It seems like every day I learn about a new development in the world of artificial intelligence (AI). As an artist, I’m most concerned about AI-generated “art” and its cultural implications. Some of the images I’ve seen are fascinating to be sure, and the complicated processes used to create these images are just as interesting (although admittedly, often beyond my technical understanding). Luckily, I don’t need to understand the precise processes behind AI-generated images to appreciate them. But are these images truly Art with a capital A? Or are they simply interesting visuals? Arriving at a conclusion may be difficult if we don’t all share the same, high-level definition of what art is.
For ages people have struggled to define art. Eternally lacking objective and definitive boundaries, the art world continues to press on creating. When an artist pushes the “limits” of creation and approaches that blurry edge of the imaginary boundary, the debate resurges. Why should it have a definitive boundary? After all, is it not the very absence of concreteness that makes art and creative expression what it is? Probably so. In the case of AI, however, lacking aconceptual definition for art may be putting a large piece of our humanity at risk, with far-reaching consequences.
I believe art can best be defined as the intentional and tangible expression of experienced reality. Poems, paintings, songs and other forms of creative expression communicate something about the internal world of experiential consciousness. For example, a beautifully crafted chair says something about the creature that built it (fish do not make chairs), but it doesn’t communicate anything about the crafter’s experienced reality. A landscape painting, however, says everything about the internal world of its sentient creator. Art is a communication device created by conscious creatures, for conscious creatures with the intention of communicating some facet of what it’s like to experience. This is why art resonates with us so deeply: we connect and identify with the experiential, intellectual and emotional state of the conscious creature who created it. We understand what it’s like to experience the world, and we feel that in the language of creative expression.