Midjourney generated image

Embracing AI in art


As a follow up on my previous article, “The importance of fine art photography”, I wanted to share my initial thoughts on AI and how it can impact, be it negatively or positively, photography and art in general. By all means, this will obviously not be my definitive thoughts on AI and art and I might change my thoughts the same way AI will develop and integrate into our lives. I hope to share more thoughts in subsequent articles.

To start with, let me state clearly that I’m very excited to encounter and live any change in our lives and the world we live in. Of course, positive change is always preferred to negative change but it doesn’t take away of the fact that change means life. The only things not changing are things that are not alive, that are dead. Change also often means progress. Not always though, but most of the time, yes, change is positive although we may not always recognize it as such initially, when confronted with big changes. Especially change and progress in technology is welcomed at all times as it’s tightly linked to progress in civilization and humanity. 

Therefore I’m truly excited to see the recent major breakthroughs in AI and how it affects all parts of our society. And I think we should all embrace it, without a doubt. This initial thought I have about it, will most likely not change. Not in the near future and not on the long term. Change, after all, is the essence of life. Even if some of the unintended side-effects seem to be negative.

AI image generators

I am not afraid of AI. I am not afraid that it will replace me as a fine art photographer. I am not afraid that AI can soon create images that are as good as the best images photographers can create and might render me redundant. In fact, there are already images created by Midjourney and the likes that are simply mind blowing and often look better than what the majority can create. ‘Look’ in bold and in italics, because I am only referring to the looks of it, not to the intrinsic value of it, and I get back to this important distinction further in this article. I am only afraid how people will use and abuse AI to manipulate us and even set us up against each other.

Prompt used to generate the image: black and white fine art photography, architecture, 3-d rendered buildings, higher contrast around building, apocalyptic background, soft ethereal background, art-deco style architecture, dark mood, fritz lang poster style

Of course, there are several issues that arise with the advent and development of AI, from a legal, intellectual rights point of view, from a societal point of view, a political point of view and so much more. We need to live with that and adapt to the new situation, and we will. And also in art, there are several fundamental questions that arise, but also here I believe we need to think critically and see how to live with it, how to embrace it and how to use it.

So, what do my initial thoughts entail more than what I already stated?

What is AI

First, let me give a short description of what AI is and then try to answer the question if AI can create art. And to make this even more topical: I used Bing Chat to give me a short description of what AI is. This is what it answered:

[…] Artificial intelligence (AI) is a term that refers to the ability of machines or software to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as recognizing faces, understanding speech, or making decisions. AI is also a powerful tool for creating images, sometimes called AI art or promptography, that can mimic or surpass the quality and realism of conventional photography.[…]

That’s a useful description of what AI practically is. What it intrinsically is, that is another more profound question but for now let’s stick with Bing Chat’s description. And I already want to note what I’m doing here when using AI: I’m specifically disclosing that I have used AI to give you the exact quote and for a reason: when using AI and you use the generated content, you should cite your sources. When you create images that are not photos but AI generated images, you should disclose it and not let people assume they are photos. I don’t pass any judgment whether you create images with AI or with a camera. But you have to disclose it especially if there can be any doubt.

Can AI Create Art

Now, can AI create art? It depends on the definition you give to it, but according to my definition: No. It’s my strong opinion AI, as it is now and I believe for a considerable time to come, and as long as it doesn’t have a consciousness, cannot create art. It can create beautiful images, but not photos (at least for now), let alone art.

This demands an explanation, even though my thoughts on this aren’t fully formed yet. But I will explain why and what I strongly believe at this moment about AI and art. And photography.

First of all we need to define what art is. Instead of asking ChatGPT what it is, I’ll give you my thoughts on what I think art is, based on what I’ve read and learned over the years and then add my own personal experience and preferences to it. Essentially, it is almost the same learning process as what AI does: learning from available sources. But here we hit an essential difference: I’m adding my own personal experiences, emotions, and preferences to it. Which are elements that AI cannot add to it. More on that later.

My Personal Definition Of Art

A definition of what art is, my personal definition: 

Art is the self-initiated expression of an autonomous conscious being, with the deliberate intention to communicate an authentic and individually lived experience in a stylized and aesthetic way and has the potential to move and inform the observer. 

After writing this article, I asked ChatGPT what art is and interesting to see that it contains many elements that are also in my definition of art. Also interesting it emphasizes ‘human skill’.

I am of the strong opinion that one very convincing way of proving an entity has consciousness, is through an expression of art. Hence, wherever art is being created, we know there is consciousness.  An experience can be anything from physical pain and joy to mental excitement.

Why do we create art? I’ve tried to answer this question in this article but for this article let’s stick to the topic at hand. My definition of course is not an absolute definition but it does well for me for now as it covers everything I believe art should be.

Let’s break down the most important elements of the definition. 

  • ‘Self-initiated expression’. We, as humans, we create art because we need to, we feel like it, because we have this urge to express ourselves and not because someone asks us to create art. It comes out of ourselves, from within not from outside. If AI could create art, it surely doesn’t come from inside AI, it creates ‘art’ because we ask it to. We give it a prompt. Apart from that, it doesn’t feel a need, an urgency to create art. It feels nothing until we ask it to ‘feel’.
  • ‘Autonomous conscious being’. Our human autonomy, no matter how imprisoned we are, physically or mentally, ensures we do what we want, when we want it. Ensures what we express when we want to express. It is because we are conscious of who we are and that we experience this world and this life, uniquely through our (mind’s) eyes only. AI doesn’t express what it wants to express because it doesn’t want anything. It only executes when we ask it to. AI doesn’t spontaneously do something. It doesn’t feel the need to, because it doesn’t feel. It doesn’t have a consciousness.
  • ‘Deliberate intention to communicate an authentic and individually lived experience’. We create art by creating on purpose. It is no happy accident. We don’t do this subconsciously or unconsciously even though we are not always aware we create art. We create something consciously. Because we can. Because we feel the need to show we have something internally as a result of a subjectively lived experience that needs external recognition. AI only creates ‘art’ if we ask it to. It doesn’t create it spontaneously, because it doesn’t feel the need to show it has an internally lived experience, because it has none.
  • ‘Stylized and aesthetic way’. When creating art we want to create it in a way that suits our aesthetic preferences and ideals. We want to give shape to it. When AI creates art, it does that too, but not because it has an aesthetic preference. It creates something in ‘the style of something’ without a preference.
  • ‘Has the potential to move and inform the observer’. Usually this is the case when we, as an observer, experience something through art, that we haven’t experienced before. When we experience something through art we experienced before then we are experiencing a cliche. This goes deeper than just the visible surface. It is also about the feeling that is evoked and we experience as an observer. The artist feels something and tries to express that. Sometimes the feeling comes across, sometimes it doesn’t. AI doesn’t feel and can’t express that. AI generated images are at best aesthetic but lack substance. They lack personality.


This is why I believe AI can never create art.

Consciousness and its relation to the physical 

To elaborate a bit more on the phrase ‘individually lived experience’: it is important to note that we live an experience, or experience a life, that we are conscious of in varying degrees, not only mentally, but also physically. Sometimes deeply aware, sometimes only superficially aware. We see through our eyes, we smell with our olfactory system, we hear with our ears, we taste with our taste buds, and we feel the tactility of objects through our touch receptors. When we pet a cat, we know what it feels like. We know how it feels when we talk about furry. AI can be trained to know what furry means, but it doesn’t know how it feels. When someone pinches our arm, we feel physical pain. When I hit my monitor with a hammer, it won’t feel anything. When someone breaks our hearts, it feels very real even though nothing physical has been broken. When nothing physical is broken in AI, nothing at all is broken. AI doesn’t have a tongue, hands, feet, arms, or legs. It doesn’t have a heart. Consciousness is not just what’s constructed in the brain. Our physical qualities and abilities form an important part of the construction of consciousness. When I talk about lived experience, about consciousness, then you can’t separate the physical experience from the mental experience, they both play a part in the forming of a highly individual and one-of-a-kind consciousness. AI doesn’t have all that, yet. And I don’t think it will ever have.

Therefore, AI cannot create art. It creates artistic-looking results, but it doesn’t create art. It creates something empty, something that doesn’t come from a truly lived experience, something that AI doesn’t even know itself if it is beautiful or not. It creates artistic-looking results without any opinion about those results. It is just the most likely result given the parameters and the prompt. We create artistic-looking results because we have an opinion about what we like, without a prompt.

Again, after writing this article I asked ChatGPT why it included the phrase ‘human skills’:

Differences in processing information

Related to that, there is something essentially different in how we humans process information compared to AI, something Noam Chomsky in a recent essay in the New York Times highlighted: […] The human mind is not, like ChatGPT and its ilk, a lumbering statistical engine for pattern matching, gorging on hundreds of terabytes of data and extrapolating the most likely conversational response or most probable answer to a scientific question. On the contrary, the human mind is a surprisingly efficient and even elegant system that operates with small amounts of information; it seeks not to infer brute correlations among data points but to create explanations. […] 

Humans want to explain information, AI doesn’t, it just uses it. When Picasso studied Matisse’s work, he asked himself why did he do it like that, why not like this? When we study Ansel Adams’s work we ask ourselves why like that, why there, why not like this and here? We do not just want to emulate but we also seek explanations, what it is to emulate in the first place, and with the explanation we give ourselves we are able to create something new. The need for explanation is a difference that enables us to create unique and authentic art.

Humans make infinite use of finite information, AI needs infinite information to make use of it in a finite way. 

More ChatGPT chats:

Embrace AI as it can give birth to other art forms

AI is a tool, a medium and I treat and embrace it as such. It can help us create art, it can help us find more ways of expressing ourselves and exploring ourselves and the world we live in. I’m actively exploring how AI can help me in what I create and everything else AI may be able to help me to get the most value out of the life I live. But AI in and by itself cannot create art. 

Therefore, like I stated before, I am not afraid of AI, I am only afraid of what people might do with AI. I’m not afraid AI may replace me. If anything, I believe art will always be one of the few sacred places AI will not be able to replace humans.

So let AI come into our lives and I will try to make the best use of what I can do with AI and create and maybe, or better yet, certainly, AI will give way to new art forms in which humans will use AI as a trigger or a tool to explore and develop those new artforms. Just like painting transformed from the literal to the figurative, from the realistic to the abstract forms of painting, after the advent of photography. Photography never replaced painting, it just gave way to new forms of painting. AI will never replace photography, but it will give way to new ways of creating images. But be aware of anyone who uses AI to manipulate us. In politics, in news media, but also in art.

AI learning and intellectual copyrights

On a related note, but since it is not the essence of this article, I will treat it as a side note, I want to address intellectual copyrights and AI.

There’s increasingly strong opposition against how AI is being ‘fed’ images from the Internet and other digital sources to train it without the consent of the original author. I’m not exactly in the know how the images are being used to train AI and there might be a legal issue there depending on how those images are being used but let’s just assume that AI just ‘crawls’ the Internet and memorizes these images. Just like we humans essentially do: when we create art through images, then it doesn’t come out of nothing. All artists have been standing on the shoulders of those before them or have been inspired by their contemporaries. From Picasso to Van Gogh to Da Vinci and Michelangelo. They have all used some ideas, concepts, and elements from others and put them together in their own personal way to come to something unique and original. Creating something unique and original doesn’t mean creating something out of nothing, without knowing anything of the world around them. It means knowing how to deconstruct existing ideas, images, and concepts into smaller elements, then questioning them and finding a way to reconstruct those smaller elements into something new as a whole by giving ourselves explanations. That is creation. That is how all art is created and how it evolved.

So we humans basically follow the same learning process as AI: we actively find information, we actively learn from it and we actively find ways to memorize it and use it in our own work. I’ve seen thousands if not millions of images in books, movies, magazines, and later in digital sources and on the Internet that consciously and subconsciously formed my artistic preferences. When I create my architectural images, it is a result of that. The result of years of ‘training’ and feeding my mind with images. My contribution, or talent if you want to call it like that, is that I have tried to deconstruct what I’ve seen and experienced all my life and then tried to reconstruct all those smaller elements into something new and mine.

AI does the same. What Dall-E or Midjourney create when they’re given a prompt, comes from combining all those images they have seen into something new.

It is argued now that AI shouldn’t do that. Why not? We do the same when we are creating. It is a weak argument and I think we should just let go of that argument to use against how AI is trained and how it comes to its visual results. It denies how we as humans create art ourselves. There might be other legal issues, maybe AI is trained using images that aren’t publicly available and have been illegally obtained, or images have been used in a way that is not permitted. That is another potential issue, but not the point of this. The point is how AI is trained and creates images. And it is in the same way as we humans are trained and how we create images. But we humans do it better. We have our lived experience to give it more value. We can create and think outside the box by questioning what came before and giving ourselves explanations.

And last but not least: we don’t need a prompt to start creating images. We just do it when we feel like it. AI does not.

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4 Responses

  1. Hi. I agree completly with your insights and it’s allways a pleasure to drink such elevated thoughts, allmost as much as your images.
    It’s a little depressing though. Because I realized that the way I produced some of my images follow effectively the process you described that the so called AI uses to produce images… that’s the problem… just a very few humans have the capability of being a real creator. The rest of us just automate and follow the real and very rare genius that creat new routes. I think you make a fundamental mistake though. Those tools you mentioned are not AI yet. They are automation tools. The real AI is still to come and it will be more powerfull than humans eaven in the creation process. The biggest problem I see with these tools isn’t the automation of image creation itself. It’s the ability of a person without life experience, without inner world without having to immerse himself in the intelectual, without even having a vision be hable of give instructions to a machine and produce images that for you took years to achieve. And that will banalize and take of the value of the work of those who had the vision. Imagine. I take a picture and give orders to the computer like select building x. Make sky like this and that the sea like that picture of J T. Just a little more light refletion here a litle … thats the problem the intrinsec value of the work is going to fall. The impact is going to disapear. People will loose those caracteristics that you wrote. People want feel the need to seek inspirations and the need to study. Maybe for you it’ll be challenging and rewarding to produce such tools but they are going to finnaly kill the way that we see art. And I think its different from the introdution of photography in relation to painting. Because every one can a photo and paint allready but only a few can make a striking work. Now it’s going to be accessible to everyone…. I’m orientating my more than humble work to the only thing that AI and automation is going to take generations to catch up. It’s the capabilty of printing those images in big format and the choice of papers strucure and feeling that same paper. Because everyone is going to be hable to fabricate images but I think that for dufital media. To produce a perfect high resolution print in a media and powerfull enough to catch the person attention and be hable to create a surreal mistery a be hable to make someone voyage in a picture of my making is my goal… even if I achieve that just a few times in my life time. Thank you for your vision.

  2. It seems that AI is making philosophers of us all. We can guess where it’s taking us but that’s all it will be; a guess. Today’s notions differ from those of last year and I’m sure we’ll have new views next year. Or next week perhaps.
    Right now, I can’t help but ponder this. Around 4 billion years ago amoebae ruled the Earth. And, if there had been observers at the time, who among them could have foreseen the World we have now?
    Could it be that the crude AI of 2023 is a sharp, and very noticeable turn in evolution’s direction?

  3. You hit the nail on the head, Joel. I’ve had a fascination, a relationship, and a career nibbling at the edges of primative AI systems ever since HAL-9000 refused to open the pod bay door for Dave in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey back in 1968. AI had humble beginnings, but as CPUs started processing more instructions per nano-second, data storage and retrieval systems became more massive (Big Data), and networks became more pervasive and capable of higher data volumes at higher speeds, AI has, excuse the expression, started to take on a life of its own.

    I agree with you: my art, your art, every person’s art is … art. It is a personal expression of emotion about a subject, an event, a place, a thing, interpreted through our individual life experiences, and presented to the world through whatever skill set we have some mastery of. Whether or not another human being resonates with that expression is also personal … and also human — something an AI system can never be.

    So, like you, I am not fearful of AI … in fact, in the right hands, AI may lead me to be more creative. What if Ansel Adams could have seen a couple of dozen different versions of Moonrise, Hernandez before settling on one that best matched his vision? Would his finished piece still look as we see it today? Or maybe AI could have shown him a slightly different version that more closely matched his vision, thereby changing the final result. If he produced that altered version, and it better expressed his vision and emotion … would it still be “art”? I would say yes, but others may disagree … which is also a human trait.

    And also like you, my biggest fear of AI is not that AI will ever replace me as an artist, but what can be done with it in the hands of malicious cyber actors. Real world events, places, people, things would be indistinguishable from fakes … and the human brain would find it impossibe to sort things out definitively. And governments will not be able to legislate rules that would prevent that from happening — good people would follow the rules; bad actors would not. And we would be caught in the middle. It brings back shades of the 1970’s cassette recording tape ad: “Is it live, or is it Memorex?”

    Anyway … I will continue to make MY art, based on what I see as interpreted by what I have experienced, and inspired by other human artists like yourself. And if my art resonates at some level with other human beings, then that’s a bonus.

    1. Many thanks for the detailed comment. I believe artists will have interesting discussions about AI and its impact on photography in the time to come. I find it fascinating to be honest. Because it requires you to think deeper about what art actually is. What consciousness is. My focus lately has been on making the important connection between consciousness and art. Because I believe and I keep saying that art is consciousness manifested.

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