The long and merciless advance of the machine has, at times, expanded the arts in odd ways. The Art Deco style of the early twentieth century is a prime example of industry shaping style, as the energy of industrial power began finding itself reflected in an artform fielding bold lines, strong figures, and precise geometric forms, all reminiscent of factories, steel, and material progress.
As the world changed through advances in manufacturing and electronics, the arts attempted to incorporate these changes and left us with some stunningly beautiful works, from buildings such as the Empire State Building (1931) and the “Texanic” Texas Centennial Exposition Complex (1936) to the subtle sensationalism of paintings by Baroness Tamara de Lempicka. Even devotional ends enjoyed the new look, with such famed works as Christ the Redeemer (1931) and the Madonna Della Strada Chapel (1938) pointing man’s mind not merely forward but up.
But today, industry (or man’s place in that industry) is dropping faster than the HMS Hood. Recently, new developments in computer programs (commonly called AI) have upset the arts. These programs allow people to give both visual and written input that, in turn, generate pictures. The quality of the pictures is generally high and would take hours or days to deliver through traditional means. This writer knows that such works are beyond his present ability, and it would, were he not assured in other ways, be disheartening to know that computers can discharge an image in under a second that would take a man not only hours of effort but years of skill to attain.
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One may say that this is like the advent of Art Deco and that computer-generated art is but one more arrow in the quiver of craft. However, there are fundamental differences between Art Deco Art and AI outputs that preclude viewing these new developments as just another step in the journey of art. While influenced by and at times using the tools created by industry, Art Deco remained a man-made vision of the world as it then was. Artistic styles are, after all, merely reflections of culture and mind. Ohio could not now commission or create the Cleveland Guardians of Traffic, as the city of 1932 is not the city of 2022. In that way, art becomes one of the most important insights into history, and it allows us to see, in some mystic ways, into the worldviews of the people of the past.
With AI art, we are allowing the tools or methods to dominate the human dream. While a lesser offense than AI art, one may see industry overcoming art (and not merely inspiring it) in the post-war period, which often produced uninspired, unadorned, monolithic or modular structures prized primarily for (at least believed) efficiency to the near-total neglect of the viewer’s eye and the artist’s impulse. Perhaps humans were becoming too hollow to show what was within at that time, and so they allowed base brutalism, not worthy of barbarians, to take the place of soul. If that is the case, AI art may truly be a reflection of the present day.
Computer programs may have inputs and human programmers, but they do not have the nearness to the craft that an architect, painter, or poet does. Importantly, even while using modern methods, the artists still adorned the works with their own touches, even if these were streamlined and highly stylized to fit the fashioned theme. The Carbide & Carbon Building in Chicago, for instance, has its own little tidbits of personality, wholly unnecessary from an industrial view. AI, while imitating, does not truly allow for these little glimpses of humanity, for computers are not human and have no personality. The errors or additions mean nothing because it was not a human who added this or altered that; instead, it was a computer program, which did it without want, end, aim, or effort. Art cannot be stripped of meaning, especially of the artist’s meaning, and what is meaning to a computer program?
Not only meaning, but effort, too, is lacking in AI art. If one loves something or someone, he or she will work toward it and sacrifice everything to achieve its betterment. Artists starve not because they are incapable of working but because they work too much. Lovers languish not due to an absence of love but because of excess. If an artist wants to achieve an end, he will gladly subject himself to practice and effort to achieve that end. In contrast, the AI’s art will never be a product of that beautiful struggle and sacrifice, the giving of self to another; for it cost the AI nothing to give.
Man may have been unknowingly reviving Nimrod’s Babel by building skyscrapers, but yet he still built. Today, we have a frightening foreshadowing of what would happen were man to reach the heights of that great summit and claim powers he believes to be God’s own—creation without effort. But yet they should be reminded that even God stooped in the clay to form Adam, and Christ Himself showed man that pain and effort are the proper ways to show love in this life.
So, while AI is amusing, let us pray that humanity will always see and cherish the heart behind the art.