The evolution of art and communication has always been inextricably linked with technological advancement. Every technological leap, from the invention of the printing press to the smart phone, has brought with it a measure of skepticism, resistance, and eventually, acceptance.

Today, as we stand at the cusp of another transformation with synthetic media and AI-generated art, it is essential to reflect on our history of adaptation, understanding that change is not just inevitable but can also be enriching.

These days it seems that when you look for creative inspiration online, a majority of the most amazing pieces of art and media that pop up in search, on social media and on art platforms are now Generative AI. Admittedly, I can't help but feel twinges of both fascination and discomfort when I see it. There's an intrinsic value, a raw emotion, and a unique touch to a human's physical artistic creation. (Not to mention a lifetime of perfecting skills, trial and error and failure.)

Like many artists and designers, I have been struggling with many questions trying to come to terms with how I feel about it:

  • How does one stay motivated to create and share their art, with all of its challenges and imperfections, knowing that anyone with a set of well-defined prompts can easily and at light speed, implement a vision with a thousand times more precision and clarity than something that typically takes hours, days, months or years to craft by hand?
     
  • How are artists and designers, who are already struggle to be compensated sufficiently for their time and creativity, going to be able to compete with this kind of technology?
     
  • If we do engage in the usage of AI as a creative tool, where is the boundary between valuable art and digital junk? Where is the value when everything is instant and amazing?

Yet, as we struggle with these questions and emotions, the unavoidable reality is clear: AI art is here, and it's here to stay.

It's akin to the mythical genie that, once released from its bottle, cannot be put back. We're on the precipice of a new era, and like with all past technological shifts, we'll need to adapt and mold our roles to fit this new landscape.

Let's consider some pivotal moments in the evolution of art and technology:

Photoshop & Digital Art: When Adobe Photoshop first hit the scene in the late 1980s, there was hesitance. Traditional artists feared that it would devalue their skills and make art accessible to everyone, diluting the essence of creativity. Yet, today, digital art is a respected genre in its own right, and tools like Photoshop have expanded artists' horizons, enabling them to experiment and express in ways previously unthinkable. The most recent update to photoshop even has generative AI baked into it!

Print Books to Amazon to Ebooks: The transition from traditional books to e-books was met with initial skepticism, as many cherished the tactile experience of physical reading. However, the convenience of next-day shipping and instantly downloadable digital reading - storage, accessibility, and eco-friendliness - soon became undeniable. While e-books catered to utilitarian reading needs, physical books experienced a renewed appreciation as collector's items and art forms. This shift exemplifies how innovation can coexist with tradition, altering consumption without diminishing the value of the original.

Did book stores disappear because of it? Sadly... yes. Yet, can people from all over the world with no previous access to printed books now have access to any book in the world in digital form? Definitely.

Horses to Electric Vehicles: We transitioned from horse and buggy, then moved to gas powered automobiles, and now, we're entering the era of electric vehicles. Each transition was met with skepticism. Today, while older generations may harbor a deep-seated love for classic and sports car culture, younger generations are exhibiting a marked shift. Their focus is less on the vehicle itself and more on the concept of mobility. The emotional connection to a car's roar or design is being replaced by an appreciation for efficiency, shared transport, and environmental consciousness.

Digital Audio vs. Vinyl and the Rise of Sampling: Vinyl was more than a music medium - it was an experience. The introduction of digital audio seemed to strip music of its soul. However, it led to the unexpected boon of sampling. Artists began remixing snippets from other tracks, leading to entirely new genres and sounds. What was initially seen as a loss paved the way for an expansive, rich musical landscape.

Music stores (and video rental stores for that matter) were replaced with online streaming platforms like Spotify, Netflix and YouTube that have both monopolized and democratized video & music, making it accessible to all and providing artists and creators with new avenues to distribute their work. With the advent of mp3s, the music industry was destroyed and reborn. With the advent of sample-based instruments, new musicians and genres were born.

These examples illustrate an uncomfortable, yet unavoidable pattern. Technological resistance, apprehension, disruption and finally, integration. With each shift in the evolution of synthetic media, it will bring about a change in the artist's role.


The Shift from Artists to Storytellers

With AI art, yes, it is clear that we might be moving away from hands-on tactical engagement. Instead, our role seems to be shifting to that of 'storytellers,' guiding and curating the experience, weaving narratives, and providing the human touch that machines can't replicate.

Generative AI will be just that - a tool. It can generate art, crazy fast, but it cannot generate the emotions, experiences, or stories that fuel that art. As artists, we will remain the maestros, the visionaries behind the creation. AI will be our brush, our canvas, our chisel - serving our creative whims.

Embracing AI doesn't mean the death of art; it signifies its evolution. As storytellers, we'll have to reinvent how we harness the power of AI to tell our tales more vividly, uniquely, and profoundly than ever before. The future of art is not just about creation but collaboration - with machines, with technology, and with the infinite possibilities they bring.

With this reality, the onset of AI-generated art has elicited a spectrum of emotions. On one end, as previously mentioned, traditional artists may feel a sense of devaluation, as machines seem to replicate the essence of human creativity. Their years of honing their craft might seem overshadowed by algorithms that produce art in mere seconds. 

And the future business models for artists and designers? What are they? I still can’t tell you, but they will change, for better and for worse.

However, on the flip side, there lies a promising and often overlooked narrative. Individuals who have never ventured into the world of art, inhibited by a lack of training or confidence, or even physical disability, suddenly find themselves at the helm of creative expression. For these novices, AI isn't a competitor; it's a collaborator. It bridges the gap between their imaginative visions and their ability to manifest them. AI provides a platform where the boundaries of expertise blur, and what truly shines is the innate human desire to create and express.

In this new paradigm, the world of art becomes more inclusive, inviting voices and perspectives that might have remained silent in a more traditional framework.

In conclusion, like the artists who once begrudgingly set aside their brushes for digital pens or the musicians who traded instruments for samples and digital audio workstations, we too will need to find our place alongside AI.

So, as an artist, is the rise of AI unsettling? Yep.

It's been challenging to come to terms with this new reality, and the weight of its implications keeps me awake at night. I mourn the loss of something truly special and unique.

However, as previously noted, we're past the point of no return. Vast swaths of human art and creativity, spanning generations, are being hoovered up, sampled, analyzed, modeled, categorized, fed into giant AI databases and re-spun into someone else’s two second “masterpiece” so it can be posted on Instagram for a brief and fading bump in their social media engagement.

And despite our best efforts as we struggle to develop future blockchain technology to protect whatever intellectual property we can save, there might never be sufficient legal resources to fully safeguard artists. If there's profit in running an AI-generated art platform or a workflow efficiency to be gained, it will continue to find its place in the world.

So, basically… it’s a done deal, folks.

Yet, as things change, things will also stay the same. We will still draw, paint, color, play music, write stories by hand, value and collect hand crafted artwork and that should never (and never will be) lost, but unless the zombie apocalypse happens, the electric grid goes down and machines grind to a halt, we will continue to use technology to assist us and to use AI to automate processes, including creative ones.

We are facing a new chapter in the grand tapestry of artistic evolution, and for better or worse, it's a story we must and will write together… with AI.

(By the way, this article was written with the help of artificial intelligence, as was the thumbnail image, and I’m perfectly ok with it!)

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About the Author: 

Sean Earley is a Futurist, Digital Consultant, Podcast Host, Hip-Hop Producer und Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) at Robotspaceship. He likes guitars, heavy metal and technology.

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