AI Art: Can Robots Create Art?
What is art? The Oxford Dictionary provides this definition: "the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power."
But when contemplating the meaning of art in the context of artificial intelligence, where we have robots generating beautiful images, this definition seems circular. To define art as an expression of human creative skill when we see robots doing things that typically only humans could do raises questions about what art really is. Is there a non-circular definition now that we may not be the only ones creating it?
I used the prompt "a beautiful painting of a sunset" with the AI system midJourney, and in a matter of seconds, I was given these four options to choose from:
I put the same text prompt into a different AI image generator called Dall-e and got these results:
These are original images—meaning they do not exist anywhere else and did not exist, and would not exist, if I had not prompted the AI image generator to create them. Beauty is subjective, but I think the vast majority of people would agree that these images hold beauty. I put the exact same prompt into the same two respective image generators and got eight new, equally beautiful, and original images.
Now, conceptually, based only on the Oxford Dictionary, these cannot be art because they were not "the expression or application of HUMAN creative skill and imagination." But was this definition unprepared for the advent of AI? Or am I, for the simple act of typing the prompt into my keyboard, the human artist behind this beautiful artwork? That doesn't say much about my "skill" as an artist, but what about an artist who splashes paint on a canvas, and the world accepts the resulting chaos as an expression of art?
But what is the AI algorithm actually doing when you ask it to create a painting of a beautiful sunset? Modern AI, powered by machine learning, uses multiple layers of convolutional neural networks to create what would seem to humans as random connections between similar things. The AI system is shown thousands of examples of what is considered beautiful, what is considered a painting, and what is considered a sunset. It processes that information in a way where it can duplicate a set of zeros and ones that can be represented as an image that fits within the same set or category while not being exactly the same as any of them. It has no understanding of what it's doing, no appreciation of beauty, and no conceptual understanding of what a sunset is, or what beauty is, or what a painting is, other than the ability to process and formulate complex patterns that are totally disconnected from the concepts with which humans understand everything.
So, while AI can appear to be creating art, it's really just finding patterns and rehashing what has already been created. If you took an AI and put no information into it, nothing would come out. You might say the same for some people. But even a human isolated from cultural input still has a sense of expression and understanding in which they can create something new, something original. Whereas AI is totally dependent on rehashing what has already been made. So, in that sense, is it art? I really don't know. It is beautiful, and there was a human entering a prompt somewhere. In a sense, the ‘human’ that created the image was more the thousands of artists who contributed to the dataset that trained the AI than the one person who happened to enter the prompt into the image generator.
But regardless of the more philosophical question of whether this is art in the realist sense, if people in business and society can generate their own original images without hiring a human, this will replace artists. In the past, every original work of art needed a human to painstakingly create that image. Cameras have sped up the process, but you still need a photographer; computers have sped up the process, but you still needed a competent person to operate the computer. There are many tools that artists use, including the LUCY Drawing Tool, obviously. But now, someone who has no idea how to create art can enter a prompt. A person who is adept at crafting a Google search to find exactly what they want has a more honed skill set for using AI art than a person who's gone to art school. So yes, it's inevitable that AI art will replace artists in the business world, as much as any other part of the economy that is likely to be replaced with AI—not getting rid of all humans, but allowing fewer humans to do more work with robotic help.
But as far as art for the sake of beauty, leisure, and expression, artificial intelligence and robots have no idea what this even means. There's no enjoyment involved. A person may find a level of satisfaction in generating an image that they imagine using an AI image generator, but that's a person who probably wouldn't have created art anyway: a non-artist finding some form of expression or just having fun like a video game. As for artists who want to use more traditional methods and tools, AI could never stop them. AI can never stop you from expressing yourself with art. Regardless of what's going on in business or around the world today, you can still take a pencil and paper, paint and canvas, and create something that expresses your emotions, feelings, and who you are as a human.
Patricia D on May 10 am
I agree with you, Mark B, and I’d like to add that in all of the first 4 pictures that AI mustered up from all the thousands human creators it took to make those pictures from, did not give me ‘a feeling’ as I normally seek to find — (and also strive to paint). I would prefer to seek one of those thousand artists that painted 1/1000th of it, because then I may have ‘felt’ something. In fact, the first 4 pictures looked very much the same, with the same colour tones (bright) and have a ‘fantasy’ effect – not saying that’s bad, just saying it’s not my cup of tea, not something I would spend a lot of money on, even if I liked it, for the exact reasons you spoke of in your comment. I find it rather sad that AI is taking over the art world, but I will continue painting ‘my way’ just because I love to put my feelings onto canvas or paper or other surfaces with brushes and pallet knives, and hope the feeling reaches the person(s) looking at it.
I won’t even complain if it doesn’t show up on “Antiques Roadshow” but as all artists, I always have hopes it will end up on somebody’s wall being appreciated as ‘human-made’ art.
Jose Batao am
What about paintings done on walls or murals and the like? Unless a physical robot or anything serving the same purpose is constructed to do such paintings they can’t be executed. To construct them may not be practical and economical. AI still can’t replace real artists but can help artists, though, in enhancing their creative imagination to be able to come up with more amazing works of art.
Lynda Williams am
This is very well stated. Thank you for putting AI “art” in perspective. For the artist, it’s not so much about the end product. It is also very much about the process. I really liked what you said about AI’s understanding of art being a composition of what humans have said and done concerning art, and not AI’s own interpretation. AI is still human, but it is an extension of humanity. Great topic; very timely. Thank you.
Mark Byrne am
Al art and human created art, oh wait a minute what about art created on a computer? There seems to be a fine line dividing them. Are they all art, maybe! Are they the art that comes to mind with a van Gogh or Picasso? I would say no. Where I see the difference is that it will be much harder to make a career being an artist. We live in a “right now society”! You want something for that blank spot on the wall, you order with an idea of what you want, and an Al operator has it at your front door in four days. It may look pretty but it will never have any real value to the new owner, they will get tired of it, and it will be in next summer’s yard sale. A piece of art bought at last summers “Art Walk” may end up in a closet but sooner or later it will be on an episode of “Antiques Roadshow”!