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The Evolving World of AI Art and the Lasting Power of Fine Art

Artificial Intelligence and Fine Art

Artificial Intelligence, or AI, is a buzzy new phrase that has made increasingly frequent appearances in our lexicon over the last few years. At its basis, artificial intelligence mimics human intelligence through algorithms. AI systems are programmed to synthesize information, recognize patterns and make decisions, simulating human intelligence, deductive reasoning, and even creativity. While AI technology offers exciting prospects for new and more efficient ways the world could operate, it also poses several existential questions. With the advent of new AI technology, like chat GDP, a content-writing application that can create everything from an acrostic poem about Winston Churchill to a 5-paragraph essay about basket weaving, some consumers wonder if artificial intelligence might someday make their current jobs obsolete. This unique tension is especially prevalent when considering the place of artificial intelligence in the world of fine art. While some might find this technology to be fundamentally at odds with the creative processes of art-making, others have placed themselves at the forefront of harnessing the power of generative AI to multiply their creativity. Read on to learn about what exactly AI art is, how it has evolved over time and how it can be compared to traditionally-crafted works of art.

What is AI artwork?

At its most basic, AI artwork is art created through AI algorithms. AI artists work with different text-to-image generators with different algorithms that learn certain aesthetics or art movements by analyzing millions of images. As the AI generator learns the relationships between text descriptions and corresponding visual information, the AI system generates shapes, forms, patterns, and figures to ultimately create its own realistic images in response to text prompts.

Current AI text-to-image generators include DALL-E 2 and Midjourney, among others. AI artists can prompt these generators with different subjects or ideas and include descriptors such as “hyperrealistic” or maybe “in the style of George Seurat” to generate their desired realistic images. Thus, AI artists do not make creative choices over which colors to choose or which medium to render their creations, but rather which words to use to prompt these unique works.

Jason Allen’s AI-generated Théâtre D’opéra Spatial
Jason Allen’s AI-generated Théâtre D’opéra Spatial

How has AI-generated art evolved?

AI-generated art began to really take hold in the 2010s as the technology evolved to new heights. Perhaps most notably, in 2015 Google researcher Alexander Mordvintsev created a complex new AI algorithm called Deep Dream. While it was initially invented to help scientists and engineers to see what a deep neural network is seeing when it is looking in a given image, the algorithm later became a new psychedelic and abstract art style. Deep Dream paved the way for several new text-to-image AI-generated art processes.
This technology has evolved with such success, that an AI generated artwork titled Théâtre D’opéra Spatial actually won Colorado State Fair’s digital art category. While the work’s creator Jason Allen stated that he used Midjourney for 80 hours and viewed over 900 images to create the piece, the merit of the work and the worthiness of the win have remained a point of contention. Nevertheless, the technology has certainly evolved in such a way that AI-generated art works have been deemed indiscernible from their human-made counterparts.

AI art vs Fine art: How do they compare?

Controversies like the Colorado State Fair shed light on the inherent tension between AI art and Fine art. Rather than the paragone of the Renaissance, technological advancements have stirred a new debate in the art world that questions how the work of AI compares to the work of human kind. While AI can certainly churn out beautiful works of visual art that often require authentic ideas and painstaking time to create, they lack one fundamental aspect of original fine art—materiality.
AI artists do not pick between ink or oil paint or pastel. They do not select paper or canvas or board. They do not adjust lighting or develop film. And, most importantly, they do not take instruments like a paintbrush or camera or chisel in their hands. They do not physically interact with materials like watercolor or clay or stone. AI art lacks the tangible qualities that make fine art such a pure expression of humanity.
That said, the ingenuity of AI and the creativity of AI art remains unquestionable and speaks to the human quest for knowledge and the desire to evolve. Rather than placing the two in opposition with each other, some contemporary artists look to harness the power of technology and use these developments in tandem with more traditional fine art perspectives.

Artificial Intelligence, Technology and Traditional Art working together

At the Museum of Modern Art in New York City contemporary artist Refik Anadol employed artificial intelligence to create an original artwork that asks, “What would a machine dream about after seeing the collection of The Museum of Modern Art?” The installation, titled Unsupervised, uses AI to interpret and transform more than 200 years of art at MoMA. Anadol trained a sophisticated machine-learning model that utilizes the publicly available data of MoMA’s collection. As the AI model “walks” through this vast range of works, it reimagines the history of modern art and “dreams” about what might have been—and what might be to come. When speaking of his process, Andol said “I am trying to find ways to connect memories with the future, and to make the invisible visible.”

Installation view, Refik Anadol’s Unsupervised
Installation view, Refik Anadol’s Unsupervised

Discussions about artificial intelligence have also prompted traditional museums to look deeper into AI art generation and wider technology on the whole. For example, in 2020 the Metropolitan museum of art hosted an open discussion they called an “AI Salon” to discuss the implications of AI in conjunction with the success of their large open access online collection. Some panelists surmised that machine learning could democratize art, noting that anyone with access to machine-learning software could explore the world of art history and even create new works of art, all without an advanced degree. Panelists further noted that AI allows people to see technology’s place in the art-making process, similar to seeing technology’s hand in the advent of daguerreotypes.


The Los Angeles County Museum of Art recently partnered with Snapchat to explore collaborations with technology and fine art—this time looking to augmented reality rather than artificial intelligence. Titled Monumental Perspectives, the initiative used augmented reality to explore how displaying artwork like monuments and murals interacts with representation and history. Visitors experienced augmented reality monuments at site-specific locations across Los Angeles including MacArthur Park and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The Open Hand is Blessed LA.jpegAda Pinkston, The Open Hand is Blessed, 2021, in collaboration with LACMA × Snapchat: Monumental Perspectives, © Ada Pinkston, image courtesy of Snap Inc.
Ada Pinkston, The Open Hand is Blessed, 2021, in collaboration with LACMA × Snapchat: Monumental Perspectives, © Ada Pinkston, image courtesy of Snap Inc.
Technology often engenders new forms of art, and developments in artificial intelligence have certainly rippled through the art world. With mind to elements such as space, line, color, hue and many more, artists have refined artistic building blocks to unimaginable heights. Could AI enable artists to more effectively create what their mind’s eye envisions? Or does the AI tool remove the humanity from creativity? These questions remain. Still the power of traditional fine art remains timeless.

The Power of Fine Art

The Twelve Princesses by Gustave Max Stephens, 1899  | M.S. Rau
The Twelve Princesses by Gustave Max Stephens, 1899 | M.S. Rau
When it comes to collecting art, traditional fine art continues to reign supreme as a time-honored and universally valued bearer of culture. Beyond lacking materiality, AI art also lacks the historical permanence of traditional fine art. Fine art is created in specific places and times, by specific people living in unique circumstances. Fine art stands as historical reportage, immortalizing certain eras and upheavals in the fibers of its canvases and the curves of its stone. Traditional fine art will always be valued and celebrated as a marker of what makes us human. It is a physical manifestation of genius and beauty that cannot be questioned. Works of rare art created at the hands of human beings will always hold a privileged position in our collective cultural conscience.


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