But Is It Art?

ai art artificial intelligence creators future music writing Feb 12, 2024
Blog post: But Is It Art?

We’ve all seen the headlines: “Have ChatGPT write a best-selling book for you in seconds!” “I make $100,000 a month from one post written with ChatGPT!” Unless you are very young or very desperate (or both), you immediately see these click-bait gimmicks for what they are. In case you are very young or desperate, I will gently break the news to you: AI isn’t going to replace Neil Gaiman (or John Williams, or Roger Dean) anytime soon. AI is a powerful tool to be sure. But is it art?

Artificial Intelligence is - at this point at least - somewhat of a misnomer. Large Language Models (LLMs), including Generative Pre-trained Transformers (hence the “GPT”), analyze massive amounts of data and then generate strings of words based on a user’s prompt. (Hey, my doctoral training is in clinical psychology, not computer science; don’t judge.) This hardly constitutes “intelligence,” but it can be incredibly useful.

What AI Can’t Do

Here’s an idea: I’ll ask ChatGPT (version 4, at this time) to write me a best-selling book that will make me millions of dollars. Let’s see what it says, straight from the transistors’ mouth:

Me: “Good morning, ChatGPT. Could you please write a best-selling book that will make me millions of dollars (USD)? Thanks in advance.”

ChatGPT: “While I can't guarantee a bestseller or the financial success of a book, I can certainly help you brainstorm and outline a concept that has potential based on current trends, genres that often see success, and elements that typically engage readers.”

Darn it.

But there it is - the GPT itself answers our basic question: this is a great tool to outline concepts, and present trends and elements from the Internet and other sources it has referenced in its ”training” phases.

What followed was a bullet-point list of how to organize and research book topics to then make your creation of the book easier. This seemingly subtle distinction tells us everything we need to know about what AI can - and cannot - do.

Artificial Evolution

Back in the barely-post-primoridal-soup days, when the Earth was young, we researched our writing by…reading. Books. I’m speaking, of course, about the misty dawn of time, B.G. (Before Google.)

Back then, the literature review for a dissertation or peer-reviewed paper, or the research for a non-fiction book was an arduous undertaking, in many cases as lengthy as the actual writing of the paper or book.

We had these things called card catalogs, which gave us little pieces of paper that referenced a very limited (only a couple of thousand, in a large library) number of books and journals that we then had to read, after we walked - sometimes upstairs (!) - to manually pull them from shelves stacked with other books and journals.

Up-hill both ways, in the snow.

We then typed the book - one page at a time - on typewriters (kind of like computers, but no screen.)

But the next step in this evolution was monumental.

Also Sprach Google

(Cue the Strauss…) Google enabled us to get an enormous number of references - many of dubious quality and provenance, to be sure - on just about any subject, in a matter of seconds. I clearly remember trying to “stump Google” and watching in disbelief as it pumped out thousands of references in a second or two.

No walking, climbing or shelf-pulling was involved.

And we then typed the piece on a computer, where we could correct typos (if we caught them) without even inserting a new piece of paper (and carbon paper, if we wanted a copy). Holy crap, where was this when I was completing my degrees?

Yes, I’m old: respect your elders and learn from the trials and tribulations of those who came before.

Before long, the number of references increased exponentially. (I just typed “artificial intelligence” into a Google search box and got 2.15 billion results. In three-tenths of a second.) And to make things even more amazing, the word processors we used would underline (red squiggles for misspelling and blue squiggles for possible grammatical infractions) typos and other mistakes.

No more excuses for spelling and grammar mistakes, right? Not quite. As a professor, I still receive papers from students with more red stripes than the US flag.

But I digress.

Welcome Your Personal Research Assistant

Back then, even after Google did all the heavy research lifting, we still were tasked with organizing the research, inserting it into the text, and applying the correct format (typically MLS or APA, according to the discipline and professors’ inclinations).

Now, I engage ChatGPT - or one of many other contemporary LLMs - and we get right to work. After some small-talk, of course.

“Hey, CGPT,” I might say - we are on a rather casual first-name basis now - “Give me 20 references from peer-reviewed journals published in the last 24 months on the efficacy of selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors as impacts the serotonergic hypothesis of depression.” “Oh, and format those in accordance with the current publication guidelines of the American Psychiatric Association.” “And make me some tea.”

And then - after it apologizes for its (nearly inexcusable) inability to make tea - I get exactly what I needed. In a matter of seconds, perfectly formatted and no squiggles. Except for the occasional author’s name, because my word processors aren’t as smart as CGPT yet.

And this miraculous assistant is immeasurably faster than a human, for pennies in total cost. No IRAs, 401(k) plans, health benefits or worker’s comp insurance needed.

And (almost) no mistakes.

And There’s More

I am an artist. Specifically, I am a writer and a musician (and I dabble in content creation, namely podcasts, videos and social media posts). I am clearly and emphatically not a graphic or “fine” artist.  If I need some sort of drawing, painting or photograph, I am at the mercy (and expense) of someone who is trained and - one hopes - gifted in such matters.

Until now!

My new best friend, Midjourney, has relieved me of that burden. If I need an image, I tell Midjourney - a sort of ChatGPT for visual images - what I’m thinking and it synthesizes a number of varied results for my viewing pleasure. The images are created - pixel-by-pixel - from a gargantuan number of references at its disposal, according to my prompt. If the pictures  aren’t quite what I had envisioned, it will try again, over and over, without complaint.

In many cases, the images it produces - in the colors, style and aspect ratio I desire - are far beyond what I imagined and I happily go with “its” version. I have dubbed this seemingly miraculous production of stunning visual images “A(I)rt.”

Do I care if the images are pieced together from other (mostly, at this point, human) works? I do not. I need some representative images to use in my branding and marketing. And for this, Midjourney is spectacularly, addictively, well-suited.

But Is It Art?

There are and will be many competitors for and versions of ChatGPT and Midjourney. Each iteration will continue to be jaw-droppingly better than its predecessor. The ever-increasing speed and variety of the computers’ output will enable more accurate approximations of actual human creation.

While YMMV, I do not consider these amalgamations - no matter how impressive - to be art (that’s why I call it A(I)rt). Not, at least, in the magnitude of art created by humans.

What I do appreciate is the vast savings of time for tasks both mundane (research, formatting) and out of my personal skill set (graphic art). All of this frees up my time and resources so I can do what I do best.

Create art.

(By the way, the following image was produced by Midjourney from the prompt: "AI generating art. --style raw --stylize 50 --ar 16:9")

I am a creator (musician, writer, live-streamer and podcaster), entrepreneur, educator and counselor.

 To learn more about how to use these concepts or to inquire about working with me, you can contact me through my website, the comments section on my Substack or Medium accounts or The Authentic Life Blog page. If you have found value in this article, consider following my Instagram and X (formerly Twitter) accounts. To support this community, you can even Buy Me A Coffee or donate through my Patreon account.

 Subscribe to my River of Creation podcast - The Podcast for Creators, and my associated YouTube channel, coming later this year, wherever you download your podcasts.



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