A Lesson from Italian Renaissance Masters
The contrast with the technically dazzling but spiritually empty and emotionally flat imagery produced by generative AI is highlighted by implication here, drawn as an unspoken negative image. Skillfully done.
I suppose one might argue that the human touch may be found in the engineering of prompts, which requires a degree of technical mastery and imaginative intuition, in much the same way that a skilled photographer combines filter, lighting, timing, perspective, development, and post-production flourishes to raise photography to an art form in its own right. Yet for all that this is possible in theory I've yet to see such works emerge in practice. By offloading the technical skill set entirely to a machine, the development of an organic unity of imagination and hand from which the most powerful art emerges is inhibited.
There's an analogy here with the offshoring of production - it was imagined that we could do the innovation ourselves, and let the Chinese handle the manufacturing, but in practice the innovation moved to China along with the factories. Engineering innovation relies to a large degree on the intimate relationship between factory floor and the engineer's lab; introducing barriers of language and distance slows this process, makes the engineers less capable, and eventually the engineers are mostly in China too. It may prove to be just so with the artificial separation of mind and hand, imagination and technique ... with the difference that machines have no mind.
Thought-provoking! Please mind the typos throughout. Took me slightly out of reading it.
I was thinking about this when I saw sculptures being 3D printed by machine. You articulate what I think many people feel in the heart very well. Why was it it just felt wrong but I couldn’t explain it? Thank you for your article ☺️
Thank you, Megha. This was most illuminating. Having spent two years in Italy, I won't say studying, but immersing myself in its art which overflows everywhere, not just in its paintings and statues but in its buildings, household objects, cars, clothes, you name it, I've become deeply aware of the purpose of beauty in all its forms. Art indeed does tell a story, as you say. But I would not confine it to the three-act structure of beginning, middle and end. Some stories just have a beginning then leave the rest up to your imagination. Some artwork is a mere suggestion of a story. But maybe that's the point, to engage the imagination.
In regards to artists and artisans, I would say that today, the artisan is an artist in his own right, while that wasn't the case in medieval times as you point out. The role of artist has gone through so many developments. Today, it is unrecognizable. I would not even consider 'machine art' as art.
True art affects the deeper layers of the psyche, where it becomes at times unexplainable. Could the function of art be to stop the mind, to cease the What does it mean? and bring one to an openness, a surrender to experience and feeling? And ultimately with the divine?
I look forward to your 'essay for another day'.
Not sure if you have read Mattias Desmot’s “Psychology of Totalitarianism”, but it might illuminate the underlying sociological and psychological causes of the almost universal devolution of our ability to think, create, write and create beauty.
Wow! Yes, thank you for your thought and time on this subject. You are spot on that art today is almost universally either the worship of politics or techniques. In this art there is no, as you eloquently state, rendering of, “something real that has never yet been captured in physical form—you must make corporeal the imagination.” That is the beauty of language, of art, of human connection, it is fundamentally irreducible metaphor, not facsimile, nor propaganda. The real art that you discuss attempts to elucidate as of yet unseen self-evident reality. In our reductionism where we think we can corral the material (and immaterial) world to fit inside our limited scope of human perceived truth we leave out awe, epistemic humility and soul edifying metaphor. Please keep writing and thinking, you have a gift.
This is wonderful. Thank you for bringing to life what the real Artist does!
Wonderful and educational article! "The real artist has something to say, some story to tell, that a machine simply does not because it has not and cannot live. This is why real art also takes courage: you must capture something real that has never yet been captured in physical form—you must make corporeal the imagination."
I will be sharing this quote with my kids this evening around the dinner table. We have been talking a lot about how to stay human in the age of the machine; how to contribute beauty to the world; how to use language in a unique and storied way that a machine cannot replicate because it does not experience life. This also relates to my recent article 'Tilling the ground for ChatGPT' https://schooloftheunconformed.substack.com/p/tilling-the-ground-for-chatgpt
"... AI technologies will compound and accelerate the degradation of language skills in students. Homeschooled students will face this demise of language with more resilience if they continue to be trained in a rich, historic cornucopia of literature, academic and creative writing, and critical thinking skills. Students who are able to create content independently, write in refreshing and distinctive voices, will be the ones who flourish and set themselves apart."
Brilliant article, I think you'll really like the book 'The Dangers of Beauty: The Conflict between Mimesis and Concupiscence in the Fine Arts', quite possibly the best work on art in recent times
These artists are all just copying someone's face. Not even original. Paint something unique and I'll call it art.
I wouldn't be too hard on modern people who make things with paint, plaster and whatever. These people need patrons. If you had a few Cosimo Medicis lying around willing to support them I assure you they would do it the way he wanted it done. People who are drawn to the arts see where the big money and prestige goes and they quite naturally gravitate to that. They have rent and supplies to pay for after all. An interesting writer on this topic is Alexander Adams at https://alexanderadamsart.substack.com/.
Thank you for your article.
So, is M.C. Escher an artist? How about Paul Klee? Your focus on the Renaissance seems a bit Eurocentric. What about the painters of Russian Icons or Chinese silk screens? Artists, or technicians?
Generally speaking nothing that a machine “cannot do” cannot be done by a machine in principle. Art translates one experience into another, for the benefit of an audience, maybe people, maybe God, maybe the artist himself. The artist needs the shared language of the world to give meaning to the translation, which is where the mechanical translator is limited, relying on syntax alone, but that limitation is not insurmountable. Are you not in a way a devious machine concealing a perhaps bottomless soul that none but God will never see?