As an art school drop-out, this quote about AI art models from illustrator James Gurney (Dinotopia) hits home:

“How do you run an art school when the students can solve any assignment with the push of a button?”

Thanks to ChatGPT this problem doesn’t apply merely to art schools, but more broadly to all education.

Art school is a particularly good test-bed though, because “art” can mean so very much. Honestly, I’d love to see art schools directly address this exact question. Art is so so much bigger than “making a picture.”

To me, the “problem” is not that much different than what artists encounter when they need to collaborate with other artists, which is especially apparent in theatre (where I worked for some 6 years). Only there the problem is somewhat clearer, since the issue is not merely about pressing a button and having a result, but working with a partner who is in control of the result (which, to be fair, Gurney addresses working with AI tools as partners). How do you exist as an artist when you have to rely on another person to produce a result?

Obviously, relying on another human being vs. relying on a computer for a result are two qualitatively different things. But perhaps that distinction won’t last all that long at the current rate of progress.

One thing I saw in art school that was never really overtly addressed anywhere was this underlying notion of the artist as the pinnacle of the rugged individualist. Artists seeking their own style, their own self-expression, their own fame, etc. Perhaps you might engage in the occasional collaborative or group project, but the focus is very much you you you.

Perhaps this is linked somewhat to fears that some artists seem to be facing around AI tools, that they feel there is a diminishing of the you you you of the rugged individualist artist with their own “unique” style etc. etc. A dawning recognition that, hey, we’re all basically doing more or less the same shit in more or less the same mass cultural context. That we’re even – gasp – by and large interchangeable.

For me, that’s not scary. That’s a relief. It means that to some extent I can shelve myself & my baggage as primary concerns, and merely execute within a cultural context as one of many exemplars. This accords more with past artistic traditions (I’m thinking medieval art esp.), where an artist was recognized as a link in the chain of tradition passed down through the culture. It wasn’t necessarily desirable in those traditions for artists to have their own unique style, so much as to transmit the style carried by the tradition.

Anyway, I don’t have all the answers, just lots of thoughts…