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Yes, but is it art?

At the weekend my step son-in-law (I don't really know how to describe him, as his mother-in-law and I aren't actually married, it just makes it easier) showed me the AI image creation platform Dall-E 2, which can create art from a text description. It is truly amazing and also fascinating and scary. What you do is write a text description such as "A female dancer holding a wine glass in the cubist style of Georges Braque," and this is what you get:


My initial reaction was, obviously "Wow!" But then the fear kicked in.


I've been reading a lot about NFTs recently, and probably along with many artists of my generation, don't really get how money can be made from a digital image that is never made concrete. Surely, art has to be a physical entity? .... Or does it? But I was a bit fascinated with Dall-E, so I decided to sign up yesterday and see what it could do for me. The fake Braque was my first effort and obviously you'd be done for plagiarism if you tried to claim it as your own digital art (wouldn't you?), but then I wondered whether I could upload one of my own photographs and place some kind of AI generated image in it. This is my image, a night shot of a shop window taken early Saturday evening while mooching around Brighton with the family and new grandson.


Like the Braque, I wrote "A picture of a dancer in a red dress in an art shop in Brighton." And this is what happened:



You can make variations on the original and this was one of them. But is it art? Not really.The imaging isn't good enough yet for it to be considered a good photo editing tool, but I can see a lot of potential. In fact I rather like this. There were also about twelve others.


Obviously, this is my first brush with AI and I realise I'm already a bit late in the day to waffle on about the use of AI in art, but what do people think? Whatever, I'm going to mess about with it a bit more so I'll probably return to the subject later.


But here's another question about art:


Having already been a working professional artist for over 35 years, my lovely partner is currently in the middle of her Fine Art MA and we often end up talking about current trends and even the thorny old question of what 'art' actually is. She's a painter and tends towards the figurative, which is apparently a bit untrendy at the moment - she's a big fan of Lucien Freud. Most of her fellow MA students are young enough to be her kids and many of them are 'conceptual'. Very few of them draw or paint, which often leads us into discussions - usually about 5.00 am in the morning, about the validity of what she does. Here's an example:


This is Cat, a dancer who participated in our massive lockdown work "The House of Mercy Project". I won't describe it here as it's on the website and you can see the promo video on our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_FB1YS_n3s.


Our latest early morning discussion was precisely about whether 'traditional' painting as she practises, is becoming passé. I don't think it is, but suggested that with contemporary concepts of conceptual art being so broad, perhaps just having the idea counts as art. I mean why is a Marina Abramovic event considered art? Or, Michael Landy, destroying all his worldly goods?


But I'm getting ahead of myself. We were discussing the piece she... I'll give her a name: Jeannie, is creating for her final show, which won't actually be painting - but will it be art?


Jeannie's been painting dancers for a few years now and is fascinated by movement. She's also fascinated by choreographic notation and having seen the work of Rudolf Laban and the American free-form dancerTrisha Brown, wondered whether it could be considered visual art.

Here's Laban with his choreographic notation.


Being a non-dancer, she wondered whether it would be possible to create her own visual language of choreography and have some dancers move to it. As a singer she also waned to create her own vocal soundscape, so we went into the studio.


In my studio I use Protools and if you know the recording software, you'll know that the audio tracks are represented in different colours. What Jeannie wanted to do was record six random vocal tracks, resisting any attempt at harmony. When she saw the colours of the tracks, she also realised they were divided into bars that looked like tiles. "What would happen if we removed some of the tiles?" She said. So we did, and this is what it looks like.




This geometric pattern represents a very abstract soundscape of vocal noises and clicks and lasts about four minutes. The plan would then be to assign a colour to each of six dancers who would then move to the soundscape. But:


Is this pattern visual art? Is it visual art because it's an idea. Could it be interpreted as choreography? Or does it matter? We discussed many options.


Obviously, one could ask a choreographer to create some movement to the sounds but:

  1. Should each dancer only move when they hear their sound?

  2. Should each dancer have a specific sound and movement and only move when they heard their sound?

  3. And if so, what would they do in between?

  4. As a dancer, would it be difficult to distinguish your sound among the general cacophony?

  5. Could one use headphones like a silent disco?

We asked ourselves all these questions before deciding to keep it simple (and cheap) and simply ask the dancers to create choreography to the entire piece.


But is it art?


I would argue that it is because it is the artists's imagination that created a soundscape that became a visual pattern, that gave rise to an aural and visual stimulus for choreography that in itself would be a visual representation of the artist's imagination. In other words, an idea.


From this premise, if having the idea is stimulus to art, can my attempt at mixing a photograph I 'created' with an AI imagined dancer be considered art? I would say not, in this instance, it's just me messing about with a new toy. Although as I note above, I believe Jeannie's experiment can be considered art, because it ultimately is the physical manifestation of a creative process.


So where does that leave NFTs? I really don't know about that one. Much of what I have seen is kitsch rubbish but having dipped my toe in the waters of AI, the idea is beginning to intrigue me.


What I do reject, however, is the idea that in the future, traditional art forms such as painting and photography will become obsolete. I mean, we're getting back into vinyl now aren't we?

If you get this far, I'd love to have your opinions and start a discussion.


Cheers


Phil

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