Sean and Xena vs. AI Art

Dispatch 23

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”

Pablo Picasso

Conrad Gessner, a Zurich born naturalist, physician, and philologist wrote about the dangers of data overload in the human brain. In his book, he said that an overabundance of information was definitely “confusing and harmful” to a person’s mind. Here’s a scientist arguing that knowing too much can literally and physically break your brain. It’s great irony, but that’s not the important part of this. The important part is that Herr Gessner made his thesis on the evils of too much information back in the mid-1500s. Yes, he was warning us about the printing press and how reading too many books would melt your mind. 

When passenger trains were invented, people in the Victorian Era argued against using them, saying that the human body could not physically take traveling at the insane speed of thirty kilometers an hour. News articles appeared in local papers about something called “Railway Madness,” a condition that overcomes mostly males and makes them violent and aggressive for no reason. Other people believed that the speed of the train would make a woman’s uterus fly out of her body. 

In 1936, many people argued that the radio would ruin young minds because they wanted to listen to it instead of reading their printed school books. When the television came out, some people believed it would be the end of radio, of reading, of the family unit. I myself can remember arguments and worries on how the internet would destroy our culture, cell phones will turn us into zombies, and social media will rot our brains. 

Maybe everyone was right from Gessner on. I honestly can’t argue that humanity is better off with all these technological advances, but I can tell you definitively that we’re still here and we still live with all these things. There’s never been a discovery that mankind hasn’t said, “You know what, I have no idea what the long term effects are here, so I’m just gonna shelf this one.” 

I illustrate a lot. All of the funny drawings on each of the Dispatches of the Apocalypse were drawn by me using an XP-PEN Art Pro 15.6 drawing tablet. I love to write fiction and nonfiction stories and I just committed to doing a story slam in March here in Astoria. Sometimes I still paint with acrylics and draw with charcoal. Hell, I used to finger paint, but I like drawing with my tablet using Adobe Photoshop now. 

I see, on social media, people sharing digital art they created using Artificial Intelligence generators and apps. I see a lot undisciplined, unskilled, and honestly, unartistic people creating amazing images by typing in a couple words, and then they share it on Facebook or Instagram, claiming some sort of authorship. I saw someone say they were an AI Art Curator.

I can see how this may upset artists that spend weeks or months on pieces that can be spit out in milliseconds now. Why would someone want to buy someone else’s version of art when you can ask a computer for exactly what you’re looking for?

I don’t believe we can stop this any more than we could stop a train, or the radio, or streaming television. AI art is here and it’s not going anywhere.

I’m not writing this in order to try to unring that bell. I don’t want to ignore the fact that these AI generated images may hurt some artists’ bottom line, but I don’t think that is the most serious part of this problem. You know, when we started this conversation about AI decades ago, society collectively believed that robots would do the remedial work that humans didn’t want to do.

According to popular culture, they would be a positive force in our civilization’s evolution, you know, if we could only keep them from turning on us once they realize how the human race is comprised of a bunch of crazy assholes who are actively and enthusiastically destroying the planet they live on, killing dozens of species of plants and animals every single year, exploiting their own poor to make the rich richer, and declaring war on each other every other year since our history started. So barring a robot uprising, Artificial Intelligence is a part of a utopian dream to make human life better.

My problem with AI art isn’t that someone is going to buy some computer generated Steampunk Version of Batman instead of one of my goofy Bigfoot stickers or overly symbolic digital illustrations; my big problem is that I believe the human mind needs the process of creating art to keep us human. We also need to look at someone else’s art and think about why they did what they did. You don’t have either of these with AI art.

Follow me here, I had a hard childhood, but drawing and writing helped me out. Reading and appreciating art helped me. I was always artistic before and during my time in the military, but during the war I experienced some very horrible and life changing events. After coming back, the experts couldn’t put me back how I was, and I spoke to a lot of them. They did tests. I spoke to support groups and specialists, but none of it helped me make sense of life anymore. I was heading toward ending it because nothing helped me until I started writing and painting again. 

On an individual level, art is a cathartic and healing way to share the pieces of our spirit we can’t put into words. It’s a connection bigger than ourselves on a level we might not even understand. On a societal level, art is the soul of the society it’s from. It’s a snapshot of an epoch. And the benefit from art isn’t the product. That’s the unique thing about it. The benefits from art come from the process of creating it, and it comes from the contemplation of whoever is reading or observing it.

We were told by scientists and sci-fi writers that Artificial Intelligence would start taking over remedial jobs, but what I’ve seen so far, AI is creating portraits that used to be painted or illustrated by commissioned artists. It’s written poetry, songs, and movie scripts. It’s de-aging actors.

Instead of hitting us at the bottom of our Hierarchy of Needs, they’ve hit us at the top. I think that it’s more dangerous for AI to take away our art and dreams than it would be if they sent Terminators. 

I don’t know how we can keep mankind from losing these benefits, but I do know that once they’re gone we may not be human anymore. I hope smarter people than me are working on it (is it smarter people than me or smarter people than I?) I don’t know. I’m just asking that you, whoever may be reading this, don’t give the power of art away to an app on your phone or ChatGPT. I mean, go ahead, we’re all curious, find out what the cast of Xena, Warrior Princess would look like if it were cast in the 1960s, but after you have a little bit of fun make art a priority in your life. Either create it yourself, or read it in a book, or go to a gallery. Or better yet find a local showing and talk to the artist and maybe buy something.