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Deus ex machina

Or why we need to have this talk again

Yes my friends. that time of the year is here. The time, when we look back at things, get sad for no reason, and ignore it all with a good party, drugs, sex, presents, food, the whole package of it all. That time when we look away from our problems and hug whoever we have around and give and take wishes. But let's not forget the important stuff: war, hunger, social unrest. The world sucked 2022, at least for me, more than ever, and, boy, do I wish a new year meant a new life. This time, I want to say something short before the year come to an end, and this time it's about AI.

I think we already had this talk

With the upcoming raise of AI™ (whatever that means), my instagram, artstation, and what feels as the whole world has been in an uproar: text to image AI image generators are here and they are bad news for artists. Why you ask? That is a very good question, and I'm glad you asked:

  • It turns out that machine learning models have been feeding on public but copyrighted images without offering any acknowledgement or remuneration to the copyright holders.
  • It turns out these models are being used to generate profit.
  • It turns out that now everyone with 2 minutes and some pocket money can generate ridiculously good looking images

And these are mean quite some trouble for artists, as now apparently literally everyone can copycat and distribute their art without having to pay them as much as attention, let alone a lonesome penny - no skill, hardware, patience, or creativity required. Or so the idea at least. But let's take a minute and go back in time, maybe some 20 years.

The older among us sure remember the time when Photoshop® hit, the world of art and was all the rage, because suddenly people - everyone with some time and the software, bought or pirated - was able to fake photography and even paintings without having the most basic skills to hold a brush or a camera. But as time passed computer graphics, illustrations, and even retouching became an integral part of what we commonly call art (whatever that means). And now, in the year of out Lord 2022, it is hard to picture a serious art institution that doesn't include digital art in its repertoire, one way of another. Hell, even AR and VR are a thing in old school museums nowadays. But the beginning was rough, we shouldn't forget.

When it comes to design and streamlining production, we now look fondly at designer houses, be it fashion, product design, or even 'basic' packaging design. The fact that design powerhouses like Apple®, Pantone® and Tesla® are celebrated as art is something that we would be wrong to take as given. From a perspective of a the time before Bauhaus and before industrialization, such industries, where to crafting is involved would be rather considered soulless than glamorous. And that, in fact, seems to be the case of our perception of AI Image generators.

And the list goes on, the transitions from theater to cinema, from analogue to digital photography, from silent films to sound films were not always seen in a positive light and yet today, they are an integral part of the world art.

We need to have this talk again

As happy as I am to be more active on the traditional side of the art spectrum, a part that is inherently neither streamlined nor fungible, being just happy about it would be stupid, because one day it will be, or even worse, the craft will be obsolete, like repairing writing machines or nursing donkeys. I consider myself lucky, but that doesn't mean that I think things are good the way they are.

Personally, I consider myself quite old school. Despite being a software developer, I just recently left my pen and paper for the PC for doing my writing. It was probably around 6 years ago that I made the shift. Not even a writing machine would do it, and old fountain pen and good old rough paper were my companions for many years. Hell, even the thought of publishing my poetry in a blog (as I do now) was something I was completely against. Written words are as fungible as a copy + paste. Ideas paraphrasable, rhymes rehearsable. That was also the reason why it took so long for me to transition from pencil drawing to illustration. Not being afraid of learning something new, but the fear of having the product of my hard work stolen. And this is, as far as I can say, the real problem with text to image AI image generators: They make the already incredibly hard life of artists even harder. Social media offered a good platform for self publishing...of any kind and of everyone else's content, making creating content an often anonymous endeavor. Now, on top of the struggling with being seen, artists have to fear aswell been robbed of their works, meaning producing more and posting more often (the basics for growing your social media) now doesn't mean a growing followers and making better business, but basically means working more for free. and, speaking about working for free, any freelance designers among you? I mean, how often have you not provided 'work samples' for free in order to land a gig and the never hear back? That work, is also unpaid work and is more often than not, used by the requester.

We need to talk again. And as many times as necessary. Because the problem is not the technical feat of creating magic-like image generators, the problem is the mentality that content is free as long as it's public. That art is not a real job and that creative work is just a hobby and that anyone can do. They more you try, the more you realize what a struggle it is. This is the problem: exploitation.

For me, art is a therapy a go through and I offer for anyone interested. A dialogue no machine, with or without soul can offer. And I will be damned, but this time I'll have to side with the postmoderns: The process is as much art as the product. Sometimes is good to be wrong. And adversity makes strange bedfellows. Maybe harnessing the power of AI will be the 10th art, or the 20th? I don't know, I lost count after comics, video games and a tattoos... in any case have a good year and a good life.

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