Art Not Art #3 – Power

This is the third in a series of #WorkingOutLoud posts considering the evolution of art in the age of the Art Engines: the disruptive technologies of AI generation and concomitant debates about creativity, value, and purpose. In this work i seek to be deliberately fluid in my own understanding and position, and predominantly to experiment with new ways of viewing the rapidly evolving (or solidifying) debate. With that in mind, today i want to consider art as power, and the disruption or re-authoring of the system.

Perhaps historically there has been ‘value’ in being a technically brilliant artist, as measured by one’s ability to reproduce or represent reality with great accuracy, or to manipulate materials in creative and expressive ways, or simply to conjure up illustrations of the imagination. Partly this may have been judged by the output, and partly by the clear amount of effort and talent that would recognisably have gone into learning how to do this.

On those rare occasions when savants were able to create ‘from scratch’, with little training, they would be recognised as an oddity. For most, the pathway to recognition would be long, and in many cases posthumous.

On the other end of the spectrum we created a secondary market in art that was valued because it recognisably opposed, or denied, or fractured, this ‘technical’ view. This would be a more modern view of art: the infamous unmade bed, monochrome canvases, and pop type art churned out in volumes (denying the uniqueness of the ‘original’). Partly this was itself a reflection of the technologies of mass representation (cameras) and production (printing and latterly the broadcast media.

Somewhere around the edges of this would be graffiti: claimed voices, itself representing a spectrum of ability from the very simplest of tags, to the most complex, dangerous, and ambitious murals or post ups. Nobody spent a lifetime learning to tag. It was the entry point, not the destination.

Whilst the languages of art have been varied, they have used the same alphabet: creativity has been limited by ability, and value has tended to be relative: so one Old Master is worth more than another dependent upon scarcity, or worth more than a pop poster dependent upon cultural elitism (and again scarcity). Exceptions have tended to prove this rule, so a ‘Banksy’ may be worth a lot, but probably because it’s been superimposed into a different market. No longer graffiti, but graffiti as art.

So what of the Art Engines?

Able to consume ‘art’ (if not in it’s entirety, then certainly to a recognisably large part of it), they have learnt to speak in all these languages in short order (if you ignore the entire history of silicon that led up to this point). But more than that, perhaps they have, as they found their voice, changed the alphabet itself, fractured the power.

Removing any (or most) traditional notion of ‘skill’ or indeed of incremental development from the act of creation arguably has reset part of the system.

Graffiti need no longer be naive if, with the same few words, we can speak in the historic languages.

Maybe naivety, simplicity, scrawls and runs now become a design choice, dictated, more so than a developmental pathway or judgement on ability.

Perhaps everyone if fluent, and hence the distinguishing marks of talent will be judged anew?

We may argue that there is a world of difference between a Rembrandt, rendered in three dimensions, layers of paint, and a hi res creation on my iPad. But that in itself is not sacred.

It leads us to question on which surface value truly lies: is it the top layer, the brush strokes, the discernible lines and traces of hair, or the subsurface, or the wood or canvas underneath? Or the whole? Or is it something else, intangible? Is it the artists breath that dried the paint? The sweat that dropped on the canvas?

If 3d printing can produce both layered substrate and surface, rendered eventually in diverse materials, will the same value be captured?

What if the ‘new’ Rembrandt was indistinguishable from the original? Down to the structural level?  Where does the sacred lie?

This is not too far flung: the engines currently powering the latest starships have 3d printed chambers that could not be produced by legacy manufacturing: and hence were not conceived of.

In this new dynamic, what if everyone can produce identically ‘brilliant’ art, not just digitally, but physically? Is all that is left the imbued value?

This itself is a reasonable argument: if everyone could produce a painting as technically brilliant as a Rembrandt, the original would still probably be worth more, just because it is the original. Markets seek out scarcity.

But what of the language of art itself?

Diluted, corrupted, or freed from the shackles of talent?

If the creation (digital or physical) is democratised, will we see new dialects of art emerge? Will art become as prolific as music? Served on demand by a 3d printer enabled Homepod?

Hey Alexa, paint me beauty? Hey Siri, make art?

Perhaps art can become a closed loop recycled system, where the artefact is devalued entirely into it’s constituent and reusable molecules? Where all that is kept is the imbued value and shadows?

Perhaps art simply becomes vernacular: an everyday language, not an elitist one?

It took the plague in the fourteenth century to kill the scholars to make latin a secondary language, to break the elitism of the feudal system. Perhaps it is the Art Engines that will do the same for the language of art today?

Perhaps we will retain the old as simply a quaint subset of a much larger emergent new?

Remember when we ‘made art? When now we just speak it?

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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