If art imitates life, can something inorganic like artificial intelligence (AI) create art?
It’s a question that is increasingly being explored.
In October 2018, Christie’s became the first auction house to sell an art piece created by AI. Portrait of Edmond Belamy sold for $432,500. Created by the French art collective Obvious, the piece was the result of an AI that was fed a dataset of 15,000 portraits painted between the 14th and 20th centuries.
In February, Adweek ran a story about a song created by AI, complete with lyrics and music. Digital agency space150 trained a machine learning model on rapper Travis Scott’s music to create the song. The track “features heavily auto-tuned nonsense rhymes like ‘I know you talkin’ trippy on my blade/I just want your first name.’” The agency didn’t create the piece for any particular client; space150 said it just wanted to experiment with the boundaries of AI in creative capacities and how it might fit into branding in the future.
Are we poised for a future where AI is the artist? Will AI create original artwork, music, literature, films, plays, and the like?
The answer is a solid no. The reason for my certainty is because of a fundamental truth about AI capabilities: AI cannot create something that doesn’t already exist; only humans can do that.
In a previous post, “Outsmarting AI for Jobs,” I talked about why humans and AI are fundamentally different. Humans are capable of both linear and non-linear thinking, while AI is good at linear thinking and pretty lousy at non-linear thinking. Non-linear thinking is one of the key building blocks of originality. At its essence, originality is the ability to relate nonrelated concepts or things to each other. The strength of AI is how it can analyze massive amounts of data to draw conclusions. AI is good at analysis and prediction. To accomplish analysis and prediction, AI must always reference something that already exists, and it cannot draw lines between things that are not related. This means it can’t produce something original and unique. On the other hand, true art is by definition, original.
Art Is Original – AI Isn’t
Consider a few examples of the original nature of art.
In 1957, Miles Davis was asked by director Louis Malle to create the soundtrack for his film, Ascenseur pour l’echafaud. Davis recorded it without any preparation, instead improvising as he watched a screening of the film. He said this about improvisation: “If you’ve got some great musicians, they will deal with the situation and play beyond what is there and above where they think they can.” Watch this incredible clip from American Masters: Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool of Davis playing to the film.
In 1965, James Brown single-handedly created a new music genre: funk. Funk came to be because Brown fundamentally changed the roles for instruments and vocals. In another American Masters portrait, James Brown: Soul Survivor, writer James Maycock said this:
“The immaculate rhythmic tension of ‘Papa’s Got a Brand-New Bag’ ushered in a new style of music – funk. Throughout the 1960s and into the early 1970s, James Brown increasingly abandoned melody and harmony, focusing on the rhythm in songs like ‘Cold Sweat’, ‘I Got the Feelin’, and ‘Give It Up or Turnit a Loose’. Brown admitted, ‘I was hearing everything, even the guitars, like they were drums.’”
Listen as every instrument pounds out the rhythm on I Got the Feelin’.
(Source: Barrie Wentzell)
My son showed a talent for art from an early age. I have told him that I was interested in art as a teen, but through 5 years of art class, I had no original thought; I only painted and drew pictures from photos. He, on the other hand, can create art from pictures inside his head. My watercolor is on the left, his pen drawing is on the right. He was 7 years old.
(Source: Mark Beccue)
In the Christie’s article, misgivings about AI’s shortfall in originality surfaced as well:
“… if you define art more broadly as an attempt to say something about the wider world, to express one’s own sensibilities and anxieties and feelings, then AI art must fall short, because no machine mind can have that urge – and perhaps never will.”
One art expert hit on what will most likely be the path for AI in art – collaboration. What happens when you mix the skills of humans with AI?
“If you consider the whole process, then what you have is something more like conceptual art than traditional painting. There is a human in the loop, asking questions, and the machine is giving answers. That whole thing is the art, not just the picture that comes out at the end. You could say that at this point it is a collaboration between two artists – one human, one a machine. And that leads me to think about the future in which AI will become a new medium for art.”
In art, AI will not go it alone. The bits that do will be novelties. If AI is used too much in art, we run the risk of losing what makes human unique – original thought. The best path, then, is that AI will be a tool to be wielded by creatives to augment what they want to do and where they want to go.