Yumna Sohail

Mar 19, 2021

4 min read

But Is It Art? — AI and the Algorithms vs. Artists Debate

There is a common belief among techies these days that with the arrival of AI and algorithms, professions such as those that of artists are becoming extinct. This is a misconception.

Art made by AI or algorithmic art is certainly beautiful, unique and in some cases, novel but it is still not capable of replacing traditional art.


Art Made By AI Is Derivative

Algorithmic art is always derivative. That’s not to say that the algorithms can’t produce exceptional and distinctive images.

Not in the least.

My personal favorite are the images produced by theDeep Artalgorithm.

When a person says ‘Algorithmic art is derivative’, he or she is countered by the question:

‘Isn’t human art also derivative?’

But human art is not derivative, since it comes from some thought, idea or inspiration, traits unique to humans.

(Does it matter when one is buying a painting from Walmart? Well, that depends.)

If you just want something pretty to look at in your house, then no it probably doesn’t matter.

In fact, it would probably be the cheaper option, although right now AI art is not cheap.

But if you really want to understand art and what the artist is trying to say — because art is not just about the art itself — it’s a medium of expression — or are interested in finding something actually new, then it matters.

Because artists are always inventors and innovators, just of a different kind.

It is not Intentional

A while ago I came across a discussion on Twitter on AI and art. One tweet posed a question:

Should AI get credit for creativity if it produces art, or is it just a tool like a glass of wine?

My personal opinion is No.

It should not get credit.

AI certainly deserves credit for the hard work in algorithmic art, but creativity?

Are the AI systems which make art creative?

What are AI systems?

AI systems are programs and sets of instructions which learn from previous data and keep repeating instructions until a certain condition is reached.

In terms of art, sometimes the final image they produce is a derivative of an old one and can be seen as such. Other times, the final image is still a derivative but the resultant image, as seen by the viewer, looks nothing like the original.

This is purely chance and is not calculated either by the AI system or
the programmer since neither had control over the final image.

One could argue that the credit for creativity should go to the programmer since he wrote the program, and this too is an area under serious debate. However others point out that having written the program he has no control or idea or inclination about what the possible end result might be. In that case he might get the credit for creating the program but credit for creating the art should not go to him.

Not For Investment Purposes

Mass production can be a blessing or a curse. When you mass produce you renounce your right to be exclusive. Even if you don’t choose to mass produce but you have the ability to do so, then you are no longer unique.

Traditionally the art that was made was valuable because, quite apart from things like the artist’s fame, style of painting etc, the artwork created was one of its kind. Even when forgeries were made of famous artwork the price of the original did not drop. Additionally since the artwork was hand-made even the best forgeries were eventually identified due to differences in methodology, brushstrokes, style, paints used etc.

However the same cannot be said of algorithmic art. Since algorithms are basically code — depending on who owns the rights to the code — it can be mass produced. Even if it’s not, it can be stolen, which need not be discovered until the stolen artwork is resold.

The stolen code in turn does not need to be altered in any way in order to reproduce and sell another of the same painting. This makes it an original. The continuous reproduction and reselling would dramatically plummet the price of the original.

So my question is, if a work of art is derivative instead of original in that it has nothing to say, has no real creator since we’re still arguing about where or whom the real credit belongs to and has no real investment value, why is it a work of art at all?

And if it’s not, why do some say the profession of ‘artist’ will soon go extinct?