About four years ago I was part of a pioneering group that typed text to create pictures using a catalog of images and textures. It was a clumsy and tedious process that produced strikingly similar work and ultimately held my interest for only a short time. But technology moves fast. The past year has seen a proliferation of sophisticated artificial intelligence (AI) text-to-image programs that will blow your mind and make you worry about the future of artists. Illustrators and graphic artists may as well surrender their aspirations or learn to code. Online programs such as Stable Diffusion, Dall-e 2, Wombo, Pixray, Canva, Starryai and others create art out of words better than any stable of Chinese slave artists I have ever tried to liberate. Any style, any topic – the variety and sophistication of the art is incredible. These are no longer just simple art filters (Texture, ‘Watercolor’, Pixelate etc.) included in popular graphics programs like Adobe Photoshop or Corel Draw and ‘mapped’ over personal images or photographs… these are full art styles applied to an image derived solely from a written description. Nor are they popular app filters like Pixma, Toonme, or Deep Art Effects, that need you to provide a base photograph or image to apply their styles – just words will do. Much has been made of a prize won by an AI-generated ‘photograph’ this past August in Texas but the distinction between human and computer creativity has never been thinner, and more examples are bound to arise – that is if they are revealed, because there is little to distinguish one from the other. Of course these text-to-image programs rely (like my prior experience) on a database of visual images created in the past by human artists – but the variety derived from this trove is unique to the text proposed and the genesis of the image is generally hidden from the author. Technology has their bots recycling old art but seems incapable of creating new movements or aesthetics like groups of artists have in the past. Of course nowadays many artists cycle between past styles and ‘appropriate’ images from other artists with impunity – and in doing so erase acceptance of the same from artificial intelligence. It seems contemporary art is presently stuck in a vicious circle of refinement and regurgitation. Meanwhile, the bots match our most famous examples in the visual arts… and from the fringes wear down and corrupt the inspiration of emerging artists and any originality they can dream of inventing.
Artists are lining up on each side of an upcoming October Supreme Court ruling brought on by the Warhol Foundation’s appeal of a lower court ruling barring it from using images without substantially changing them. The American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP), the National Press Photographer’s Association (NPPA), and the US Copyright office are among groups opposing the Warhol Foundation. A ruling in favor of Warhol would diminish the work of any photographer who values their work and puts it in the public realm, making it fair game for lazy artists like Warhol, Barbara Kruger (who lent her name to the Warhol side), Jeff Koons and Richard Prince, among others, who constantly plagiarize images in their work and call it their own with minimal if any changes. If these artists (Warhol rest in peace) want to use a published image in their art without significantly changing it, why shouldn’t they pay the original artist/photographer for the privilege? Or conversely, why not go take your own damn photograph(s) to use? Warhol was never a good draftsman – but he was excellent at pissing on his pieces. His most recognized work such as Marilyn, Elvis, and Mao use photographs, apparently taken by others and used without permission. This is an issue originating in the 20th century with photography but modern society has made it even more easy, through means of the internet, to find and use any image put out for view in the world. It must be noted however that only the most shameless artists plagiarize these works without changing them or seeking permission for them. Many of them are in that modern wing of art that denies showing the ‘artist’s hand’ in works of art – movement famously promoted by Warhol and his ‘factory’. Successful contemporary artists especially should not be given a pass on adopting images without costs. A ruling in favor of the Warhol Foundation will only promote plagiarists as they exploit less successful artists with impunity. Artists prone to using ‘factories’ and ‘assistants’ will find that industrial production of art is not so easy when you have to personally develop all your images. It is not too much to ask for these capitalist artists to sacrifice ease of production for ethical support. BTW there are already laws in most countries that logically migrate published images into the public realm after due time – this case seems to only apply to contemporary images under authorship of current persons. The Copyright office and the photographer groups are correct to oppose this outrageous over-reach by greedy artist-plagiarists and their legacy foundations.
This month AMAZON decided to enter the fine art business. Here is their link, it’s kind of hard to find because search engines tend to send you to their fine art supplies instead of artwork… http://www.amazon.com/b?ie=UTF8&node=6685269011 . Their fine art website is similar to ARTNET.com, GALLERYTODAY.com, or ART.com among others. They have mostly modestly priced prints by known artists but also a Rockwell for about $4 Million so go figure – doesn’t seem like they have exactly identified their core audience. In any case, soon AMAZON will do everything from pick up your garbage to take care of your children to run nukes and fight wars. They are well on their way to becoming not only the world’s biggest but the ONLY Corporate entity once they vanquish all competition. Not sure if their fine art site will be self-sustaining but I imagine it will be well subsidized by their other business. Selling art on the web just keeps getting more diffused.