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A conversation about AI in my art Apr 30, 2023   Art, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning

Some questions I was asked recently:

_Have you ever used AI in your artistic work? If yes, what AI tools do you use and how do you incorporate them into your creations? _

A lot of my work revolves around the idea that everything is interconnected. We are on a continuous journey. And so is everything around us. The big objects, the tiny ones, life, ideas, everything.
I often use particles, like pollution, smoke or dust to create my work. These are remnants of previous objects or life. They are also the possibility of new life somehow.

I have worked around the world and during that time collected a good collection of mostly digital photographs. Memories of specific moments when I happened to find myself in a relevant place and decided to make a picture.
These photographs and that information is also in some ways like dust or the shadows of something that was. Or they are particles in a vast universe of information surrounding and shaping us. And because it is digital information, digital particles, it almost invites the use of AI to interpret and to organize.

I used a system that allowed me to work with my data in ways I wanted to, without having to code. There might be other systems and there are constantly new being developed.
I wanted to use AI, is in a way that looks mainly at the data I specifically provided and finds something interesting within that. Many systems either openly or overtly use data and creations of others to spit out often seemingly stunning results. I wanted for a system to look at hundreds, or thousands of photographs that I had taken and then find an underlying and emotional image within that dataset. So in a way I used AI to help me find the emotional origins of my photographs. And I think the emphasis is on both, my photographs and my emotions and within my parameters.
The process I used is very similar to the workflow in most photography today, except that the “developed” images have a different quality and no longer clearly create the illusion of being at a precise location at a specific moment. They do represent a certain emotion.
I use AI as a means of collaboration with a machine, in a way that extends the already existing collaboration that happens when all photography is created.
I fed the system thousands of my digital photographs and then let it create many more thousands of interpolations out of that dataset. I then chose the ones that best reflected the emotions I remembered to have had at the time when I took the original photographs.
There are certainly parallels here to my drawings with particles, except the particles are impressions of a world from my point of view, well, from the point of view of the lens of my camera, or my screen when I use that to capture.

_How is the process of using AI different to using purely human tools _
_Why do you use AI, and what does it do to your creations?_

The system I used for the recent series of photographs has been very similar to the way I would work with any post-shoot editing tool made for photographers. The difference is mainly that I am looking for specific images that most resonate with what I felt at the time of creation, not necessarily what feels most similar to what I saw or what the camera saw.
Working through a large set of impression-particles is something that happens naturally in the complex system of our world. It is something that involves many calculations when done by a machine. I like the path and the layers of computation too. And so some of my photographs come from a fairly early computation and some from a more complex process.
In some ways the way I work with AI appears different from how I work with purely analogue materials. But in many ways it is very similar.
The more I work, the more I see the similarities and the more I am able to appreciate them. I have worked with computers long enough to understand that a lot of what we can accomplish with them appears really exciting at first, but does not always age well.
So I am very interested in incorporating AI as an assisting machine, not as my new master.

_What do you think about fully AI-generated art? _
_Do you consider works such as “Portrait of Edmond de Belamy” by the Obvious collective or “The Next Rembrandt” by the ING group as true works of art, and why? Do you believe that an artwork can exist and be called as such without the intervention of the human artist’s hand? _
_Have you ever created or considered creating such a fully AI-generated artwork, and why?_

Because my work allows me to think about the interconnectedness of everything, I am not sure if I can really accept the term “fully AI generated” for myself. It might be a description of bodies of work or of individual artworks that is used to set them apart from where most of the art narrative has been. But when we really think about it, humans are still somehow involved in feeding the machine, in directing the machine and ultimately in picking the exact results, putting them in the analogue context and then interpreting the work, naming it, selling it and so on. All of the steps are important to shape a work of art as well. Nothing exists without origin and nothing exists without a path towards a destination. And many of the steps in-between still very much involve humans, and always somehow will.
When machines are sent out to collect data that was pulled from hundreds if not thousands of years of human creation, then the results can’t really be considered fully AI generated? The shiny and often moving objects presented to us are certainly impressive and in many instances even awe inspiring. But they come from somewhere and they are somewhere and they are traveling with us now as part of our human context. In many ways that’s exactly what makes us so in awe with the recent AI work, may it be the image generating algorithms or the chat bots. They are so impressive to us, because they have a certain human-made quality to them. And that is because they are part of a human-machine relationship.

A lot of art that still exists has been something that we humans have used to connect to others in a slow and very profound process. And the connection might have been to other humans and it often has been to something divine and not easy to rationally understand.
It would be a mistake to think of the machines as that.
But it feels like a lot of humanity might be heading in the direction of such a belief system .
I am in Reims right now, and literally looking at the Cathedral here. I could be in awe, because a lot of the building has been created using calculations. Or I could be in awe because new building processes were used here that allowed to build faster. Or I could be in awe because of machines that were used to erect this work of art.
But I am much more intrigued by the accomplishment of the many humans involved in the creation of the cathedral. I am amazed that the towers challenge me to imagine them to look different. I am almost overwhelmed by the complexity of information that is stored on the facade and inside of this building.
On one hand I am obviously worried what AI might bring to us and how it might use our own accumulated knowledge and intelligence to outlive us. But on the other hand it also feels that there are many opportunities in the human-machine relationship. And I feel that there are still many opportunities ahead of us in that.
As long as there are artists who are profoundly interested in the creation of meaningful work, on a path they can see within, there will be more and new ways of experiencing ourselves in this incredible universe.

_Do you set any limits to your use of AI?_

I work with AI as if it were a helpful and benign assisting tool perhaps. I am very aware of the possible dangers of trusting that tool too much or for giving it too much trust and then becoming an operator or a servant to that tool.
This relationship between artist and tools is nothing new. Most recently we have seen how people have used cameras. We are still riding that gigantic digital wave of things. Some photographers use cameras to merely look at the world, some let the cameras show them a world, some use cameras to create material from which they then create their own worlds. Some use cameras, some are used by cameras.
But I assume that when the van Eyck brothers refined the use of oil paints, it was also very tempting already to just layer paint in ways previously impossible. And somehow a lot of that is still what we love about the technique. But for me, what makes a truly great work worth preserving and worth admiring is not just technique or the tools.
Asking a photographer what kind of camera they used is a bit like asking a chef what kind of stove they used. I assume a similar development will be possible with AI.

What makes some work truly exceptional is an intangible something that perhaps does not even stem from the artist as an individual. I think many artists will agree that the work is best when it somehow surpasses one’s own expectations, or opens a door or window to something within, or something beyond comprehension. And that’s probably not something that we would like to give away for AI to discover. We are the transmitters and receivers of that.
Art is not a hack.

_Do you foresee possible ethical concerns with the use of AI in art? _

We have worked really hard over the centuries to give some kind of benefit to the artist for having created something. Authorship of written ideas is similar. If someone gave their life to create something that is a truly personal interpretation and intimate to their views and then maybe also risked a lot to share this with others, then we should not just take it away from them and push them aside and run with it.
Because AI is so new and many of us are so in love with it, we let it do exactly that to many artists out there. Not only work is taken away from artists but their style and details of their work.
It’s probably profitable for some. But it will ultimately probably discourage artists from taking risks and from freely sharing their work.

Because I do not want to take from others to make my work I am most interested in working with datasets that I have myself created. (One could obviously argue that any photograph taken is already something pulled from a world that was created)
I use often AI to actually remove information that I might have accidentally captured, that could trigger assumptions or conclusions, away from the emotion I am trying to find. So even if the original photograph is of an object that was created by someone else, or is the image of someone else, I am most interested in results that no longer clearly contain that clear depiction.

_Do you believe it is necessary to distinguish between human mad art and production assisted by AI, or do you think that the idea and realization are what matters most? Do you think there should be legislation specifically regulating the use of AI in the art market?_

I am an artist and really not a legal expert. I do know that a lot that has been happening to artists and to the work of artists is quite unfair. What is happening right now seems a next step in this. I think it is good to mention when AI was used. Just the way we would reveal that something was created with a pencil, paint or with a camera.
The real trouble of AI goes far beyonds the artistic creation process. The tools are so great already that they can fool us into all kinds of behaviors and thoughts.
This in itself carries great danger.

_How do you imagine the importance of AI in your art going forward?_

I think AI will be very important for my work in the future. I can already see where I could be working with AI and where there are still limits that are at least apparent to me. Looking at the speed and ease at which things have been developing, I am not worried that the machines will become less powerful and less useful for some of the things I want to make and do.
But I also think that a lot of what I will be making and doing will very much stay away from AI in the creation process. And I think I am more and more aware of materials that will make work last for centuries, not minutes, or seconds, under someone’s thumb.

When it comes to discovering, describing, understanding and also selling my work, then it is quite possible that AI will replace a lot of what we think is normal and contemporary.
I am absolutely sure that we are looking at a monstrous rapid evolution with the introduction of learning machines. But it will maybe find me making things with my hands and my ever changing mind, as part of this huge thing we still do not understand and might never do.

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