gWill AI Replace Artists? A Critical Examination of Creative Authenticity and Technological Evolution

Will AI replace Artists, header image created with AI generation

Last Updated on April 12, 2024

Will AI Replace Artists?

The question of will AI replace artists encapsulates a pivotal moment in the intersection of technology and creativity.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has increasingly taken over tasks across various sectors, notably in manufacturing, customer service, and even certain aspects of healthcare, where repetitive and data-intensive tasks are prevalent. However, this shift towards automation and AI-driven solutions is not confined to purely mechanical or analytical roles. As AI (artificial intelligence) continues to evolve, it increasingly infiltrates the domains traditionally reserved for human intellect and emotion, including the realm of art.

Check out this clip below from Canary Cry Newstalk, a podcast that delves into discussions on current events, conspiracy theories, and various topics from a Christian perspective. Their focus on “Flippy” refers to segments or discussions about advances in robotics, artificial intelligence, and technology at large.

Here we see how “Flippy” is emblematic of robot arms and AI developments and is frequently highlighted to discuss the implications of these technologies on society, ethics, privacy, and the eventual displacement of human jobs.

For instance, in graphic design, AI tools now can effortlessly generate visual content for logos and branding content. As a photographer, the transition from analog film to digital cameras offers a parallel; just as digital technology democratized photographic image creation and thereby threatened the livelihood of many professional photographers of the past, AI is now prompting similar adjustments across creative professions.

In a previous article, I interviewed AI about the nature of art production and creativity to attempt to uncover the relationship between human art and AI art. One key difference that kept coming up in this discussion was the presence of the ‘Human Touch’ in traditional art and its absence in AI art.

In this article’s attempt to address will AI replace artists, we examine what this Human Touch is, what we mean with Creative Authenticity, and what the future holds for artists in our evolving technological landscape.

What is the function of Art?

A significant factor in the debate on will AI replace artists and AI’s overall role in creative fields lies in the proposed function of the finished work.

As mentioned in the introduction, graphic designers are increasingly incorporating AI-produced material into their own workflow. In fact, in smaller projects, AI is beginning to replace graphic designers altogether. The primary requirements for these projects are the client’s desire, the vision of a prompt-savvy user, and some basic design and formatting skills.

Notably, language-based AI models can even suggest and improve prompts given to image generators. My experience with inputting prompts into ChatGPT revealed that the language model could interpret, elaborate on, and enhance my initial idea for an image, resulting in an outcome beyond my initial imagination. This suggests that in creative fields like graphic design, which aim to effectively and interestingly illustrate a commercial brand or idea, designers are legitimately feeling the pressure of being replaced by AI.

But how does this relate to fine art? This question necessitates examining the function of art, and in this case the difference between fine art and graphic design.

In my previous article, “Conceptual Art: Why It Works and How It Fails,” I propose that art’s ultimate aim is to inspire and transcend our understanding of reality through two key aspects: its production and its function. Technically, art captivates us, drawing us into its aesthetic and craftsmanship. Intellectually, it provokes a shift in our understanding, challenging our perceptions and inviting us to see the world through a new lens.

This duality—where art serves not only as a beacon of inspiration but also as a catalyst for intellectual growth—underscores the profound effect art has on both our emotions and our thoughts.

Let’s examine both prongs of art’s dual function:

  1. To inspire

Here, the human touch becomes crucial. The aesthetic execution of a work is one of the primary ways we feel inspiration. Art reaches us through the senses, and the skill and thoughtfulness behind it serve as common sources of inspiration, showcasing art as an example of human achievement.

I draw a parallel here to how humans enjoy achievements in sports. Beyond the game element, there’s a feeling of inspiration derived from the skill, physical fitness, coordination, and ability of an athlete, revealing the upper ceiling of what a human can achieve. The average sports viewer, lacking this skill and practice, experiences this feeling of achievement secondhand and is lifted from their own mediocrity.

Watch the clip below to hear how Jordan Peterson relates sports to the ‘manifestation for the instinct for meaning’.

The Ancient Greeks referred to this aim towards excellence as arete and the values demonstrated by Olympian athletes on display as kalokagathia, or the harmony of body and mind shown in physical beauty and virtuous behavior.

Just imagine a sporting event played exclusively by autonomously performing robots. Unless we humans could relate to these robots personally, anthropomorphizing them, their actions might lack the same sense of drama. In other words, if all robots in a sporting match could execute all the necessary skills and coordination perfectly, what’s the point?

DALL·E 2024 03 04 13.52.05 Generate an image of a Greek sculpture of an Olympian in a classical Greek style with a minimal background but dramatic lighting 1
AI-generated image using DALL E.

Returning to art, I believe the aesthetic choices and skill behind artwork have the same capacity to elevate viewers to a level of human achievement. When we witness the fine craftsmanship that reflects years of disciplined skill development, and when this is coupled with a deeper meaning that connects to the broader narrative of the artist’s intentions—who the artist is, why they created the work, and why they chose specific techniques—we also vicariously experience the Promethean inspiration of soaring close to the sun and capturing a spark of fire to share with humanity.

This brings us to the second aspect of the function of art.

  1. To alter and expand our understanding

Art is specifically meant to repackage, juxtapose, and question our perceptions and beliefs. Without this process of shining a new light on the subject, art becomes merely an exercise in illustration, presentation, and possibly even propaganda.

However, by presenting ideas, emotions, and narratives in novel and impactful ways, art compels us to confront the unfamiliar, question the status quo, and consider alternative perspectives. This transformative power of art not only enriches our personal experiences but also fosters collective growth in societal consciousness.

But if reaching a new understanding is what art is solely all about, we are in trouble.

According to former Google executive and staunch AI critic Mo Gawdat, AI currently has the IQ of Einstein and is set to surpass this, possibly by ten times, in the near future. But when we understand creativity in the brain as the ability to bridge novel concepts together, helping us gain new insight into a subject, with the projection of AI’s IQ and its access to all the information on the internet, creatives are left wondering: will AI replace artists?

Taking now both functions of art into consideration, the answer to ‘will AI replace artists’ does not lie in picture-perfect image replication or profound intellectual gains but in the so-called human touch behind aesthetics.

The Human Touch in Aesthetics

Vulkankind vs Humankind

If perfection is simply what we’re after, we will soon be out of luck, as machines can reproduce aesthetic material more efficiently and effectively. But it’s the aim toward perfection that also reveals the gem of human imperfection.

Consider Star Trek and the flawed hero, Captain Kirk compared to the rational Spock.

This humanization of Kirk, with his imperfections and emotional responses, contrasts sharply with Spock’s logic and detachment, making Kirk’s character more relatable and his triumphs more inspiring. It is through Kirk’s journey of overcoming personal flaws and embracing his humanity that we find a deeper connection and see a reflection of our own struggles to achieve greatness amidst imperfection.

Herein lies the good news for artists and a closer look at what this elusive human touch actually is.

This insight into Captain Kirk’s character offers a valuable perspective on the essence of the human touch in art. Just as Kirk’s relatability stems from his imperfections and emotional depth, the human touch in art derives from the artist’s ability to convey vulnerability, complexity, and authenticity through their work. It’s this capacity for art to mirror the intricacies of the human condition—our struggles, emotions, and triumphs—that resonates deeply with audiences.

Heart on My Sleeve

One interesting illustration of this question of whether AI will replace artists can be found in the example of an AI-produced Drake song generated by TikTok user ghostwriter977. The song, entitled “Heart on My Sleeve,” appropriates the voice and musical style of rapper Drake and artist The Weekend.

Though the track has the aesthetic appeal we associate with Drake, and even though one could forget one is listening to an AI creation, head nods to the beat aside, I personally feel we fall well short of feeling truly inspired by the track. Its musical structure is repetitive and the lyrics are quite awkward. In General, the songwriting lacks the happy surprises, the wabi-sabi if you will, that gives the so-called element of surprise and the human touch.

Here, the question arises: now that we have AI Drake, do we still need the real Drake?

In The Diary of a CEO podcast, Mo Gawdat, discusses the example of Drake’s ‘Heart on my Sleeve’ and debates the necessity of Drake as an artist, if AI with the help of holograms can reproduce and out-perform similar human performers. Mo Gawdat insists that the only advantage humans have regarding their relevance in an AI generated landscape is Human Connection.

If listeners enjoy a song, does it matter if the emotions and voice they attribute to Drake are actually generated by an algorithm? Is it the emotional connection we believe to share with the artist, or is the aesthetic enjoyment of the art itself sufficient? While AI can mimic styles and even emotions to some extent, it lacks the lived experiences and personal narratives that often give art its depth and relatability.

The track’s inability to inspire despite its technical accuracy points to the essence of what truly elevates art: the presence of soul, unpredictability, and the raw, unfiltered expression of human emotion. It’s the imperfections, the deviations from the predictable, that often strike a chord, invoking a visceral response that AI, in its current state, struggles to achieve.

The Question of Authenticity

At the heart of the discussion of will AI replace artists is the issue of authenticity.

In the next decade, as our interactions with AI deepen, the potential for humans to personify AI and form connections with it raises intriguing questions about the nature of art and our relationship to it. We already see tendencies to humanize technology, not just to make it more relatable, but to ease the discomfort associated with the idea of being replaced by machines.

This humanization goes beyond aesthetics; it touches on our fundamental need for empathy and understanding, qualities deeply rooted in our interactions with art and each other.

Our ability to relate to the intent and experience of an artist plays a crucial role in how we engage with art. It allows us as viewers to internalize the issues presented, positioning ourselves as protagonists in a quest for meaning that resonates with our own human experiences. This dynamic interaction with art, where empathy and personal connection guide our interpretation and appreciation, underscores the value we place on the authenticity of the creator’s experience and intention.

Take for example British painter, David Hockney’s 1977 painting “My Parents,” which stands as a poignant reflection of his personal human experience, capturing an intimate moment with his parents in their home.

In this artwork, Hockney’s father is depicted seated and engrossed in a book, while his mother sits upright, attentively facing the viewer, creating a scene that is both ordinary in its domesticity and profound in its emotional depth. The composition reveals Hockney’s deep connection with his parents—his father’s intellectual pursuits and his mother’s steadfast presence—highlighting the individual personalities and the dynamic within the family. Through the lens of his personal life, Hockney invites viewers to reflect on their own familial relationships and the universal themes of love, aging, and the passage of time.

As AI begins to play a larger role in the creation of art, a critical question emerges: can the meaning conveyed by AI-generated art ever be perceived as genuine, or will it always be viewed as contrived, a product of algorithms rather than authentic experience?

Will AI replace Artists?

Even if technological advancements lead us to relate more closely to AI, distinguishing between art born from human emotion and experience and that generated by AI remains a fundamental challenge. The crux of the matter lies not in the capability of AI to produce art that mimics human creativity in form and innovation but in the depth of connection and the authenticity of experience that art facilitates.

Thus, the issue of will AI replace artists strikes at the core of what we consider to be genuine artistry, challenging our traditional understanding that art must be a direct manifestation of human experience, emotion, and creativity.

Will this still be the case in 10 years? Will humans become so conditioned to AI that we eventually come to relate to it on a human level? Will AI replace artists in the end?

As of now, artists continue to contribute profoundly to the human experience, a reality that leaves us questioning the future role of AI in creative fields. While it’s challenging to predict with certainty, my hope is that the unique essence and irreplaceable value of human creativity will endure.

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