AI Art, Artificial Intelligence, and Originality

“Ethical” is such a nebulous term in relation to new technology. I personally believe that human artists mostly do organically what machines do mechanically – digest a bunch of influences/data/images, blend it, then regurgitate a synthesis.

I don’t think what most artists do is original or “creative” in the sense of true innovation.

My take on why human artists are needed is very different from the ethical argument about originality. I think humans need to make art and to creatively interact with their environment to be healthy humans. I think humans need human-made art around them to thrive.

Are Human Artists Actually Being Original?

Is human hand-made art inherently creative? Or more creative than machine-made art? Or art made by a human using a machine like AI? A human artist operates with a set of influences/data includes that the machine can’t, like: their own personal memories (unpublished memories), their own personal influences (the distillation of their preferences and associations) the filtering effect of their personality/preferences/associations, their real-time feelings/reactions of their organic body, geographically-limited tools/materials, and the opinions of their close friends/collaborators/advisors. Do these extra set of influences count as “creativity” or make what they produce “original”? I don’t think so. They are just an additional set of influences/data.

The Problem with AI Art and Randomness

What might be very difficult for an AI to emulate is the (apparently) random interaction between the artist’s internal vision/idea, their physical body, their tools, and the art materials. ALL artists embrace ‘accident’ to some degree. What we produce almost never matches exactly what we envision – there is an element of chaos that becomes one of the ‘authors’ of an artwork. When it ‘has a mind of its’ own’ and can take the artwork on a completely different trajectory.

Randomness can be added to the output generated by an AI to make it more ‘human like’ but the fundamental pathway to the result is different. The computer’s path from ‘idea’ to ‘object’ is totally unrelated – the pattern generated in space and time as consciousness comes into manifestation is totally different, even if the two objects produced appear similar. Energetically, they are not at all alike.

As many folks have pointed out elsewhere, AI art generators are trained on original art that is usually protected by copyright. The artists are not being compensated for the use of their work. As much as it may appear to be a ‘new’ image, AI generated art is actually just a blend of stolen work. It may appear new only because there are so many sources that it’s difficult to identify who was stolen from and perjury becomes difficult if not impossible to prove. But that’s not always the case – AI is perfectly able to simply copy an existing artwork.

What AI Can’t Do

More importantly for the work I do, a machine can’t yet do is imbue an image with power. Actual spiritual power. The machine isn’t chanting mantras and exhaling them into the physical object with their breath. While it may be possible one day, it will be a different kind of power set into a different (mostly invisible) pattern in space/time. The machine can’t move Prana the way a human body can.

It can be programmed to emulate or copy the evidence of a human body interacting with a physical tool and medium while imbuing it with love and Prana, but as the original post says, this is quite literally copying the evidence of such interactions. It is not actually engaging in these interactions. The ‘dance’ through space/time is totally unrelated.

An artwork that appears superficially to have significance but lacks any human awareness as part of its ‘code’ is an empty shell. This enticing shell may naturally be filled with helpful energy and benevolent spirits, but who knows? Most people lack the subtle awareness to sense (and trust the sensing, and RECOGNIZE what is sensed, and act wisely upon what is sensed) the difference between an artwork that has nourishing power and one that is ‘junk food’ or worse, one in which a negative spirit has taken up residence.

It is THIS power element that requires ritual art to be made by a human artist, and why traditional Himalayan society required that a NEW hand-made ritual painting (Thangka) be commissioned for a wedding or other important life events. Buying a print or factory-produced Thangka-like artwork and hanging it on the wall does not have the same spiritual impact. When the raw power and consciousness that is fundamental to reality itself is being invited/drawn into physical form through a human medium, it is compatible with our human experience and digestible by human body-minds.

It’s like the different between orange-flavored drink and actual fresh orange juice imbued with prana from the Sun and the living tree growing from living soil. It’s NOT just a matter of a certain mix of water, sugars, cellulose, chemicals and minerals. It IS about non-physical power and intention being imbued into the substance of the art object and the image that results. It is about the entire set of relationships that brought the art into existence.

It IS about trees growing and being beautiful and making shade and oxygen and homes for birds and bugs, about holding the soil with their roots and putting humidity into the air. It IS about farmers living close to the land and gaining wisdom from tending to orange trees. It IS about the human interactions at the farmer’s market. It IS about peeling the orange and smelling the peel.

A glass of orange juice is filled with an entire culture and ecosystem, as well as juice. A hand-made work of art is filled with meaning, with culture, with an entire set of living relationships, including our unseen guides and protectors. The physical art object is just evidence of the mostly-invisible larger living pattern. When we rip an icon out of context and strip it of meaning, we are engaging in a kind of colonialism. It’s extractive rather than creative.

A Path Forward for Humans and Human Artists

What we need is not to be distracted by culturally and historically specific and ever-shifting notions of ‘ethical’. What we need is not to get distracted by nebulous concepts of ‘originality’. What we need is not to get attached to old ideas of ownership and authorship. What we need is not to demonize technological tools (I used AI to “improve” this post).

Certainly, tools can be created to check for originality, cite sources, and avoid perjury. We could make laws requiring AI generators to list sources. Royalties could be paid as well. Do we as a society have the political will to hold tech companies accountable? Copyright law needs to be updated ASAP but making laws is a relatively slow process. Meanwhile, content creators may hold themselves accountable, but we cannot expect corporations to do anything more than rush to cut costs and increase profits. In the end, it will be up to us as consumers demand original art, as voters to demand legislation, and as compassionate humans to ensure that our creative friends be treasured.

We need to move beyond consumer-capitalist ethical arguments. We need to move beyond scientific materialism’s emphasis of the measurable components of the finished art object/image. What we need to focus on is what it is to be human, to love, to be kind right now, when such AI tools are proliferating and making superficial copies of what humans create. What we need to focus on is the kind of society and world we wish to live in.

This cultural recognition of earning “Merit” by invoking blessing-power through the employment of a human artist and makes a human-aligned art is what our modern culture needs. This cultural recognition of the difference between synthetic ‘junk food’ art and real living art is what all humanity needs to recognize. The benefit of having well-employed artists and creative people as valued members of our society, continuing to be part of the cultural conversation of what it means to be human TODAY, is what our culture needs.