Keeping Art Human: A Reflection on Artificial Intelligence in Art
Dec 10, 2022
This post is my attempt to wrap my head around the emergence of A.I. art that is beginning to proliferate on the Internet, whether A.I. is interpreting music or creators working in tandem with it. I just want to say from the onset that I am not anti-AI; I find many of the images quite fascinating. However, I am very leary of it from many standpoints: as an educator/parent, artist, and a spiritual practitioner. I will address these concerns from each perspective. (I have also been reading about fellow artists who are having their work used without permission to train A.I., which I am totally against.)
As an educator/parent
I have spent over 25 years teaching in the Waldorf educational system, and both of my children were educated in that system until high school. For those who do not know, Waldorf is an educational system that seeks to educate the whole child through honoring truth, beauty, and goodness. Since beauty is one of the three pillars, art fills the students' day in all disciplines, and the classroom environment embodies beauty throughout it for the children to imbibe.
Those outside of Waldorf often accuses it of being antiquated, not keeping up with the times because computers are not introduced until 8th grade. The belief is that there is nothing inherently evil; it is just a matter of timing. For example, having a young child sit in front of the television is unsuitable for the child's development. They are not moving their bodies and are being fed images into a consciousness that imposes upon them. Instead of such stark images, teachers tell stories in the classroom, allowing them to form their mental pictures and imagination. Imagination offers freedom, while projected images do not. As an educator and parent, I want my children to explore the world around them and connect with nature and other humans.
Calculators are not used in a Waldorf school (otherwise known as a Steiner School in Europe). Why? To develop their mental acuity. Sure, it is much faster and more accurate to plug in the numbers, but that bypasses a significant reason for learning math, and that is to develop the brain in that area. It is not just about practicality. Studies show that doing math through one's keeps the brain working optimally, the same as playing music (which is math in its creative form, with all its timings and fractions), which is essential in this day and age where Alzheimer's is so prevalent.
A Facebook friend of mine started posting some very striking images/paintings. He admitted that he is exploring A.I., where he inputs his artwork and photographs into an A.I. program. Immediately he made hundreds of images. He likes the swiftness of seeing his ideas come to light. Is this not the same as using a calculator? Yes, he has been doing art and photography for decades, so he has a disciplined background on which to build. My concern is for the children growing up and bypassing that foundation of struggling on paper or canvas, of copying the masters to develop their skills. It becomes too easy.
Technology makes everything easy, everything quick. Technology creates an artificial world that is antithetical to the slow rhythms of the natural world. If children are interfacing with technology, they are turning into something else, perhaps, something that is part machine. They are growing up in a world where they watch stories of having robot companions that are just as important, or even more so, than humans. In fact, with the pandemic they suffered, they became even more attached to technology as they sat in front of screens.
When we deny children the opportunities to struggle, fail, and see adults working the same, we deprive them of the foundation of being human. It is not easy to be a human, with all our shortcomings and to interact and learn to love other flawed human beings. Perhaps when we can do excellent work with the aid of technology growing up, our empathy for others diminishes. You can look at us humans behind the wheels encased in our machines and how empathy goes out the window in our drive to get to our destination most quickly and efficiently. Or how we interact with each other on the Internet, where people can be easily transformed into a troll or spout off some unconscious hateful thought, only to regret it in the real world. And our children, with many having phones with access to all knowledge, are chained to them and are exposed to information that should be only available when they are older and have a greater human foundation.
So as an educator, I can safely say I oppose A.I. interfacing with children. With high school, I would prefer they have a foundation in the traditional arts before they come to A.I. My 17-year-old son is exploring it (and wants me to explore it as well) and has a pretty good art foundation, so I am hands-off with him. He also told me he does not see using A.I. as doing art; he looks at it as an exploration of what A.I. can do.
As an Artist
I use technology for some of my work as I may use a photograph of an image as a springboard. But that is it. For me, doing art is a journey as much as production. Often I work in an intuitional manner, which requires a quiet mind and an openness to all the images to begin to appear. While my friend says he now collaborates with a bot, his work being 30%, my imagination collaborates with the shadows and light on the paper or canvas. I would hazard to say that working with A.I. is a mental process, plugging in concepts.
Additionally, I have to work with what I put down. I have to work on my mistakes. Sure I can paint over oils or acrylics, but that is a process in itself. It is much different than deleting. Welcoming mistakes allows the piece to come out in a way I had not foreseen. This process helps connect me to a part of me that transcends me and connects me to something else.
A spiritual practitioner
Now to the final standpoint and that as a spiritual practitioner or traveler. I would instead connect to this force, this beingness, I feel when I do my art than to a machine. For the materialist, it does not matter if we collaborate with machines because machines are tangible. Connecting with divine forces is not; although, when one experiences it, it is more real than anything in this world.
I believe there are beings all around us and ultimately within us when our standpoint is the Universal I. Just like there are tendencies we have that can either advance us or hold us back, there are beings. Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education and Anthroposophy, stated at the turn of the 20th century that there are two opposing forces with which we humans have to contend. The first, more prevalent throughout human history, is the attraction to leave the world and focus on the spiritual one, to find freedom from the encrustation of matter, of being entombed in a body. He called this force, this being Lucifer. Lucifer is not evil; however, if surrendered to, one becomes imbalanced, the other becomes arrogant, aloof, spacey, and seeking freedom at all costs.
The other force is on the opposite pole. It seeks to drive us into the cube of matter, to encase us with the precept that reality is only what can be weighed, counted, and measured through the senses or technology. Human individuality cannot be trusted for civilization to run efficiently; all must submit to the machine; after all, the body is nothing more than a machine. A hundred years ago, Steiner cautioned that this force he called Ahriman was growing in power and would continue to do so. Our educational system is a perfect example of this influence. This system sees children as empty vessels who need to be filled with information and conditioned as animals (Waldorf considers each child as a spiritual being coming into the earth with gifts and challenges we need to help bring forth).
Between these two opposing forces, the initiate, the seeker, must stand, utilizing them both
but not surrendering to either one of them. In other words,
it is following the Middle Way. Creatives are more Luciferic with their freedom-loving nature, while bureaucrats work more Ahriman. Both are needed for civilization to thrive and progress.
So as I mull over what I have written, I am not opposed to this A.I. art, although I do not foresee using it besides some experimentation.
In conclusion, we live in a Brave New World and this kind of technology will keep coming at us at a fast pace, making it hard to keep up. Maybe there will be a backlash, and more people will seek a slower-paced life more in tune with nature, cherishing quality hand-made work over quantity. Of course, the latter is what a consumer society must have to expand constantly.
The Sorcerer in the Box
As I finish my training as a Waldorf School teacher and observe children untainted by the mass visions of television, who are allowed to let their own imaginations blossom, I am even more convinced of protecting my son from that confounded box. I should know. I grew up with it, and suckled from its electronic tit so much, that when I walk in a room where its visions flash across the screen, only with the greatest of will can I tear myself away. And in meditations I must discard T.V. programs from my subconscious like emptying my bowels.
In some of the villages of Cameroon,
When a child dies, the parents
Watch the grave during the first few days,
Lest some sorcerer steal their bodies
And sell them down in Gabon as zombies.
I laughed at that:
Laughed at their superstition,
Laughed at their fears.
But now as a father,
I watch my people's children unattended
In front of television sets,
And see the sorcerer in the box, unchecked,
Sucking out their minds
And plucking forth their eyes.
Then I observe the grown ups
Shuffle off to jobs they despise,
Their eyes staring straight ahead—
I am filled with fear.
And over my child I stand
And keep vigilance
Against the sorcerer in the box.