| Art

On The Question Of AI Imagery

Something is getting lost in translation. Does AI Art lose the creative crucible required for depth?

robot by Pixabay

We should appreciate the discovery and use of new techniques to create. Regardless of the means, be it traditional or high tech—or a combination of both. A principal requirement of art is that it should also spring directly from the hand and mind of a living, sentient creator—hands-on from start to finish. It simply cannot come from automated processes, generative algorithms, or deep-learning computer programs, however enchanting the final results of these techniques may be. Art is life, and a commentary on life. For this reason it must be the product of life, with all of life’s flaws and imperfections of its mortal creator. The humanity of artistry is found in these very flaws and imperfections. 

Don’t get me wrong—Let’s not detract from the technological marvel that artificial intelligence (AI) represents. No one denies its startling power; it is the fruition of decades of labour and innovation by some of the most brilliant minds in the industry. But to deny its limitations would be to detract from thousands of years of human experience. There is something somewhat antiseptic about the visual creations of AI. It has a subtle patina of lifelessness about it, something that is unmistakably cold. Its images seem to be pressed and embalmed in a kind of digital formaldehyde. AI may offer a fascinating exercise in visual creation, but respectfully, it misses the whole point of the human creative process.

Midjourney 'contemporary abstract art' 1
Midjourney ‘contemporary abstract art’ 1

One of art’s main functions is to synthesise and distil some aspect of the human experience. Even abstract art, freed from the figurative limitations of nature, is grounded in the artist’s intimate psychic journey. Art—whether it be painting, sculpture, or other creative medium—is a cosa mentale, an expression of the artist’s mental journey. Art demands a certain methodology that cannot be bypassed or leapt over; it must be supported by human experience and sensation. One cannot simply rub Aladdin’s lamp and summon a creation into existence on command, as if one were performing a parlour-game magic trick. 

Midjourney 'creative process'
Midjourney ‘creative process’

There is a spiritual dimension to real art. It must possess that human force, some psychic binding agent that coheres the whole and gives it meaning. Here lies one of the primary problems of AI-generated imagery. It is not grounded in the human psyche, and cannot connect with its viewers on a spiritual level. When abstract artist Vassily Kandinsky claimed that colours possessed “sounds” that he could actually “hear,” he meant this as a literal truth. For him, painted colours and shapes had qualities that went beyond the realm of vision. This was his own spiritual truth, and one he conveyed in all of his paintings. 

By contrast, AI’s generative algorithms operate as collective amalgamation. AI programs scour the internet for art created by human beings, which also brings up an additional, and entirely new level of issues pertaining to copyright. AI images are derivative in the truest sense of the word; art cannot be by blind cherry-picking. The images churned out by AI do not represent the human experience, but rather a strictly mathematical process. 

Midjourney 'contemporary art' 2
Midjourney ‘contemporary art’ 2
Midjourney 'ai artist'
Midjourney ‘ai artist’

Artificial intelligence offers images without limit, summoned on command. The ability to summon instantaneous, unlimited quantity offers us only a void of emptiness, from which we learn nothing. The Greek philosopher Philolaus touched on this truth when he said:

“There will not be anything at all that is known, if all things are unlimited.”

Throughout history, art has served the function of bringing people together around a shared sentiment, idea, or aspiration. What really dazzles us about AI is its speed and convenience, not its spiritual force. And when all is said and done, we are compelled to admit that Artificial Intelligence cannot communicate our deepest spiritual longings. Why? No matter how advanced AI is, it cannot grasp the desires and aspirations of the human soul – because it has yet to suffer or feel joy. There are no existentialist issues for AI, or any of the many factors that make each of us who we are. The process of struggling to find, execute and refine a creative idea is vital, because it conveys to the viewer what we’re looking for, and teaches us how to search. Art is more than a way of looking, it shows us methods of finding ways of looking. By side stepping this struggle we’re not freed by our imaginations, but rather we’re given what we ask for. We become decoupled from the universe—of which we as flesh and blood beings are a part of—and the experiences that give it meaning. Artificial Intelligence is exactly that—it’s artificial. There is as yet no way AI can substitute the revelations provided by a cosmos of tribulations. 

Image use:
This images used here are from AI image creation software Midjourney with the title indicating the prompt given. We’re not monetising this article and the images here are only for illustrative purposes relating to AI but there are major issues around copyright and IP in how AI programs aggregate images from the web to create results like the above. At this time it’s not possible (for us) to generate a list of all the sources used to create the images above and if you believe that your artwork was used in please get in touch. As a rule Trebuchet doesn’t feature AI images on the site but in this instance it’s relevant to display the outputs of AI as it relates to Seehafer’s article. Ironically, the main image is from Pixabay which has had issues with usage rights in its history – however the difference is that Pixabay is accountable.

2024 update:
Clarification added ‘Ai… misses the whole point of the human creative process.’


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