LOOK OUT HONEY 'CAUSE I'M USING TECHNOLOGY
PUBLISHED 18 January 2023
I understand why so many artists & people in general are so bugged out by AI art tools & computers & robots & automation in general. We have a healthy fear of obsolescence, of losing our value as people, of not surviving in general & a good respect for the human touch & craftsmanship. The powers that be haven’t shown a good track record on prioritizing any of this either. But, while people’s fears, hatreds & beliefs are understood by me, I feel that these are lesser emotions that shouldn’t be encouraged & reality is always a lot messier than the world of beliefs. Ultimately, while progress frequently has negative side-effects it cannot be & shouldn’t be stopped.
Besides automation & the class conflict that arises there, people are adamant that these programs are art theft. I just can’t see it. The process has been described as the program sampling millions of pictures. From a copyright mentality, if a certain amount of a work is recognizable then it is possibly copyright infringement. The claim seems more that users of various platforms had their images scraped without their permission. This seems more like a privacy issue. If people are looking for a payout for uploading their work to the web, I have no idea how that would work. Maybe I don’t get it, having only been a hired gun artist out of necessity, not out of choice. Good AI art I've seen hasn’t resembled something that has existed before, it is a wholly new vision based on what the programs can & can’t do. The bad has been the same kind of derivative fluff plaguing the internet since its inception, the one chuckle takes on pop culture with a twist that says more about the state of people’s brains than the AI. Honestly, I don’t understand the tech enough or the state of hired gun artists to argue for or against it in this case, but the theft argument doesn’t ring true. Plus, we live in a post-Modern, post-Warhol world where art is what the artist & their supporters say it is & there is no putting that Genie back in the bottle. If you want to go further, we’ve been living with samplers & DJs for forty-plus years, & these things were decried as non-musical & theft since the beginning. Collage & pastiche can be amazing if they are done right & that frequently means done by the right person.
My thoughts on technology have changed & matured over time. When I was a teenage Anarcho Punk I was a total Luddite. Handwriting only, no computer, no car, no bank card, I even went without shoes or a clock for a while! But, I was dependent on my parents. That was my “secret”. There is definitely value to humanity unaided by technology & independence. But there is more value to honesty & thoughtfulness. There is no question. But over time, my priority has been personal success & survival over any ideological contraption also, honesty about how much help we need from others just to survive. Having my life saved by technology when I had a massive stroke in 2018 & being so dependent has made me really see the benefit of these things in a very clear way. If medical technology wasn’t where it’s at today, I’d be dead.
It should be known that I haven’t drawn the way I want to for four years, the stroke initially paralysed the left side of my body which has turned into me not being able to move the left side of my body the way I want to. I am left-handed. Walking is difficult, I have more control with a pen if I use my right hand, I used to have tremors in my left hand which compounded on the lack of control & made drawing really difficult! I can’t drum traditionally anymore. This loss cannot be understood abstractly, it has to be lived. I have invested countless hours filling sketchbooks, drawing tons of finished pieces, studying & even going to classes. I’ve put in my time.
I’m not using the AI to do my old style, I’m working in a Northern Renaissance style evocative of Bosch & Brueghel in themes of European Paganism & the pre-Christian world. I’m using Midjourney Version 3, because I like the limitations & lack of polish of that version. I consider working with limitations more interesting & human than machine perfection. I find interpreting the work more interesting & what I want from art than trying to get exactly what I want out of it.
Craftsmanship & the human touch are going to be valued forever, in fact the more we are able to do with technology the more the human touch will be valued. There are definitely going to be jobs lost, but whenever one door closes, another opens. We have developed machines tremendously in the last hundred years, but biological evolution progresses very slowly. Humans shouldn’t be in competition with machines. AI art programs, Midjourney in particular, are helping me achieve a sort of visually creative feeling that I haven’t felt for too long. The work is definitely different from stuff I would have produced in the past, but the past is the past & things have changed.
When I was younger & teaching, I deliberately drew with Sharpies so that I & my students had a drawing tool that could easily be purchased anywhere in the country. I drew in crayon in my sketchbooks for a similar reason. I colored using Sharpies for the same reason, but ceased & started using photoshop when scanning & printing the work didn’t yield the results I was after. So many times people have asked what kinds of pens I use: it’s not the pens that do the work, it’s the artist. I believe that this extends to all tools. I see how AI is different, but ultimately it’s another tool.
I suppose this comes down to what is Art & what is Craft? I’ve been creative as long as I can remember, my brain has just been spilling over with ideas forever. I decided to be an artist when I was in the second grade because my teacher, Mr. Osborne, recognized the creative spark in me. I didn’t understand the road to becoming an artist, but it was one I was going to travel. Throughout school there were always kids who were better at drawing than me, even some that were more creative, but they lacked the determination, drive & will power to stick with it & declare to the world that they were an Artist. That’s what Art & being an artist mean to me, it’s something you call yourself & other people call you. Craft is something that people with not an ounce of creativity can excel at. It is the execution of the work. Most artists have to be both creative & good craftspeople, especially when they are starting out. So yes, AI art tools can be a crutch if you are supposed to be learning a craft, but some people need crutches.
This isn’t an argument, or a rationalization or an excuse, it’s an explanation & a statement of understanding. I also see it as a rallying cry for showing the borg what we’re good at as people & what makes us special & unique.