Thursday, August 17, 2023

AI Ain’t Got Nothin’ on Me

8/3/23 Maple Leaf neighborhood

A while back when heavy media attention on AI as it relates to art put everyone on alert, it got me thinking in various ways. A primary concern is that AI technology can be used to mine the Internet for original images that are then incorporated into the technology’s “intelligence,” enabling it to develop its own imagery based on those images – without the artists’ consent or knowledge, let alone compensation. There’s no question that using an artist’s work without permission is unethical – that definitely leaves me with a bad feeling. But grayer areas also exist, and these have made me uneasy in more ambiguous ways.

Some professional artists have feared that AI technology will eventually put them out of business because an app can crank out art faster and more efficiently than humans can. They question whether their hard-earned skills would be devalued.

Since I make art only for my own enjoyment and have never had to depend on my skills to earn an income, I don’t have their concern. However, as a retired commercial writer and editor, I can certainly relate: I was recently shown a job-seeking cover letter that an AI had written after being fed some basic facts about a position being sought. Although the AI’s cover letter wasn’t flawless, I had to admit – with both fascination and horror – that it did a pretty damn good job, and apparently in a very short time. It was exactly the kind of editing and writing that I might have done for income back in the day, but it would have taken me a lot longer. If I were still working, I think I would worry a lot more for myself as a writer than as an artist!

7/25/23 Green Lake neighborhood

Nonetheless, knowing full well how long and hard I have been working to develop my drawing skills (12 years so far), it’s more than disturbing to think that an app could spit out something in response to a few instructions better than I could, and certainly faster. Intuitively, I do not believe that artificial intelligence could ever make human interpretation and expression obsolete, certainly not for fine art and even for commercial art, but I have no facts or reasoning to allay my uneasiness.

Tenaya Sims, an atelier instructor at Gage Academy, just released a video that was satisfying to view because he confirmed for me what I believe but didn’t have enough of a grasp on to articulate. As a practitioner and teacher of classical realism, he believes that artists who learn the fundamentals of drawing and painting will still be in a stronger position than those who don’t. Building an artistic foundation provides a powerful platform to shape our minds through the tools we learn, he says.

In the video, Sims describes three “foundational pillars” that trained artists learn: how to “see” (developing observational skills); how to simplify; how to use elegant simplification to extend into the imaginative. Understanding and using classical drawing skills are not only about the drawings or paintings that result – they change the way we see and think visually.

7/29/23 Maple Leaf neighborhood

As a long-time student of Gage, I know that learning the foundations Sims refers to has profoundly changed the way I draw, and I have suspected that I think differently now too, but it’s not something that’s easy to define or test. It was affirming to hear him say that.

As long as we – as both appreciators and makers of art – continue to value all the creative thinking that goes on behind each work, artificial intelligence will not be a threat to living-and-breathing natural intelligence.

It’s worth a view: “Why Learn to Draw in the Age of AI.”

8/2/23 Mt. Rainier from I-5 overpass at 80th NE, Maple Leaf
8/9/23 Green Lake neighborhood


  1. I know a number of artists and writers who are really concerned about AI's effect on the job market. Luckily I don't have to worry about making a living through my art. Although AI can be helpful I share some concerns about how it will affect things in the future. I'm going to scoot over and check out the link you posted.

    1. Technology can be wonderful when used in the right ways. But it's powerful, and it can also be used in the wrong ways. AI is both scary and fascinating.

  2. I am reminded of the effect of technology on artistic craftsmen in the past. It took some time, but eventually (perhaps after most of the competition had gone bankrupt) there was a willingness to pay extra for human made textiles, lace, quilting, knitted goods, homespun wool, etc. I think the trick is to manage to continue to pass on the skills when it seems there is no financial support for them. Anne HwH

    1. Yes, so true! I guess the difference now is that technology advances so quickly that we don't have time to think things through before it has already changed the world, for good or bad.


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