Authentically Human! Not Written by AI!
All Content Copyright © Michael Chesley Johnson AIS PSA MPAC

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Art that is Authentically Human

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The Simple Pleasure of Pushing Around Paint

I've been doing a lot of reading about artificial intelligence (AI) and how artists and other creators are worried about its impact on their world. Although there are a few cheery types who say AI will only make things better, many in my extended circle do indeed worry. Money-making opportunities for commercial artists, journalists and programmers will be harder to come by as ad agencies, newspapers and Big Tech turn to AI for their business needs.

But as a creator of "fine art," do I care? I certainly feel sympathy for those who may soon be out of work. The art I create, however, is authentically human—and I think there will always be a market for that. Can an AI churn out marketable art that might be described as handcrafted, handmade or artisanal? It might look that way, but you couldn't label it as such without tampering with your moral compass. (For the record, I've never liked the word "artisanal"—to me, it suggests a corporation trying to market factory-made cheese as if it were made by a family farm.)

Fine art or craft, it doesn't matter. While you might buy a pretty but mass-produced coffee mug at Walmart, you might pick up a more beautiful, handmade mug at a craft fair. I'd rather have the mug made by a real potter, as it is embodies the character of the artisan who made it. (I love finding the ghost of a fingerprint fired into the clay.) I'd treasure this authentically-human item, whereas if the Walmart mug breaks—oh, well.

Certainly, the technology for creating 3-D printed paintings, ones that look like the real thing right down to the brush stroke, is almost there. In the very near future, you'll be able to buy an exact reproduction of a Van Gogh sunflower painting, scanned in at a zillion DPI and printed with real pigments like chrome yellow. Now, plug an AI into this technology, and even a person with no talent could create and "print" an oil painting—one that looks as if an actual human wielded the paint brush.

Yet these works won't be authentically human. Even though they'll be created from a vast data set that includes lots of authentic, human-made images, they won't in themselves be authentically human-made.

Will I be able to tell the difference? I don't know. But I bet there'll be a cooperative effort by artists and artisans to have "Authentically Human" stamped on everything they make, and a "Made by AI" label stuck on all the rest.

But let's step back a moment from all this worry. Why did I choose art as a career? Certainly, I had to make a living. But there was more than money involved in my choice. I love to hold a brush. I love how paint first resists the brush and then softens to accommodate it. I love how the brush, the paint and I all work together, intimately, in the process. As I've said before, for me it's more about the process than the product. As long as I continue to work in this way, with simple tools and a simple process, and with a minimum of technology, I'll be happy.