The Impact of Generative AI on Art and Human Meaning

robotpaintingWhat does it mean to be an artist today, when generative AI is able to create images and videos better than most artists can? To answer this question, we must look back at what art was and meant during the rise of Modernism in the early 20th century. This era was replete with scientific discoveries and technological miracles. At that time, the world was drinking from a firehose of innovations: electricity, the combustion engine, the incandescent light bulb, the automobile, the airplane, radio, X-rays… the world was changing so quickly that artists had to re-define art continuously just to keep up. Sound familiar?

At that time, the most impactful invention in the art world was the invention of the daguerreotype in 1839. It revolutionized image-making by offering a quicker and more accurate method of capturing reality. The great painter J.M.W. Turner, after seeing what camera could do, said, “This is the end of Art. I am glad I have had my day.”

But here’s the thing… even though portraiture was a significant driver for early adoption of cameras, portrait painting actually experienced an upswing after the invention of photography. This was because there was a broadening of interest in portraiture that increased the overall market. Thus, photography didn’t kill art, art subsumed photography.

Just as the pearl is intrinsic to the oyster, art is intrinsic to our humanity. Every time something has threatened art, it has not only survived, but these challenges forced artist to deconstruct and rethink the meaning of art. Similarly, art will use AI as the irritant that drives humanity even deeper toward increasingly bold and expansive expressions of itself.

Consider the revolutionary act of Marcel Duchamp taking a manufactured urinal, and then declaring it to be art. In doing so, Duchamp expanded the definition of what art and the artist are. Duchamp’s response helped society to transition from defining art by what an artist produces, to something entirely conceptual. If you think about it, generative AI produces the 21st century equivalent of the Readymade.

And so, AI is ushering in a new era of artistic possibility, and will certainly lead to the emergence of a new school of art. Let’s call it Generativism! This new school of art will certainly push the boundaries of what is considered human creativity, and eventually, it will force artist to consider more deeply what it means to be an artist. Because AI can turn every human being into an artist, Generativism will liberate humanity from the tyranny of talent.

So how can artists be successful an age where anyone can create art? How can one become the Picasso or Pollock of the Generativist art movement? You can do so by thinking harder about why your art matters? How will your art conveys the full spectrum of the human experience. As the Modernist playwright and author Emile Zola said, “If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I am here to live out loud.” How will AI help you live life out loud?

If you'd like to delve deeper into this issue, please feel free to download and read by (draft) paper on this topic: On Human Creativity and Meaning.