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Is AI Art "Real" Art?

Exploring the intersection of creativity and generative AI

robot writing a book

My husband and I were discussing generative art this evening and he relayed this quote, which he heard at work: “Nobody bothers to read something that nobody bothered to write.”

According to him, it was meant as a comforting idea: Don’t worry that people are using chatGPT to write books or stories or anything else, because it's not really writing. No one bothered to actually write it, so nobody’s going to read it.

This idea is based on the premise that AI-generated writing is fake because something wrote it, rather than someone.

It's true that AI-generated writing lacks a genuine, unique vision that comes from living in the world. In a lot of media, AI art hasn't mastered emotion, because it doesn't have the ability to experience it. Humans still need to guide AI in order to produce things that will really grab us.

And humans are doing just that, using the enhancement of an incredible technology to make their art even more powerful.

creative writer writing in a garden

But if you do that, does it mean you're doing "fake" art?

Where Does Art Come From?

What’s hinted at in the whole idea of “real writing” is that in order for it to be real, there has to be a force of human consciousness behind it, in particular an effort on the part of that consciousness to craft the writing. This is true for any art—music, painting, architecture, all of it.

But here's the rub.

If you’re actually an artist and you’ve spent any time paying attention to your own process, you’ve probably discovered that you’re not entirely sure where all of your ideas and inspiration come from. You might be able to pin down a few of them, or maybe even a lot of them, but there is still an indefinable element of something-that-feels-like-magic that you can’t explain.

abstract of the unconscious mind

Science likes to ascribe this to the unconscious mind. The unconscious is capable of processing 350k more bits of information per second than your conscious mind. Your unconscious is literally an inner powerhouse, capable of calculations that would send your conscious mind into overload.

Metaphysics goes further. Your inner self isn’t just axons and dendrites, it’s actually a non-physical part of you—a spiritual or vibrational entity that makes up most of what you really are.

So actually, when you talk about creating art “for real,” you are talking about the elegant dance of information that travels between your conscious mind and your vast inner space.

Given that that space is really vast—so big it contains the majority of the resources that you rely on for the creation of your art—I think it is safe to say that your inner self is doing most of the work.

So the real question is: What is that inner space?

Because this is the space we talk about when we say something’s not real. If you have that space, you are a “real” writer who writes “real” things. If you have that space but don’t use it, you’re a wannabe. If you don’t have that space, you’re just a machine.

AI art of a person exploring the unconscious self

What is the Inner Self?

I have been exploring the unconscious space as as a writer and a photographer for many years, and so I approach generative art from where I am now.

Here are the questions that have been preoccupying me: What is the inner space? What is it capable of? How does it work? What does it contain? Most importantly: What does it have access to? And how much of it do I have access to?

For now, here is the short version of what my experience has taught me:

The inner self is far more powerful than we currently give it credit for. It is basically chatGPT on an order that most people wouldn’t seriously believe. (Science is starting to back this up, in numerous ways and in some pretty awesome books, but we still have a long way to go.)

Your Inner Self is NOT just an inert collection of facts and fictions. It is alive and thinking.

It communicates with you constantly, although you may not be listening.

Your inner self thinks and talk all the time, and it’s about 350,000 times smarter than you. (Fortunately, it IS you, so at least there’s that.)

Once you realize what it has access to, you’re going to hit some trippy new age terrain that you never thought you’d waste your precious vacation time to see.

However, AI has something like an unconscious space, too. It is FILLED with information. But as far as I can tell, that inner space isn't like ours. It doesn't think for itself, it doesn't experience emotion, and it doesn't have access to everything that we do.

AI art of a writer exploring the unconscious self

Are you a “real” artist when you type in a prompt?

Generating AI art is not question of integrity for the user any more than it would be a question of integrity for ANY writer who has ever read a book.

Artists, writers, don’t even mention musicians, are constantly doing exactly what these algorithms do—grasping outside sources of art, data and inspiration and absorbing them into a vast, unconscious, off-screen space from which they then create new art.

Why then should we take exception to someone using an algorithm and doing what we do?

Why should it bother us that a human can now create a whole book based on our writing when in fact they could have done that at any previous time in written history—except that it wouldn’t have been so easy for them?

When you type a prompt into a program and generate a lovely bit of text, are you actually creating that art?

Yes, you are, but here’s the difference.

AI art of an artist finding inspiration

Artists find inspiration from everything they see, do, feel, and sense. They fold these impressions into their inner selves and then produce creations from that space.

AI artists also find inspiration from everything they see, do, feel, and sense. They take an idea, put it into the inner space of an AI-based program, and then, with the help of the program, produce creations from that space.

In AI art, you’re not only relying on your inner self—you’re leaning quite heavily on the “inner self” of a program.

The strength is that AI art is obviously an incredible enhancement of creation. It can produce in seconds what previously might have taken you months or years—or perhaps might have eluded you forever.

The potential danger of AI art is that it could replace your connection to your inner self. Instead of listening to that inner realm, you begin relying too heavily on a bot.

It seems obvious to me that creating a balanced symbiosis between your own artistic inspiration and the abilities of a machine can amplify your creative process in extraordinary ways.

AI art of an artist expressing their inspiration

What About Your Own Magic Machine?

People might continue being snotty about AI art, calling it “imposter” art, or scorning it as empty.

When you soak up the collected works of Gauguin, and then paint a portrait that looks like Gauguin’s, it’s still NOT Gauguin. It’s Gauguin-through-you. It’s your take on a master. It’s you birthing a new form.

That is the artist. Each and every one of us. We have soaked up some serious shit, mashed it up in our complex internal realms, and suddenly this other, sometimes new stuff comes pouring out like it was birthed from a magic machine.

Where does art come from? We don’t know.

We each contain these remarkable inner spaces that we barely understand—in fact, barely even discuss—and when we talk about imposters and plagiarists and the existential “threat” of AI bots, we’re only defending We-Don’t-Know-What.

We don’t know what we are.

So let’s find out, shall we?


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