Artificial creativity (part 2) – the precarious aspects
Artists are different than we like to imagine them. That’s why many don’t see AI as a threat, but as an opportunity. Why is that? Let’s first look at the current AI discourse using the example of text production, which is also part of artistic creation.
Chat GPT is on everyone’s lips. Chat GPT questions – among other things – the traditional higher education system – with a currently completely unclear and probably path-dependent, contingent outcome. That is: at present, we think we can’t know what the consequences of using text-producing artificial intelligence (AI) will be. Probably rightly so.
The possible consequences have been much discussed. Here are some not entirely obvious potential impacts on higher education, which are neither clearly positive nor clearly negative, and show how unclear but also potentially far-reaching the possible consequences are:
- The previously very time-consuming setting of demanding multiple-choice tasks will become much easier and their quality deficiencies will be reduced, which will lead to more applied knowledge being tested in the future and, as a result, the practical competences of graduates will improve significantly (Is this a goal? For some: Yes, for others: No)
- The level of challenge of the examination tasks can and must therefore be increased, forcing students to increase their learning effort, thus reducing the number of graduates and consequently alleviating the shortage of skilled workers at the non-academic level (Is this desirable? Opinions are divided)
- Students do not learn those cognitive skills that are trained in writing, which leads either to a shift in competences (because other things can be learned for that) or to de-skilling (which relieves many of stress, but also is likely to make many grow older faster)
These examples show the complexity of the knock-on effects of AI progress – in the tertiary education sector alone. And they illustrate how different the assessments could be once the consequences are foreseeable. For the time being, it seems clear that AI disrupts continuity – and many perceive this as very threatening. The consequence is often emotional rejection of AI or, even more frequently, suppression of the topic of AI.
The fundamental otherness of art
In art, the situation is different: in art, continuity usually means the continuation of precarious conditions. Many artists make a very poor financial living from their art (or none at all) and are also highly challenged emotionally: They have to expose themselves to the judgement of others, because this is actually the essential part of their art-making: to express their inner selves for others. Many have therefore become accustomed to this doubly precarious situation. We only fail to see this because we are distracted by the superstars. They earn a lot of money and are cheered. It is hard to escape this focus on superstars – even when we know full well the frustration of the non-superstars. In part, our blindness to the ubiquity of the precarious is even a deliberate consequence of the staging of art as sublime over the mundane.
But precisely because art-making is normally precarious, many artists see new technologies as new opportunities. They adapt by appropriating the new technologies objectively and subjectively and – speaking in the language of anthropology – objectifying them subjectively and objectively. In everyday language, this means that they use the new technological possibilities to create art. In doing so, they partly deconstruct the technology myths, but much more often they use them as a kind of double reality to further increase the ambiguity of their artworks. Or they use them directly to create art that would be impossible without new technologies.
A look back at history
The history of classical music provides a resounding testimony to the appropriation of new technologies: from Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto to compositions using tape recorders or synthesizers to the use of software in current composition and performance practice. In addition, there are numerous trends in areas that cannot be clearly assigned, such as parallel live hacking for music and videos. The fact that algorithms also flow into this and ultimately what is popularly regarded as AI, well, why not? There is always the possibility of digging out old technologies, for example playing Mozart with original instruments or new music, which is now over 100 years old, with original (= analogue) synthesizers. The new complements the old, it does not displace it. And at least in contemporary classical music, the new has a much harder time than the old – unlike in Bach’s time, when the new dominated.
There is little reason to treat AI differently from other technologies. There is also little reason to turn away from artistic traditions that perceive innovation positively. The insistence on the old may be revered in Eastern art traditions, but in Western art traditions it has always been ephemeral and retroactively seen as reactionary. Currently, it can be observed that art consumers perceive AI as a greater threat to art than the artists themselves.
Adaptation or appropriation, that is the question here
The real question is whether artificial creativity in art is an adaptation or an appropriation. This question has always been crucial – and has a very essential ethical dimension. At present, there are many arguments against the concept of appropriation. First, it comes from anthropology, which, after soaring in recent decades (with research on the digital economy, among other things), is about to plummet into misery because it is not “woke-compatible”. Secondly, the concept of dominium terrae, which goes back to Genesis 1:28, becomes the main defendant of feared climate catastrophe, perceived species extinction and many other evils. Accordingly, appropriation sounds like a crime to many. Thirdly, the thesis of the gentrification of culture, described for example by Guillaume Paoli as zombification, also speaks against any belief in modernity. And fourthly, sociologists such as Philipp Staab are currently launching the concept of a positively interpreted adaptation. But will art submit to the new paradigm of adaptation? And: should it submit to it?
It is widely accepted that creativity needs a framework: Creativity needs a framework. This can consist of the renunciation of technology, but it can just as well arise from the use of technology. It depends on the perspective.
The closing sentence of “Das Neue Leben” at the Schauspielhaus Zurich sums it up. Loosely quoted: Even if at some point in the universe all life will die out, today is not yet that far. Whether or not artificial intelligence will take over art before the extinction of all life has no consequence for the end of the universe, nor for life and art today. So let’s see the opportunities in the now of Artificial Creativity, let’s appropriate AI as a new possibility for human expression!
This is the 2nd part of a column on Artificial Intelligence and Creativity. You can find the 1st part here.