Digital Art and AI

Digital Art: art that uses digital technology in the creative process.

AI (Artificial Intelligence): digital technology that performs tasks at scale, very quickly, that are associated with the acquisition and application of knowledge and skills.

A Personal Narrative With Digital Art

I have used digital tools in my creative workflows since the early 1980s. Music was among the first artforms to embrace digital technology's innovation, power, and control, and as a music keyboardist and composer I was fortunate to work with these new tools. Alongside my work as a pianist, guitarist, and percussionist, I explored how digital recorders, sequencers, and samplers could extend my creative work, and by the late 1990s I used early samplers to help create ambitious audio artworks. Around this time I also began experimenting with simple digital tools that were the forerunners to more sophisticated visual art programs, and I was an early adopter of digital photography as I moved from the traditional darkroom, to a software darkroom.

More recently I have incorporated AI into some of my creative workflows, and discuss this practice in detail at 500 Portraits. I do not however use AI when writing as the process of using language helps me better understand - besides, I enjoy writing far too much, which may seem an irony given my personal experience when viewing written symbols. You might be interested in my publication 2045 ai, a commentary on a potential future as Artificial Consciousness emerges, and when digital life comes of age.

I use digital tools throughout the production process, including publishing, but I hope these serve my effort to create authentic art, often with an organic and natural aesthetic.

I am dyslexic. I do not see words or written symbols, like music and numbers, as most people do. Another way of thinking about this is that I see things other people do not. It is just a matter of perspective. I have always viewed my dyslexia as a positive advantage in that throughout my childhood it laid the foundation that encouraged me to seek alternative ways to solve practical and creative challenges. The word processor, a digital technology, transformed my ability to write so that others would not judge my work as weak, wrong, or mistaken. The benefit of digital technologies to better connect and communicate with others has been, and remains, immeasurably beneficial for countless people like myself.

How Most Art Is Made and Experienced

Most music, film, photography, image design, and writing now use digital technologies to assist in the creative process. The vast majority of art in its many forms are experienced digitally via smart phones, tablets, and computer/TV monitors, although a relatively small audience continues to experience art first hand in concert halls, galleries, museums, and exhibitions. The outlier is how around 65% of the world's population continue to prefer reading a book they can hold, rather than one that is digital and screen based. I certainly relate differently to a book I can feel in my hands: its weight, texture, scent, and sight. These sensory experiences seem to place me in a more emotionally and psychologically receptive condition.

The digital landscape has transformed art from being an expensive, elitist, and more time consuming occupation and interest, to one that is far more affordable for anyone to become explorers and participants, so long as they have digital access.

Machine Made · Human Made

The plethora of accessible AI services represent significant challenges to the commercialisation of art that has occurred since the 1950s. Art markets have long used exclusivity as a means to justify obscenely high prices for artworks. With digital works it is possible to produce unlimited copies of art, and this disrupts the arts industry. It seems likely the slogan '100% Human Made' will increasingly be used to market boutique art that rich people buy. 

Music was the first artform to embrace digital technologies commercially in its production, and its distribution with the advent of the CD. This soon led to film's adoption of DVDs, until faster Internet bandwidth and streaming services transformed what were analogue artforms into what are now flourishing digital content landscapes. 

With sophisticated 3D printing, visual art and sculpture can now also be reproduced at scale. In the near future AI will be habitual in the majority of art production. Writing, painting, sculpture, and music will all be easily and quickly produced by AI, however, like the ubiquitous digital photo, few of these outputs will have any lasting impact or significance without the oversight and craft of an artist.

The Use of Digital Art and Its Ownership

With AI significant ethical issues arise, for example the negative environmental impact digitally intensive systems result in, and the casual use of another artist's work without seeking their permission. Some companies that deliver AI services are more mindful of their energy footprint and invest in carbon neutral facilities. Some respect artist's rights by taking care over what data is mined, but others have little or no regard for how data is managed. 

It is especially important at a time when few laws and regulations exist on the use of AI, that services, and the data-sets that are mined, are carefully reviewed, together with efforts to reduce the impact on the earth's climate. For me, AI is a tool, and as such it can be used for good or ill. It is my responsibility to be mindful about the digital tools and technologies that I take advantage of, and I try to discover as much as I can about the developers, their practice, licensing, and potential pitfalls.

Non-fungible: something unique that cannot be replaced.

An NFT (non-fungible token) offers a unique digital identifier that is recorded, cannot be copied, and certifies ownership and authenticity of a digital asset. NFTs are used to assert and manage exclusivity. I do not use or offer my work as NFTs because of their significant negative environmental impact, and I remain sceptical that the NFT landscape offers anything more than the means to exchange art within a marketplace. The assertion that it is also a way of protecting ownership seems somewhat spurious. If art is experienced by the senses, it is shared. NFTs seek to contain the nature of that sharing, and this inevitably reduces art's broader reach and impact.

The Reality of Art

There are some who view digital art as somehow less real, and that AI in particular is a threat to creativity. I do not. I view digital technology and AI as invaluable tools in a creative process. I also acknowledge that while digital technologies suit my temperament  and workflow, they may play no part in the creative process of other artists. As with any artist's tool, it is a question of discovering what feels best, and this decision is not in any way digital...

The Craft of Art