Illustrated initials from a German fairytale book (1919 edition)

AI and the Soul of Art

An online app was making the rounds yesterday all around the social media. Writers and readers would input a prompt into a box and an AI algorithm would create a digital painting to correspond to that prompt.

You could play around with the art style and themes and, there is no doubt, some of the paintings produced were visually stunning.

I have always found the concept of AI being programmed to produce art icky. Whether it’s for writing, painting or music composition. Not because I don’t believe computers will ever be able to produce something as good as humans do: I am not as naive as that.

The idea, however, for creating the planned obsolescence for the human soul should bother us all.

My friend pointed out that this new, computer-created art has no soul. I thought about that, and I think it really doesn’t matter, truly. I believe that art, in whatever medium, has two souls.

One is the soul of creation, the drive to make something new, to translate emotions into something yet more ethereal.

The second soul of art is on the recipient side. The emotions and feelings it evokes. The memories is stirs up.

Those two souls are, to me, quite separate from each other.

The art created by the AI has the power to create an emoitonal response through the lines and colours, through the hints of form. The lack of human involvement at the point of creation changes nothing at the point of art consumption.

That word, consumption, is the key for me though. The capitalist system most of us live under, with its relentless pressures, already narrows our field of vision. It robs most of us of resources and time, for the benefit of very few. It tells us we have to monetise each love and passion, because worth is measured in supply and demand, not in emotional value added.

Turning art into one more thing for us to passively consume, stripping off the drive to create (because how can you compete with a self-teaching machine’s perfection) and thus leaving us with what? More time to work for others and more time to buy what we don’t need with money we don’t have.

There is a global rise in people being diagnosed with all kinds of mental health issues, with a deficit of this, and an excess of that. Anxiety, attention, keeping still, keeping productive, keeping emotionally numb. The pathologising of a normal human reaction to the messed up system we have created, so as not to find fault with the system itself.

How much easier to tell you your art, your soul, is not worth the work. Just consume what the computer has spat out, then medicate for the sadness of a lack of agency till you are once more satisfied, or an approximation of satisfied that will keep the owners of this world in business.

AI-generated image of mountains
AI-generated image of abstract figures in a psychodelic setting