and AI expert Emily L. Spratt, whose forthcoming book deals with the ethics and regulation of AI art, told AFP that the art world still has no answer to the potentially transformative technology.

Are we all artists now?

Punch a few keywords into the AI ​​art tool — such as “Brad Pitt in a rowing boat in space in the style of Mondrian” — and seconds later boldly colored line drawings of the Hollywood star will appear, stars. Paddling in

Tools like Midjourney, Stable Diffusion and DALL-E 2 have many fans who have declared it as the democratization of art.

But Spratt believes such tools are more about “fun and clickbait” than art.

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“It’s a way to promote engagement with the platforms, which is definitely going to help these companies,” he said.

Spratt said works like 'A Sea Otter in the Style of a Girl with a Pearl Earring by Vermeer' are more clickbait than art.
Spratt said works like ‘A Sea Otter in the Style of a Girl with a Pearl Earring by Vermeer’ are more clickbait than art. © – / OpenAI/AFP/file

“The idea that this is a tool for total empowerment or that it will democratize the space is overly simplistic — it’s naive.”

Rather, she sees the boundary between AI and other technologies blurring, pointing to image manipulation programs already widely used.

“I see the future of AI as part of a universal background architecture for all digital imaging processes,” she said.

“It will be hard to avoid because it permeates all our digital interactions, often unbeknownst to us, especially when we create, edit or search for images.”

Are there AI masterpieces?

In addition to simple online tools that anyone can use, there are many artists working on their own algorithms with bespoke datasets.

These works sell for tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands.

One standout practitioner, Spratt said, is German artist Mario Klingmann, whose “hyperdimensional attraction series, Bestiary,” is a high point of the genre.

Emily L. Spratt said the traditional art world has yet to find a coherent response to AI.
Emily L. Spratt said the traditional art world has yet to find a coherent response to AI. © Dominic Bundle/Getty Images North America/AFP/File

“It’s a video of seemingly organic forms that transform from one physical entity to another and momentarily appear as recognizable animals,” he said.

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“Honestly, it’s a bit disturbing but it works well as a commentary on the dividing lines between material and non-material and the limits of creative AI to mimic the natural world.”

He said his art is asking questions about AI as a medium and more broadly about the nature of creativity.

What does the art world do with AI?

Until relatively recently, there was little buzz around AI outside of video installations, largely because there was no bank of digital images with clear labels.

Without source material, there could be no AI art as we know it today.

That changed a decade ago when multiple projects began to deliver large amounts of digital images, sparking an explosion of creativity.

Clearly the 'Portrait of Edmund de Bellamy' sold in 2018 but the code was heavily borrowed.
Clearly the ‘Portrait of Edmund de Bellamy’ sold in 2018 but the code was heavily borrowed. © Timothy A. Cleary/AFP/File

A French collective called Aboius sold a work for more than $400,000 in 2018 after embracing the idea that AI “created” the work.

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The sale became very controversial when it was revealed that they used an algorithm written by artist and programmer Robbie Barratt.

“The reason the Obvious artwork sold, particularly at that price, was largely because it was advertised as the first AI artwork to be offered at a major auction house,” Spratt said. “

“It was really the art market experimenting with offering AI artwork in step with the long-established approach to selling fine art.”

At the time, he said, there was a lot of interest in bringing the tech sector and the art world together.

But the tech industry has since suffered a dramatic economic downturn and investment and interest have waned.

Major auction houses such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s have since worked hard to create separate platforms for selling AI art.

“It’s that they don’t want to spoil the fine art with these new digital explorations,” Spratt said.

And critics have yet to catch up and really express what is good, bad or indifferent, he understood.

“Unfortunately, the AI ​​art discourse doesn’t exist yet, but I think it’s on its way, and it should come from the field of art history,” he insisted.


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