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AI art isn’t going away

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I think they’ll be disappointed. AI “art” isn’t going anywhere.

The internet did a commendable job of mocking NFTs to death, or at least into remission—big game developers like Ubisoft who initially showed interest have mercifully stopped bringing them up—and now some hope that the “make it so uncool no one will touch it” tactic can be used to stunt another trend: the rapidly-advancing AI image generators spitting out flattering, fake portraits of our friends and stills from imaginary David Lynch Warhammer films (opens in new tab).

In one sense, NFTs and AI art are opposites: NFTs promise that every piece of digital artwork can be a unique and valuable commodity, whereas AI art promises to eradicate the value of digital art by flooding the internet with an endless supply of it. If Jimmy Fallon wants to hoard all those stupid NFT ape pictures, I don’t think most people would care, but the cheap, rapid generation of AI images has made it hard not to see more and more of them. If you’ve used social media over the past year, you’ve seen AI-generated imagery.

And I highly doubt it’s a temporary fad. Where blockchain investing is criticized as pointless waste generation, AI art is lamented for threatening the jobs of illustrators. Everyone can see the value of a machine that turns words into pictures. It’s hard to resist giving it a try, even if you don’t like it on principle. If someone tells you they have a machine that can make a picture of anything, how can you not want to test the claim at least once?

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Something perceived as profoundly human has been turned into a party trick.

The way we interact with these machine learning algorithms reminds me of the way people tease babies, delighting at their every response to new stimuli and pointing at anything that could be taken as a sign they’ve understood us. When an image generator seems to “get” what we’ve asked for, a pleasantly uncanny feeling arises—it’s hard to believe that a computer program successfully translated a complex idea like “John Oliver looking lovingly at his cabbage having realized he’s falling in love” into an image, but there it is, undeniably on the screen in front of us.

And that’s really what makes AI art so offensive to so many, I think. It’s not just the automation of work, but the automation of creative work, that feels so obscene. Something perceived as profoundly human has been turned into a party trick.

AI art generators don’t tear up their failures, or get bored, or become frustrated by their inability to depict hands that could exist in Euclidean space.

The good and bad news for humankind is that the sleight of hand is easily found: Image generators don’t do anything unless they’re trained on stacks of human-made artwork and photos, and in some cases that’s been done without consent from the artists whose work was used. Indeed, the popular Lensa AI portrait maker frequently reproduced garbled signatures (opens in new tab): the mangled corpses of the real artists who were fed to it.

An early attempt to save AI art from this criticism is easily dismissed, if you ask me. The claim goes that by scraping online artist portfolios for training material, AI art generators are “just doing what human artists do” by “learning” from existing artwork. Sure, humans learn in part by imitating and building on the work of others, but casually anthropomorphizing algorithms that crawl millions of images as living beings who are just really fast at going to art school is not a position I take seriously. It is entirely premature to grant human nature to silicon chips just because they can now spit out pictures of cats on demand, even if those pictures occasionally look like they could be human-made.

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Beyond flattering portraits

What’s interesting about AI-generated images to me is that they usually don’t look human-made. One way the inhumanity of machine learning manifests is in its lack of self-consciousness. AI art generators don’t tear up their failures, or get bored, or become frustrated by their inability to depict hands that could exist in Euclidean space. They can’t judge their own work, at least not in any way a human can relate to, and that fearlessness leads to surprising images: pictures we’ve never seen before, which some artists are using as inspiration.

Rick and Morty creator Justin Roiland toyed with AI art generation in the making of High on Life, for instance, telling Sky News (opens in new tab) that it helped the development team “come up with weird, funny ideas” and “makes the world feel like a strange alternate universe of our world.”

Image generation is only one way machine learning is being used in games, which are already full of procedural systems like level generators and dynamic animations. As one example, a young company called Anything World uses machine learning to animate 3D animals and other models on the fly. What might a game like No Man’s Sky, whose procedurally generated planets and wildlife stop feeling novel after so many star system jumps, look like after another decade of machine learning research? What will it be like to play games in which NPCs can behave in genuinely unpredictable ways, say, by “writing” unique songs about our adventures? I think we’ll probably find out. After all, our favorite RPG of 2021 was a “procedural storytelling” game.

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Valid as the ethical objections may be, machine learning’s expansion into the arts—and everything else people do—currently looks a bit like the ship crashing into the island at the end of Speed 2: Cruise Control. (opens in new tab)

Users of art portfolio host ArtStation, which Unreal Engine and Fortnite-maker Epic Games recently purchased, have protested the unauthorized use of their work to train AI algorithms, and Epic added a “NoAI” tag artists can use to “explicitly disallow the use of the content by AI systems.” But that doesn’t mean Epic is generally opposed to AI art. According to Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney, some of its own artists consider the technology “revolutionary” in the same way Photoshop has been.

This ethical, legal, and philosophical quagmire has just started to open up.

“I don’t want to be the ‘you can’t use AI’ company or the ‘you can’t make AI’ company,” Sweeney said on Twitter (opens in new tab) . “Lots of Epic artists are experimenting with AI tools in their hobby projects and see it as revolutionary in the same way as earlier things like Photoshop, Z-Brush, Substance, and Nanite. Hopefully the industry will shepherd it into a clearer role that supports artists.”

It is of course possible to train these algorithms without gobbling up other people’s artwork without permission. Perhaps there’s a world where artists are paid to train machine learning models, although I don’t know how many artists would consider that better. All kinds of other anxieties arise from the widespread use of AI. What biases might popular algorithms have, and how might they influence our perception of the world? How will schools and competitions adapt to the presence of AI-laundered plagiarism?

Machine learning is being used in all sorts of other fields, from graphics tech like Nvidia DLSS (opens in new tab) to self-driving cars to nuclear fusion, and will only become more powerful from here. Unlike the blockchain revolution we keep rolling our eyes at, machine learning represents a genuine change in how we understand and interact with computers. This ethical, legal, and philosophical quagmire has just started to open up: It’ll get deeper and swampier from here. And our friends’ profile pics will get more and more flattering.

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Criss Bellini Art Fans Urge for Pop-Up Gallery – E! NEWS

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Since the brand’s launch in 2020, Bellini’s sales have skyrocketed, selling over $1 million in its first year and exceeding its sales in 2021, in 2022, with over 2 million sales in euros. Seeing this, it is clear that art sales are booming, and people want to see more of his unique pieces.

However, because Bellini’s website is the only place to view and purchase his art, the public has begun to request a gallery or a pop-up gallery where they can go visit Bellinis’ work and see it for themselves.

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Wish you could set fire to the last 3 years? A huge flaming art installation is coming to Toronto – CBC.ca

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3D digital rendering of The Burn, an art installation. Visible is a brassy dodecahedron adorned with perforated patterns. It appears to glow from within and floats above still dark water.
Rendering of The Burn, 2023. (Javid JAH)

What if you could just set fire to the past? Would you feel liberated — free to start fresh in 2023, flush with feelings of love and peace and other things you could file under positive vibes?

The City of Toronto launched an interactive art project last Thursday called The Burn, a seven-week initiative that aims to offer a moment of respite in the wake of COVID-19, and it comes to a climax on March 11 — the third anniversary of the pandemic. 

On that date, a monumental art installation will go up at Nathan Phillips Square, and the centrepiece involves three towering steel sculptures that’ll be set aflame for 24 hours — fires that will keep on burning with a little help from the public, who’ll be invited to add bits of (supplied) wood to the blaze.

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It’s a scenario that sounds significantly more thoughtful and controlled to hear Roger Mooking describe it. Mooking is the lead creative on the project, and he talks about The Burn as a chance to heal and grow as a collective. In short, it’s bigger than an all-day bonfire. 

Mooking says he began thinking about the work in 2021, prompted by the “overwhelming melancholy” of lockdown. “I recognized that I was not the only one, that we were in this kind of collective consciousness globally, and we all needed to heal,” he tells CBC Arts. And with The Burn, he’s inviting Torontonians to actively begin that healing process. 

The first phase of the project is already underway, and involves a series of interactive sculptures — significantly smaller vessels than the ones that’ll go up at Nathan Phillips Square. They’re being stationed at public sites around the GTA as part of a tour that launched Jan. 19 in three locations: Fort York National Historic Site, the Toronto Zoo and Twist — Mooking’s restaurant at Toronto Pearson International Airport. 

Here he is, testing it out in Terminal 1.

As of writing, people can find The Burn at three new sites through Feb. 1: Spadina Museum, Native Canadian Centre and the Market Gallery at St. Lawrence Market.

“We want to make sure that we’re hitting every corner of the GTA: north, east, south, west, central — all the nooks and crannies,” says Mooking. Twenty-one locations are currently scheduled for the tour, and a full map and schedule can be found through the city’s website. 

Through March 11, visitors will find metallic dodecahedrons at different destinations — sculptures created by local artist Javid JAH. And under each sculpture is a bowl of wooden balls: spheres the size of marbles that have been carved out of cedar. 

Photo of a brassy dodecahedron adorned with perforated ornate designs. It's mounted on a wooden stick. A wood bowl full of small wooden spheres rests below the polyhedron. In the background, two step-and-repeats printed with extensive instructions for how to engage with the artwork, are visible.
Find vessels like this one throughout the GTA. This shot was taken during The Burn’s install at Fort York National Historic Site. (CBC Arts)

Take a ball, and you’ll be asked to stop and think — to sit with your feelings, really. In the language of The Burn, you’ll be “setting an intention.” Is there something weighing on you: an emotion you wish you could change or simply set free? Once you’ve identified that feeling, you’re asked to drop your ball inside the sculpture. It’s a moment for “letting go,” so to speak. 

“People are carrying so many things, especially coming through this COVID time,” says Mooking. “It’s a very simple thing … that can be very, very emotional.”

A multihyphenate known for his success as a chef, TV personality (Man Fire Food), and musician (Bass is Base), Mooking’s presented participatory art projects for the city before. Just last August, to coincide with Emancipation Month programming at Toronto history museums, he launched Read(In), an interactive installation that also appeared in multiple locations throughout the GTA. 

To bring The Burn to life, project curator Umbereen Inayet connected him with collaborators JAH (who designed and produced the installation’s ornate sculptural elements) and artist Catherine Tammaro, a Wyandot Elder who served as an advisor, particularly concerning the project’s spiritual bent. Says Mooking: “There’s a deep history of Indigenous cultures using fire and water for cleansing and preservation and healing, so we needed that guidance to make sure that we were respecting that tradition.”

The wooden balls collected at each tour site will eventually fuel the fire on March 11, and Mooking says those attending the activation at Nathan Phillips Square will also have the opportunity to set an intention. At the big event, visitors will send their cedar spheres down a chute, directly into the flames. And when the fire’s extinguished, all the ash that’s left behind will be collected for use in city gardens. “We’re really trying to emulate the cycle of life: from the spark to the ash,” says Mooking. “We’re looking to carry the spiritual intentions from everybody in the city to fortify our Earth.”

The city says it will be announcing more public projects that respond to COVID’s impact on residents. Like The Burn, they’re part of a program called Stronger Together that launched in late November. More programming is expected to be revealed in February.

In the first few days of The Burn’s cross-city tour, Mooking says he was receiving reports from the participating venues. Folks are interacting with the sculptures already, he says. “It’s been cathartic, I hope. … I can’t wait to see how much healing we’re able to do when we really roll out the full scale of this at Nathan Phillips Square.”

Full event details, including a map of The Burn’s tour locations, can be found on the project’s website.

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Art is everywhere this weekend

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Saturday, Jan. 28

2023 ArtsEverywhere Festival

Multiple locations; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

From film screenings to drag brunches and book fairs, the free annual festival has something for everyone. Learn more here.

Winterstock

Royal City Studios; 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Join Royal City Studios for a live music tribute to Woodstock 1969; attendees are encouraged to wear their best 60s style clothes. Get tickets here.

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Music Weekends

Western Burgers & Steaks; 2:00 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The genre-bouncing Probable Cause will perform live at The Western, pay-by-donation. Doors open at 2 p.m., show starts at 2:30.

Sunday, Jan. 29

2023 ArtsEverywhere Festival

River Run Centre; 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

The last day of the free festival features a lecture and a film screening, both at the River Run Centre. Learn more here.

Music Weekends

Onyx Nightclub; 2p.m. to 5 p.m.

Join SHEBAD for their live concert at Onyx. It’s family-friendly and pay-by-donation. Doors open at 2 p.m., show starts at 2:45.

OHL Hockey

2 p.m.: Guelph Storm vs. Sudbury Wolves, Sleeman Centre

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