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Artificial Intelligence: art, artist or medium?

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Artificial Intelligence: art, artist or medium?

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Generative artificial intelligence puts us in front of a debate that shakes the entire creative sector

It is possible to say that art has always resorted to technology to materialize itself in the world. An artist’s expression may be possible through a brush, a gouge, an organic material or a computer.

However, the relationship between art and technology is the protagonist of debates about its limits in each new language, just as photography shook the artistic scene in the 19th century, the arrival of generative Artificial Intelligences, such as ChatGPT, Midjourney and Dall-E, moves the controversies of current days.

These are tools that generate images from texts or other images and place us in front of a moment in the history of art in which technology does not appear only as an extension of the body but acts as the artist’s cognition, it concentrates the creative process, and that is why it shakes artists, the market, researchers and the public.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) It is the field of science that studies, develops and uses machines to carry out human activities autonomously. Despite appearing strongly in recent years for having impacted various sectors of society and changing the functioning of countless companies, its studies date back to the 1950s.

The definitive infiltration of Artificial Intelligences in the artistic circuit happened in 2018, the year in which the first art of AI was sold for 432 thousand dollars in the renowned English auction house Christie’s. Those responsible for the work were the Parisian collective OBVIOUSwhich brings together three researchers, artists and friends interested in exploring the creative potential of artificial intelligence.

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Collective Obvious, from left to right: Gauthier Vernier, Hugo Caselles-Dupré and Pierre Fautrel. Image: obvious-art.com

Edmond de Belamy (2018) was the work auctioned, and it is the last of eleven portraits that were made for the series The Belamy Familythe family tree of a fictional family with classic European aesthetics.

Edmond De Belamy (2018), Obvious. GAN algorithm and printing on canvas. Image: Wikipedia.

To create this and the other ten portraits, an algorithm was fed with image data from other works of art and existing portraits – created by humans and analogue technologies – and then the machine was trained to create new images from the association of these data. . There are five creation steps: select the subject, data curation, build the algorithm, select the output, that is, how the image should be built, in this case, as a portrait and select the media.

Edmond De Belamy (2018), Obvious. GAN algorithm and printing on canvas. Image: Wikipedia.

With this case it is already possible to observe some points of discussion. Based on these five steps for creating the image, it can be seen that even if the machine has some autonomy, it still needs human help in most stages of the process.

Artist Bruno Moreschi, in an interview with the newspaper of the Catholic University of Pernambuco (2020), also points out a problem of bias, we often attribute neutrality to technology, however, “at the beginning of AI we had a lot of people with different ideologies and opinions cataloging these images. Indirectly, all labeling, in some instance, was interpreted by humans in precarious working conditions. The field of contemporary image goes through this mediation of a remote worker, who says if this is art or not, if it is important or not, if it is violent or not or even if it is pornographic or not. (…)”.

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We also have an authorship problem, after all who is responsible: the collective that trained the algorithm? The algorithm? The programmers? In the case of the portrait, in place of the artist’s name was the signature and the equation that was used to generate it.

Detail of the signature of the work Edmond de Belamy (2018). Imagem:Timothy A. Clary—AFP/Getty Images

The problem of authorship also involves the images used in the creation process, an ethical and legal debate. Artists Sarah Andersen, Kelly McKernan and Karla Ortiz filed a class action lawsuit this year in the United States against Stability AI, Midjourney and Deviant Art because their works were used to train robots without their respective authorizations.

Hod Lipson, professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Creative Machines Laboratory at Columbia University in New York, is working on the project in which robots paint physical oil canvases and argues that we are seeing the birth of a new genre of visual art. And it was an ultra-realistic robot-painting that marked the 59th Venice Art Biennale, in 2022.

Ai-da robot. Image: DW / Deutsche Welle

Named after computer pioneer Ada Lovelace, Ai-Da was built and finished in 2019 by a team of programmers, psychologists, and experts in art and robotics. When exposed, she responds to the public’s questions while performing her paintings. The result of her production ends up in the background, since the attraction seems to be the robot itself, so that the artist plays the role of an artistic object.

Robot Ai-da painting. Image: disclosure.

The robot Ai-da brings us to another point of debate, which is the critic. How can art experts judge a production based on algorithms? Criticism is not yet ready to categorically evaluate these works, the research is under construction and it is the critic’s role to also reflect on whether the suppression of subjectivity in the creative process still operates in a sensitive sphere of society or if it only offers a dazzle with the technical preciosity.

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Artificial intelligence involves a grouping of several technologies to simulate complex human activities such as learning capacity, problem solving, language understanding and decision making, but there is no perspective that reaches subjective levels of sensitivity and expression, so it is not the time to sentence art to death.

Art is dialectical, its meaning has never been easy to delimit and it is always renewed, Fabrizio Augusto Poltronieri, artist and professor at the Institute of Creative Technologies at De Montfort University, in Leicester, England, reveals, optimistically, in a live from the Pontifical Universidade Católica de São Paulo: “What really interests me and what I think is the state of the art in production and research on artificial intelligence and creativity is the development of methods, methodologies of artistic making, of creative making, where artificial intelligence works as a real-time collaborator for artists”.

The excessive cult of technology cannot be replaced by the sensitivity that only humans are endowed with, the fascination needs to be followed by criticism, in this way it is possible, as the professor points out, to use tools and methods in a libertarian and non-resigned way.

Giovanna Gregório holds a degree in Art: History, Criticism and Curatorship from PUC-SP. Independent researcher and critic.

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