My last post hinted at a certain abandon in pursuit of intense feeling, and suggested more related musings were to come. So here we are.
The other day I was explaining to DP that my tendency to hyperfocus on the art project of the moment, complete with frustrating technical challenges, improbable learning curves, and rhetorical muttering and cursing, are, to me, all a part of the passion, and worth it for the result. Hand in hand with this for me is that, though I do tend to have long in-between stretches of being rather apathetic, highs and lows of many varieties make me feel alive, and I don’t avoid them. DP, in contrast, would sooner abandon a discombobulating venture than expose himself to discomfort by choice.
Later that same evening, I happened upon Maggie Rogers’ interview with Raina Douris on World Cafe, in which she discussed her most recent album, Surrender. A seemingly areligious person who recently earned a master’s from Harvard Divinity, Rogers is a marvel and clearly has a vested interest in how humans interact with forces larger than themselves. She talked about learning to harness guitar distortion as a tool of catharsis during the pandemic in a way that made sense with her voice and genre of music (using The Cardigans’ Gran Turismo, no less, a record I’ve long admired, as inspiration). She also described her realization of the importance of allowing oneself to feel ALL THE FEELINGS in the face of hard times, rather than trying to shut them out. Her preoccupations ultimately congealed into an album with the theme of surrender – which I am compelled to mention because it feels so related to Sold Kingdom’s explorations of the relinquishment of control. (Side note: It was especially poignant that after the interview Raina played a song that I relied on heavily last year: “Pain” by The War on Drugs, which is also about first resisting, then learning to bend with change. I’ll never forget the brilliant analysis of a rando on YouTube that suggested the closing guitar solo is an illustration of this: the way it starts as a stubborn inflexible through line that gets more and more taut and gnarled before it finally starts cooperating with the melody.)
Maybe as I write this I’ll figure out how, but somehow it feels related to all of the above that I also recently bumbled face-first into the controversial zeitgeist that is Artificial Intelligence-Generated Art (AI art, or, “art”, depending on whom you ask). I came across works that already-established digital artist Jeff Han had created with a program called MidJourney, and I was immediately drawn in – that is, drawn into both browsing other people’s creations AND making them myself.
Now, I’m not going to do a full rundown here of the mechanics of and objections to AI art. For a fairly comprehensive and objective primer, check out this video essay. I will say that opponents’ very valid concern over the data-scraping of copyrighted online artwork to train the models is unsettled legal territory, especially given that the images generated are not, say, collages with clearly recognizable fragments of existing work, but new creations formed by using text prompts to summon, in somewhat unpredictable amalgamations, what could be called the DNA of previously disintegrated images. So how transformative or derivative they appear can vary widely and be very subjective.
I’ll also say that the doomsday predictions of artist jobs being eliminated appear most pertinent to corporate artists whose employers are already less concerned about human idiosyncrasy and uniqueness of vision and more with cranking out art sausage as quickly as possible, and likely wouldn’t even inspect finished products for an extra finger or two. (For the uninitiated, this is a joke on the difficulty AI has with hands, which translates into busted-up looking fingers – sometimes dubbed “faingers” – or the addition of what some call the “casual sixth finger”.)
Also, browse Instagram accounts dedicated to this stuff (yes, I now have one) and it’s clear that while this tool is making “bad” artists a little better, it is making already skilled artists mind-blowing, rather than leveling the playing field completely. The best accounts are those with a cohesive vision that just happen to be using AI to manifest said vision. In fact, to me the weakest arguments against AI Art are those that speak of it as the product of a soulless machine, disregarding the fact that humans, with their individual perspectives, obsessions, fancies, traumas, etc., are the ones feeding in the text prompts.
As for concerns over technical skill becoming increasingly irrelevant: while it is understandably infuriating to those who have devoted their lives to mastering a craft, it is hard for me to feel bad about tech democratizing creativity so that those lacking access to formal study or commissioned artists can still have their concepts brought to life. Plus those of us who ARE artists to some degree find ourselves exercising the skill of curation: what to present, and when, and how, and what to let go for not being sufficiently intentional or in service of our mission statements. Those who are good with word-painting and knowing the precise terms for things are also at an advantage, not to mention that, should you choose to go deep, there is a science to crafting queries to better approximate your desired result. (Though it can also be great fun to let the tech give you something you didn’t know you wanted, which is a whole other example of giving up control.)
To say that every tech advancement will be used for good AND ill is so true it’s cliché. Whether it will be a net positive or net negative, time will tell. Circling back to elective surrender: for those like me who are happy to have their ashes scattered on the wind, their music available for free, and their art flung onto the universal slag heap, it is easy to see more good than ill in this particular technology. Here’s the thing, though: I’m well aware that the only reason I can say that so casually is that I devote a sickening percentage of my time to a very un-artistic corporation in order to get paid – and get paid I do – so I don’t worry about art for my livelihood. (One might even say I have SURRENDERED to this circumstance even more lately, which I’m not exactly proud of.) Whether or not I or anyone else should have to make such a loathsome choice is a whole other conversation, but I’m inclined to think we shouldn’t.
You probably saw this coming, but here’s where I share some of my MidJourney… erm…we’ll call them “results”. My trademark is capturing the dangerous potential energy of plant life and the unsettling power of centering a singular fixture in a frame. The distinct look of some of these comes from MidJourney not understanding I wanted a plant-type thing INSIDE a container and, as a result, merging the plant WITH the container.
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