AI is pretty cool, but can it art?

In the Liminality, Art creates many doors between, hallways through, stairs connecting great heights with incredible lows and pools of doubt. Art can move us from the Liminality to places of (temporarily) solid ground. Or art can strip away our comforts and shove us into new realms made only of Questions.

Questions like: What is Art?

AI interpretation of “My wife is beautiful”

Oxford:
1.
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.”

Wikipedia, using language from Lumen Learning “Art is a highly diverse range of human activities engaged in creating visual, auditory, or performed artifacts— artworks—that express the author’s imaginative or technical skill, and are intended to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power.”

Lumen Continues: “Art may be characterized in terms of mimesis (its representation of reality), expression, communication of emotion, or other qualities. Though the definition of what constitutes art is disputed and has changed over time, general descriptions center on the idea of imaginative or technical skill stemming from human agency and creation.”

(Emphasis added to illustrate the repeated use of human.)

Webster’s does not specify human, although distinctly human qualities and intention are:

Webster’s Dictionary: “something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings.”

So what about these magnificent AI generated… creations(?) I have been playing with on sites like the Night Cafe?

Bert and Ernie sacrifice cookie monster, summoning great Cthulhu.

What’s happening with these? I am providing parameters in the form of written words (in the case above I added a few terms like acrylic, colorful and art deco). The AI is then running keywords through equations that select the various elements that become the piece. The elements – shapes, colors, textures, etc. – were selected by a human programmer who then went on to tell the algorithm what to do with those elements.

The AI has no imagination, no creativity, and no agency. So we can say definitively that the images above are not art.

Right?

Not so fast. Human creativity came up with the code, the logic that Is the AI. Humans”taught” it how to render various terms like “colorful,” “art deco,” “abstract,” etc. And I (human) used my agency to decide what words to combine. In a sense, we have loaned our imagination, creativity, agency and skill to the AI. A (probably large) group of people have all collaborated to make this machine processed art synthesis.

abstract colourful scary woman monster’s portrait with still life in foreground acrylic art

Night Cafe says I am the “creator.” It does not call me “artist” but the site does identify these works as neural network generated artwork and “text-to-image artworks that users have made with NightCafe Creator.” So what’s artwork what does it mean generate? What the hell is a neural network??!!

A person could follow this rabbit hole a very long way; analysing not just the semantics, the history and futures of neural network creation, they could even end up in the totally non-human territory of elephants painting self-portrait. There’s not likely to be a definitive answer, no firm groun upon which even a majority of people will confidently declare these works as “art” or “not art.”

Instead we find ourselves drifting further out into the Liminality. From here I can see collaboration, expression, innovation and synthesis. I don’t know if that makes these things art or not, but out here those things certainly do seem to look beautiful.

“Gregor the formless, watcher of the Dataplex, is trapped between awesome light beauty and dark awful allure, walking the cosmic razor wire between the two warring sides of existence.”

Thinking about what constitutes Art, this is how I feel. The definitions all emphasize words like “imagination,” “creativity,” “agency,” – qualities attached to “human.” What are these creations if not art? Without a skilled hand guiding each brush stroke, what is it that makes these pictures beautiful? Hell, what, for that matter is human if not the ability to combine images and ideas we’ve been taught and synthesize something relatively new?

A: It’s the blurring of lines, the testing of borders, the rattling of our status quo shells, that makes of us both human and art

The Despair Code (thoughts)

Warning: Discussion of Existential Reality. May lead to Despair (3223412)

Living out here in the Liminality, we spin through the void – somewhere between success and failure, urban and rural, youth and old age, responsibility and recklessness. Our lives are between beginnings and unknowable endings. Posessed by the daemon of Schrodinger’s design we struggle for certainty of anything, and against denial of everything. Wandering like ghosts seeking solid faith in something, swimmers seeking anything to hold us afload, we distance from the joy of loved ones beside us because of the empty-eyed shadows of those who have passed.

3223412 Alas! “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.”

In truth, we are safest in the Liminality. Because to go over the threshold – to truly Know the unknown, to Become Known ourselves is to release the Despair Code.

It’s all of these, leading to so much more

The inability of man(kind) to correlate all it’s contents perhaps is the most merciful thing in the world, but I think we often ignore the deeper implications (at least I do). And this act of ignoring what should be plainly written is not just a mercy, but a form of denial, a decision (conscious or otherwise) to hide from the truth so plainly writ before our eyes that it is itself a kind of madness, or at the very least inauthenticity in the manner of what Sartre called “bad faith.”

The knowledge I am speaking of is not the kind of forbidden lore found in old moulding tomes like the Necronomicon, nor does Lovecraft really ever say that it is. For it is never only understanding that posits a danger to our well-being; it is the combination of understanding and experience.

After all in The Call of Cthulhu, it is not ultimately the piecing together of knowledge that leads to crisis. Instead it is the Experience of Truth. There is no inherent risk in learning of the touched dreams of artists and dreamers and sensitive types brought about through the mental powers of some unknowable Alien Other.

The danger is in becoming truly creative, in letting down the walls we have erected that keep us from knowing the awfulness that hides at the core of the awesome. We know this somewhere internally and it is an ever present tension in life that leads people to adopt a wide array of strategies of avoidance.
This is perhaps why if you correlate the contents of the DSMV-V, it seems to indicate that we are all of us, at least partly, insane. (Insanity being some form of detachment from reality.)

And so we choose. We choose to either lock ourselves away with the study of books that describe (someone’s) reality, or to go out and experience it for ourselves. It is indeed a rare thing to encounter a person with the courage to do both things simultaneously.

Those that do seem to achieve both states at once sometimes go on to found a religion, or philosophy. Yet more often they meet some tragic end as they recoil too far from the Reality they have themselves discovered. Often, Religion and Philosophy are an attempt to cover or mask the true, awful beauty they have both witnessed and understood.

The ultimate denial.

As above, so below?

Intellectually, I believe I understand that truth. But I can’t articulate it fully. I can at least be honest, however, by admitting that my greatest fear (and all if ours really), isn’t actually in fear of the unknown. The fear is (or should be) a fear of ever Actually knowing in our core how indifferent the cosmos really is. Because to Know (experience with understanding) is to let it in.

To really perceive beauty in the Cosmic Indifference would be to let it take us. Should that occur we are truly fucked (we fear). Because how can there ever be safety should we become like the cosmos: indifferent to life itself?

Stay crazy. Party on. Stay here in the absurdity of the Liminality. Make the most of the short time we have on this rock. Rage for as long as possible. Because whether we ever really KNOW it or not, the lights will eventually go out. Becoming intimate with Reality is at it’s core just another path to self destruction.