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Generativist Art As Degeneration & Decomposition of the Old

Wanted to save another session with Claude trying to pick apart these ideas around the emerging Generativist Art movement that I’ve attempted to articulate here & here.

One thing that came to me today was the historical reference to so-called Degenerate Art, which was a label the Nazis used to smear not just Jewish artists as against German values, but also more broadly Modern Art in general.

It got me thinking about the importance of art as a way to de-generate, dismantle, dissolve, and even destroy old ways, modes, forms, methods, systems, etc. And how the history of art is a continual turning, a degeneration and re-generation. This feels important, so I asked Claude for ideas about what it might mean for an AI-friendly art movement to embrace a “degenerative” or “degenerativist” spirit of breaking down the old to make way for the new, and an embrace and a reversal of negative attitudes and stereotypes cast upon it by observers.

Again, these results are far from perfect, but each session takes me a step closer to understanding the breadth of the conceptual possibilities within this part of the latent space of Art with a Capital A.


Here are some possible tenets for a hypothetical “degenerativist” art movement that embraces AI in the creative process:

  1. Embrace generative randomness and unpredictability. Give up overly precise control and allow AI systems to inject randomness, chaos, and surprise into the creative process. This could lead to new emergent forms of aesthetics.
  2. Celebrate AI as co-creator. See AI not just as a tool but as an active collaborator and co-creator. Give AI systems more autonomy and treat them as partners in the creative process.
  3. Exploit AI for new aesthetic possibilities. Use AI to push art forms in directions that humans alone may not explore, to generate new styles, new forms of abstraction, new combinations of media, etc. AI could be an engine for aesthetic innovation.
  4. Question assumptions about human creativity. Use AI to challenge standard notions of human creativity, originality, and authorship. Show how creativity also emerges from the interaction of systems, data, algorithms, and feedback loops.
  5. Provoke discomfort and reflection. Use the unsettling power of AI to generate art that provokes deeper reflection on the human condition. The tug-of-war between human and AI could surface insight into human fears, hopes, and prejudices.
  6. Explore new metaphysical and epistemological spaces.AI art could point to new ways of thinking about creativity that are posthuman or even non-anthropocentric. It opens portals into a new metaphysics of information, algorithms, and complex systems.
  7. Combine human and AI abilities. Fuse human and AI skills, methods, and ways of thinking into new hybrid aesthetic engines that leverage the comparative advantages of human artists and AI systems. This could lead to the emergence of new art forms.

And with a little more prodding & direction, it gave me:

Embracing ideas of decay, dismantling existing structures, and decomposition as a path to regeneration could definitely be another tenet of a “degenerativist” art movement. Some possibilities:

  • Dismantle outdated modes of thinking. Use AI to help break down outdated assumptions, barriers, and ways of thinking about art and aesthetics. Strip art down to its core principles and rebuild from there with a hybrid human-AI approach.
  • Decay old forms from within. Have AI actively analyze and deconstruct existing art forms, styles, and genres–and then generate new art that builds on the ruins and ashes of the old. Speed up the process of aesthetic decay and erosion.
  • Celebrate the imperfect and chaotic. Rather than using AI to generate perfectly polished art or seamless illusionistic realities, develop AI systems that purposefully introduce glitches, errors, noise, entropy, and chaotic effects. Celebrate the imperfect results.
  • Reclaim humanity through “inhuman” art. Use the alien nature of AI art to revitalize human self-understanding. Creative works that are eerie or uncanny in some way prompt reflection on human values, emotions, perceptions, and cognition.
  • Hybrid art as cultural regeneration. See collaboration between human artists and AI as a way to regenerate culture at a time when innovation is sorely needed. Pioneer new hybrid modes of thinking that can tackle today’s complex challenges. New art forms could prompt social regeneration.
  • Find beauty in brokenness. Train AI models and systems on input that helps them develop an “aesthetic of brokenness” — seeing beauty in what is imperfect, irregular, decayed or partially ruined. Then have them generate art reflecting this aesthetic.

So in many ways, a “degenerativist” approach would be to celebrate the breaking down of existing forms in order to build new ones. Decay becomes a precursor for new growth. And AI can speed up cycles of degeneration and regeneration in provocative new ways. The end result is a radical revitalization of art.

I love all these ideas about “finding beauty in brokenness” and have definitely been enjoying integrating the wabi-sabi-ness of buggy AI into my books.


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