This might be a tad odd and unexpected coming from an artist who primarily works digitally and has been a champion of the medium over the last decade. Not so much now. In my own digital art, I’ve moved about as close to using physical mediums as possible. My most recent digital drawing is 100% drawn by hand using a stylus and tablet, requires the same skills as making a physical drawing, and is also based on my own past charcoal drawing technique.
Part 1: The Future of Visual Art May be Physical
AI is killing digital art. AI is better at it, and being the super-genius mimic that it is, even I have to question whether a lot of the images I see are AI, digital, or physical.
At present, I have very little interest in AI art and quite a lot of aversion toward it. I maintain that it is great for exploring visual possibilities, and sometimes I feel like most artists would benefit from spending weeks playing around with it. I speak from experience. I also insist that it is possible to do wholly original work only using AI. Of course it is. You can make art out of rocks on the beach, milk cartons, a piece of fruit taped to a wall, having yourself shot in the arm by a sharpshooter, and using any possible means of creative expression.
But for the broad spectrum of visual artists who love drawing and painting, such as myself — at heart I’ve always been a drawer and painter — AI and even things like Beeple uploading other people’s digital models and arranging them in Cinema 4D just allow for a level of cheating that serves to invalidate not only itself but unfairly anything that remotely looks like it.
Below, an artist on Twitter shared his “non-artist” wife’s 3rd effort at using the popular AI art-bot, MidJourney:
Hs is a high-level professional digital artist. Do read what he had to say in his tweet. The result of his wife’s fledgling minutes of effort looks like someone modeled it in Blender, Zbrush, or another digital sculpting program. Note that I would also recommend that many artists dedicate a month or more to learning the basics of Blender, a free powerhouse of a digital sculpting program, even if AI can kick their butts at it, just to develop their 3D spatial awareness. I speak again from experience.
Compare the rendering above to something one of my favorite Blender tutorial creators recently shared:
I highly recommend Ryan’s Blender tutorials. They are very easy to follow along with compared to others. He’s been making Blender tutorials for over 3 years, and his dedication to learning the software, acquiring essential art skills, and churning out tutorials is remarkable. However, his results for modeling figures cannot compete with Paul Massey’s wife’s several minutes of playing around with MidJourney for the first time. Incidentally, AI is also learning to use Blender, so you can in the future type something in a prompt, and AI will create the result by going through all the stages using software.
I have a lot more practice at drawing than Ryan, because among other things I have an MFA in art, so when I do one of his organic sculpting tutorials, I get a bit more elaborate results. Here’s a tutorial of his I did in February of 2021:
And here are my results:
My sculpt is more refined [compare the eyelids], even if Ryan is much better at Blender, because I have decades of drawing practice. But I also can’t compete with AI.
Below is one of many people who have started to explore using ChatGPT to write promts to dump into MJ [MidJourney 5]. MJ is now so sophisticated that it can create realistic photographs in seconds.
The results are incredible. And I absolutely think it is worth exploring AI creatively. What AI can do with photographs, it can also do with paintings, prints, and so on, though that is getting less attention right now for somewhat obvious reasons.
What is abundantly clear is that you don’t need to be any good at art or photography at all and don’t need any experience to get superior results that most artists and photographers can’t hope to compete with. That is already the case, but it will be much more so with the coming rollouts. Not just MidJourney, but Open AI, Google, Adobe, and Microsoft are all throwing their energies into creating AI art bots that will trounce humans once and for all. New versions are coming out weekly. Just imagine, if our civilization hasn’t collapsed, joining every prior civilization, what AI art will look like a decade from now.
Should kids be bothering to study art? Or anything? You are better off doing anything that requires physical presence, such as plumbing, than intellectual pursuits that AI can mimic passably well for an infinitesimal cost to an employer. That is, until the robots replace those jobs as well.
People are now using AI, by the way, to write scripts for art history videos, and then use computer voices to narrate them. They outperform my art videos. AI can write art criticism. AI can be used to read all of my posts and write future ones in my voice, but for someone else to do in order to take over my career using AI, casting me to the wayside of invisibility, if not ignominy. Jordan Peterson used AI to assimilate his book “Twelve Rules for Life”, then had it write a 13th chapter. After AI churned out the result in several seconds, Jordon concluded, “It isn’t obvious to me, for better or worse, that I would be able to tell that I didn’t write it”.
I’m not that pleased with Peterson lately, as he’s gone from a more independent thinker to a card-carrying member of the conservative party. I find his anti-vegan rants particularly troubling and ignorant on the topic. But he is an expert in psychiatry, and his attestation that AI could write his own material well enough to fool him is well worth taking seriously.
I’ve been struggling with AI art bots and AI in general for years, but especially in the last year since AI started getting phenomenally good at art knockoffs. I used to think we human artists could beat it. But I underestimated the pace of technological advancement, which is exponentially increasing. New developments come faster and faster. And so within a number of months, AI went from not being able to do eyes or hands and completely butchering faces to making images that are nearly indistinguishable from photographs. If I project into the future based on the last six months, humans don’t have a chance against AI.
That can be very depressing, though I never really got depressed about it. I would say it unnerved and upset me, but I’m not Jordan Peterson, and perhaps I can’t really evaluate my own psychology. In just the last few days, however, hopelessness of sorts—I’ve never given up on myself as an artist, and I’ve been smashed repeatedly—has been replaced by acceptance. Of course AI is smarter than us. We can’t compete with machines at speed, power, repetitive physical tasks, math, chess, and all sorts of other things we already accept. At least we can take credit for creating the damned machines and neural networks.
Art, like everything else, becomes something that ultimately we can’t compete at against machines/computers/AI power. When AI is as powerful as physical chips and whatnot can contain, we already plan on moving to some sort of subatomic processing. Don’t ask me how it works. Just ask ChatGPT-4. And so we are pitting ourselves against unimaginable power. In the near future, driverless cars will be able to defeat any human driver at the Daytona 500. The Top Gun won’t be a pilot remotely resembling Tom Cruise, but an invisible algorithm.
Nobody tries to compete with a crane at lifting heavy objects. AI wins all spelling bees and chess tournaments. And soon, nobody will try to beat it at visual art because it’s hopeless. If you did beat it, someone would upload your result and create a series of a dozen variations within minutes. You have to be able to beat not just AI, but AI plus yourself, which is impossible. I’ve known this and wrote about it at least six months ago.
You might say that AI can’t beat us at art because it doesn’t have a “soul”, is not conscious, doesn’t care one way or another, has zero compassion or empathy, and doesn’t even know that it itself exists. It’s a good argument and something I firmly believed in and argued for myself a decade ago. Back then, I taught my English students in a Chinese university that AI could beat us at chess but never at art because AI was not alive, had no mortal vulnerabilities, no feelings, and hence nothing to communicate about what it feels like to be alive and struggling to survive and find meaning. Well, I hadn’t anticipated how well AI could fake it.
Right now—and this is just an observation, not an attack on artists trying to use AI—I find myself looking away when I recognize something as art created by AI. It seems a subconscious defense against being seduced by a fraud, deceived, or fed a false reality. I don’t want a computer to dictate to me what it means to be alive. It hasn’t a clue. I don’t want to accept the matrix as reality.
Note here that being an “AI artist”, who produces “AI-assisted art” (which might be much more accurately dubbed “human-assisted AI art”) might be a short-lived artistic path. All one needs to do is steal your prompt and then ask ChatGPT-4 to improve upon it. Copy paste results, voila. You’re out of business unless you have the resources to promote yourself above others. AI may also be trained to reverse engineer AI images to recreate the prompt, if that is even necessary.
We’re going to be fascinated by the hyper-reality of AI, especially as we get into immersive spaces. But I believe there will be a simultaneous hunger for the authentic article, sometimes in the same individual and in the same afternoon.
I already have a greater appreciation for the old masters, or the recent masters—people who made things with their own hands and vision. And, no, my detractors, who have attacked me for years for making art with pixels instead of pigment, that doesn’t mean my own art doesn’t count. Most of my work uses far more skill, imagination, and marks made by hand using a stylus and tablet than does that of my critics. I’m not anti-tech. I’m anti-fraud.
There’s still a place to work digitally that is honest and requires a great level of skill. Those that don’t think so, well, I invite you to learn Blender to the point where you can make the Enterprise from scratch (as I did in my first weeks of using Blender, without any help or tutorial] and get back to me about how easy it was.
Also a lot of fund to do. Again, I highly recommend learning the basics of Blender.
It’s possible I will change my mind and go full-on AI, but if anything, I think I will do that in conjunction with hard-earned digital art styles and hopefully physical works. For those of you who don’t know, I got my MFA before I got my first computer, and all of my art up through my MFA was physical.
While there’s hope for digital art, it’s going to be a lot harder to tell when it’s made by a human versus when AI cranked it out in seconds. Physical art is just going to have a huge advantage, if it is seen in person or the process is documented, when it comes to being registered by other people as authentically made by a human. Even this will be fakable in the near future to some extent. Any picture of a physical piece of art is nearly as vulnerable to being faked as is digital art, but once we know better, we will value art more that we know to be 100%, or at least mostly, the creation of a human being with human abilities and limitations.
I fantasize about making physical pieces, but as a digital nomad with limited space and living overseas in SE Asia, it’s not really practicable at present. However, the digital drawings and paintings I’m working on now use the same essential skills and will transfer well to analog means later on if I choose. Even so, I wouldn’t write off working digitally entirely, which would be about on par with writing an essay with a ballpoint pen on a piece of notebook paper rather than typing it, as I am now, on the computer. One doesn’t need to overreact or overcompensate. Don’t gloat, thinking you’ve been vindicated, if you’re a conservative painter of still-lifes and nudes who’s led a crusade against digital art for your adult life. Truth be told, artists who are proficient in digital, physical, and AI art are covering more territory and using more skills and imagination. Though I will also maintain that the greatest heights can be achieved with the simplest and most direct means. It’s never a question of the medium or the style, but if the artist can infuse something into it so that the whole transcends the sum of its parts and there’s an ineffable sort of presence to it, so to speak. If we look further into the future, it’s going to be a lot more important that we are familiar with the artist behind the work, though generally I don’t like that because we are extremely vulnerable to prejudice when we consider who made a work. We will need to find an authentic balance and be more genuine ourselves, both in our art appreciation and in our daily lives. Some of us will become lazy and corrupt; others of us will have to become more honest and willing to work harder.
Part 2: Other Art Blogger’s Recent Physical Art
These are some gems that were either in my feed today or that I discovered today for the first time.
I love this watercolor/pen/ink painting titled ‘UnBecoming’, by Kevin James Hurtack, over at GUN SMOKE & GHOULS. It’s so refreshingly obviously hand-made. I enjoy how transparent the technique is, the choice of luxurious green hair, the arch of her brows, the red eyes, the generous gray mouth, and the rotting flesh! One of the things we may come to cherish about human art is our limitations and subtle imperfections. There’s nothing I’d want to change about this that wouldn’t alter it as an expression of a particular individual in unique circumstances of time and place.
I was charmed by the painting above by a New Orleans artist who goes by “Gater Girl”. There’s an equally charming story behind it which you can read about on her blog. Without the background, well, my favorite color is green, the crock is adorable, and the whole production makes me smile as wide as the prehistoric reptile following his mistress.
Next up is a consummate portrait by Christopher Marc Ford.
His choice of aqua-green to complement the orange/red hair works perfectly, and what made him decide to paint the wavy bands over most of the figure? That bold and risky decision, which ultimately kicked the painting up a level, intrigues me. Notice how he barely articulated the nose beyond the bridge, but it still works. I can almost imagine the music that goes along with this.
Last up is a fantastic watercolor by Margaret McCarthy Hunt:
It’s an elegantly beautiful rendition that captures the intricate forms of the bikes, as well as the texture of the street and other details, by suggesting them rather than painstakingly illustrating them. She’s documented multiple stages of the piece, as well as her materials.
There’s no question that this ain’t AI!
It may surprise people that I like hand-drawn or painted art, traditional watercolors, and light-hearted illustrations, given that my art tends to the darkly spiritual/sci-fi/psychedelic/expressionist. Often, I like other people’s art BECAUSE it is NOT what I’d do or have done. When I did work exclusively in analog, my art was not like these examples (my biggest overlap being with the first selection). You can see examples of my early work here if you are curious.
Even though I’m increasingly attracted to art that involves the least technology, once again, the medium is irrelevant, and it’s all what you do with it. For me, it’s ultimately how much of yourself you put into it, and that may be purely your vision rather than time and effort expended on the work. That said, due to AI and people likely reacting against it, and, by extension, being a bit prejudiced against all digital mediums, the tables have flipped, and it may be an advantage to work exclusively by hand and with physical mediums. And there’s not much stopping most digital artists from doing this, too, even if just in addition to their processes that embrace more tech.
And if you like my art or criticism, please consider chipping in so I can keep working until I drop. Through Patreon, you can give $1 (or more) per month to help keep me going (y’know, so I don’t have to put art on the back-burner while I slog away at a full-time job). See how it works here.
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12 replies on “The Future of Visual Art May Be Physical, and Other Art Blogger’s Recent Physical Art”
I really like your comments about AI, if I wouldn’t follow you I wouldn’t have a clue of how advance it is now, wow! I admired a lot artists who work with digital media, is very difficult, so far I tried procreate pocket on my iPhone, I like it but I am not skill at all. I like what you say here “ It’s never a question of the medium or the style, but if the artist can infuse something into it so that the whole transcends the sum of its parts and there’s an ineffable sort of presence to it, so to speak.” This is the essence of art, how it makes you and others feel, for me is the way I commune with my consciousness or soul, how ever you want to call it and not at all with my mind, in fact I am so happy I can leave my mind behind, in the back, stop the constant chatting for a while.
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Meaty post 👏👏👏- will be back in a week or so to check out the links! But for now: AI angst has burrowed into my psyche and I need to dig it out. It’s enervating, debilitating. Defining art has always flummoxed people and AI seems to be a corrosive complication in the long run. However: I need to earn some money for taxes due in September. Short run! So, for a while, I’ll be focusing on that. Every sale is more difficult because of the AI people. If I don’t get my designs (etc.) out there now the opportunity may pass forever. Back asap. 🥰
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Good luck on your sales! See you soon.
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Thank you! 👋
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Very well said. The whole AI Art and AI in general is something I prefer to ignore, but it’s obviously here for the long term. Even my doctor’s office has an AI assistant that answers/directs your call. I think AI could be a good tool for creating references for poses, etc – perhaps. Someone told me awhile ago that AI ‘artists’ are starting to accuse one another of plagiarism. Irony.
Another well thought out and written piece, that provokes thought. Thanks for including my art as well.
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This definitely caught my attention. Beautiful artwork. Let’s follow our blogs. Anita
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Glad you liked it! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Like you, this bothers me. Ha — I mean, “…as it does you.”
I will never, never, believe that an AI is an actual mind, like a human’s, no matter how good the end product, even though I can’t articulate a good argument for this.
But if I could summarize my reaction to this … I don’t just want to produce an intriguing image, I want to *be able to draw or paint.* Just as I don’t want to buy a lot of cool hats and sweaters, I want to be able to make them. I want to carry the process in my person in the form of skills and experience. This is perhaps clearest when it comes to writing. AI can “write” the last chapter of Jordan Peterson’s book in a way that sounds exactly like what Peterson would say … but most of the point of writing is what is going on in the author’s head during the process. I want me (or my students), not the bot, to be the one having that experience and being shaped by it.
In a way, this is sort of an argument about what Brene Brown calls scarcity. Anyone who is not producing something directly related to physical survival is bound at some point to ask themselves, “Does the world really need another novel/painting/sweater/sculpture?” No, the point is that human beings need to make these things. People 6,000 years ago made a lot of tiny goddess figures. And pots. Lots of pots.
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Great observations, Jennifer. I really appreciate your take, which is similar to mine but expressed in a very different way that reflects, well, a life of doing things yourself and your own way that gives your voice its own unique flavor and authenticity. You really nailed it right here: “I don’t just want to produce an intriguing image, I want to *be able to draw or paint.* Just as I don’t want to buy a lot of cool hats and sweaters, I want to be able to make them. I want to carry the process in my person in the form of skills and experience.”
There’s so much truth in that. Traditionally, making a great work of art, or writing a great book requires dedication, sacrifice, discipline, observation, humor, humility, a depth of understanding, scope, and wisdom. It requires a life behind it—self-mastery and self-realization. Now it requires nothing, and signifies nothing. It undercuts not just the meaning of art but of life.
I’m not saying AI can’t be used for artistic pursuits, but most of the time it is being used to plagiarize human art and produce fakes.
There’s no shortcut to being a real artist. This is why there may be child math prodigies (usually protégés) and children good at the technical side of music or painting. But you don’t see child prodigy novelists because they just don’t have the experience, knowledge, and battle scars to be able to tell us anything really meaningful and sustained about life. Art is not just an applied skill; it’s a vision that coalesces over the course of a life honestly lived. AI art is as hollow as AI philosophy about the meaning of life or AI’s autobiographical chapter on its 9 month pregnancy and giving birth. It’s an imitation.
This doesn’t mean it can’t be used creatively — I’ve done it myself — but most of AI art I see is 99% AI and 1% human. One has to bring one’s own humanity overwhelmingly to the table, one has to have it, and it’s very difficult not to be overwhelmed and outclassed by the raw processing power of AI.
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Beautiful artwork! Well done keep going on 👌
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Thank you for a very intelligent and well-considered article on AI Art. It’s good to see an artist who has the depth of understanding to see past the immediate pain for artists (stolen copyrights, art designers losing work, etc) and get to the long-term heart of the issue in a considered way.
As a person with Autism, and more than a touch of ADHD and Dyspraxia, I have never been able to create ‘physical’ art. School art classes were a misery. In the last couple of months I have found DALL-E & Midjourney and created thousands of pictures.
At first I went on fake holidays, silly stuff, but it was a way of curating the pictures and only selecting the best. I found my appreciation of visual art increased. I became more curious, even about pictures we’d already bought from local artists. I started researching technique, style etc. I was taking more and better photographs. I also started a piece of written narrative – largely by accident as a result of some of the pictures I’d made – so for the first time in 20 years I’m writing fiction again. So this stuff has benefits as well as pain.
Those benefits, once the legal framework is rectified, will certainly provide more income, not less, for the world of art. How much of it goes to the artists will be a legal and social decision. Sadly, from my experience as a working novelist I would say the actual creatives often get less than the van drivers, let alone the publishers.
However the conversation between Eric and Jennifer Mugrage (in the comments) truly gets to the heart of this. If there isn’t the work involved, the life behind the art, the time it takes to consider the alternative possibilities in narrative or form and make the choice of the one that feels *right* – then there is no joy in creation. An endless supply of manufactured things is great, but no substitute for humans creating art. That’s probably why after a week or two of Midjourney I started telling stories to make a use and focus for my images. Otherwise, what are they? Beautiful, stolen shadows of someone else’s creativity. You can’t feed on that for long.
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