Recently, I have felt like I am an unwilling part of a revolution. Not a political revolution like October 1917 or the French Revolution, but a technological revolution.
This revolution is the continuous improvement of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its increasing accessibility for users, especially those in creative fields. I’ve been aware of these new programs and applications for a relatively long time and even used some (like ChatGPT) mainly for recreational purposes. But when I used AI that creates images, like Midjourney, the word “revolution” started to fill my head.
It took me a full day to immerse myself in this “creative medium” and to learn how to formulate text in the AI software to exert more control over “my” images. In addition to curiosity and amazement, as a filmmaker, I experienced fear, an existential crisis and a kind of despair that I cannot describe in words. This wasn’t because the resulting images were bad, but the opposite. In most cases they were very beautiful.
This experience made me think about the past, about art and creation throughout history, and about Renaissance painters. The training of these painters consisted of years and years of practice before they were fully adept at controlling their medium. Now, instead of years we only need a few minutes or hours to learn how to refine our sentence prompts, which have become modern parallels to Leonardo’s brushes and Michelangelo’s marble.
The need for skilled craftsmanship has often declined with the improvement of technology. Even artistic mediums such as photography and cinema were strongly criticized in their early days for the supposed lack of craftsmanship required to create a photograph compared to a painting. But photography, at its core, still contains elements of composition, lighting and other technical aspects that give a significant amount of control to the photographer; Ansel Adams’ landscapes of Yosemite National Park in California are easy to distinguish from a tourist’s photos of the same place.
Moreover, the photograph did not contribute to the undoing of the painting. Instead, as the film critic André Bazin says, it freed it from the need for realism. Likewise, it is much easier to create digital art, especially in the form of drawing and sketching, than traditional art. But pre-AI digital art gave the artist tools and possibilities in what they could create without ever taking away the “brush.” With AI art, the brush is transformed into several short lines of text. Artists working with AI now find themselves completely alienated from the works they create.
The idea of alienation, in its extreme form, came to mind when I tried creating images using AI. At first, the images were a bit off, but as my familiarity with the software improved, the images improved as well. I “created” many beautiful images including — what amazed me most — highly realistic photographs in the style of any possible movement or era of photography, depending on the prompt I provided.
Internally, I was divided. I felt a kind of amazement with these “works of art,” but at the same time I felt completely detached from them. I could not call these works “mine.” Instead of process or craft, now there was input, a small bit of text.
Then there’s the obvious problem of plagiarism and other kinds of misuse when it comes to using personal images that are available on the web.
AI doesn’t generate art in the way a person creates art. AI first learns by being fed pre-existing works. For example, when you command AI to generate a painting of the city of Gjilan in the style of Vincent Van Gogh, the software takes any photo it can find of the city of Gjilan and shapes the pixels in a way that digitally mimics contours of Van Gogh’s brush. Therefore, AI steals or plagiarizes the reference work.
This is particularly a threat to people who make digital art and use it as a source of income. These creators have been among the first to experience the consequences of the AI image-generation revolution because it is very easy for people to have AI copy their work, all it takes is to type in: “create an image similar to the style of artist X.”
Despite my opposition to creating art through AI, artificial intelligence can and certainly will have a positive impact in many fields so I’m not against it in general. Its implementation in scientific fields, medicine, engineering and so on may end up being positive and useful and may help enrich human life or health.
The reason why I see the effects of AI on art as different from its impact on other fields isn’t only tied to the fact that I am a filmmaker and don’t want to lose my job (perhaps this has a little to do with it).
We don’t need art to survive, we need it to live. In principle, it is the very essence of art as an activity to be “non-productive” or “non-practical,” as opposed to the sciences, which are built on progress and constant improvement. While Galileo’s medieval telescope is far inferior to NASA’s, a silent film from the early 20th century can be as good as, or even better, than a film from 2023.
AI comes in and disrupts this. It’s not improving art technically, it’s eliminating the creative process altogether. AI “art,” a collection of pixels, is still digital art, as it has been for the last 30 years. But while its users are trying to sell it as help for artists, the whole essence of AI “art” is plagiarism and stealing.
“Art” created through artificial intelligence has already begun to negatively affect digital artists, graphic designers and photographers. It seems that in the not too distant future, it will also affect literature, music and film.
But instead of writing in a way that makes the reader feel pity or have mercy for the various artists who will be affected by this, I want to make a kind of “appeal” to the basic idea that art should be a human creation. Art in its essence is a kind of communication between the creator and the other. There is no art without these two.
The images I have “created,” which can be seen throughout this article, may look beautiful, human and emotional. But that is only true to the extent that the robot in the movie “Ex Machina” is beautiful, human and emotional. They are just a mirage, because deep inside they represent the creeping creative passivity of humankind.
Feature Image: MidJourney.