Art Not Art

Berlin is a city of graffiti: you do not have to walk far to find something scrawled, painted, or posted upon the wall. By a human hand.

It’s easy to come down on the wrong side of a debate: bound to our legacy views, unwilling to embrace change, or simply to lethargic to be open to new thoughts. But when it comes to art, i think it’s a human endeavour.

Like many, despite a technical understanding of the ‘how’, i still find myself amazed by the outputs of the latest generation of Art Engines, which have now attained a level of quality and more importantly proliferation, which is threatening to fracture a domain.

I understand that these images are technically magnificent, and i could make a compelling argument that they are even an act of creativity (or similarly i could happily argue why they are not), but today i feel that sit on the side of the fence that says they are not art.

Certainly there is input: a few words, some direction, and a serious amount of creative programming and conception. Perhaps my discomfort lies in the level of abstraction?

For many years popular digital art programmes have layered on line smoothing and blending, enhanced the natural movement of the hand with processed imagery. We are quite some way from pencil on paper by now. But art has tended to be a visual and spatial activity (separately i may write about the automation of music, poetry, and prose). And now it is not.

To be able to conjure up an image, almost magically by speaking it, is truly incredible. And to be able to refine it with a few syllables: this is a paradigm moment whereby the imagination is made real, at scale.

So linguistically it may be art. But for me it is not.

It’s not about quality, nor technology, but perhaps of art as practice.

I remember moments: sat in a churchyard, sketching stones, trying to draw water, an oil painting of the sunset, sat on top of my Land Rover in the middle of the forest, drawing boats from a moving boat, watercolours in Vienna where it was so cold that the paint froze, and the act of holding the first crayon with my son.

I will never be a good artist, but i will spend a lifetime in practice. And that is not something to be dismissed. Striving is part of our human condition, and i say that not as a matter of philosophy, but of humanity.

I can argue that there is a place for generated imagery: it should have it’s own fora and shows, it’s own books and exhibitions. But in my current understanding, it is not creative, and it is so abstracted that it is not art.

I realise people may try to trip me up on semantics: how can something be art, but not art. And they are right to do so. But my understanding, as yours, is held in my own head. And for me, this is not art.

Wonderful, compelling, incredible. And yet without soul, without movement, without place.

Think of that graffiti: how would we feel if there were a little street robot, rolling around and posting up digitally printed posters? How about if i could text it a command to graffiti the Brandenburg Gate? How about if that text were anonymised? If we remove the illegality and physicality of graffiti, do we also abstract it’s power? I may return to this idea, but for now, i’m off to explore the city, to find the human.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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3 Responses to Art Not Art

  1. Donald Clark says:

    As you rightly reflect, it depends on your theory of art. Consistently over the last several centuries people have drawn a line around what is art (cue aesthetics debate), only for that line to be broken – modernism… endless isms, Duchamp, Dada, Surrealists, Warhol…. As you no doubt predict, I’m on the other side of that line! The human/not human line is no longer a line. In music it went long ago. That’s why we find AI images so interesting, they use Transformers that capture human dimensions but produce things that perhaps humans could not.

    • julianstodd says:

      I get that argument: i just wonder if that negates all lines, essentially losing any sense of definition. To have meaning do things need an edge?

      • Donald Clark says:

        The Institutional theory of art “it is what people commonly agree it is” assumes no lines. If they need edge then that’s 90% of what’s happening ion hte arts at hte moment out of the window. It’s become the new establishment, recycling the same old themes.

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