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AI isn’t an existential threat to human art

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Jason Allen, a contestant in a recent digital art competition, sparked controversy by an using Artificial Intelligence (AI) tool called Midjourney to win. The competition’s rules didn’t explicitly declare AI-generated art ineligible, but that doesn’t mean Allen did the right thing.

Technology and art share a history. Much of human-made art depends on technology as digital art software is growing in popularity thanks to its convenience and sustainability.

We should hesitate to be anti-tech, as technology and art often have a symbiotic relationship. However, using AI to create art to be judged against people-made art is insulting to artists and what art means to people. When it comes to art, Allen’s attitude is dismissive of its value and of those who have honed their skills and talents to create it.

AI-generated art is interesting and valuable as a technology, but its value is different from art created by people. More than aesthetics, the humanity behind art is what makes it valuable.

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However, with digital art exploding worldwide, the fine line between “art” and “not art” is blurrier than ever. The descriptive words Allen typed into the software to produce the winning piece are arguably art, as effective word choice is considered an artistic skill in other contexts.

Unlike in some fields, objectivity is impossible when assessing art. The value we place on a piece isn’t always proportional to the effort taken to create it, further complicating the AI question.

There is a place for AI-generated art, but it should remain separate from human art.

As questionable as Allen’s actions are, they forced us to acknowledge how AI is threatening to turn the art world upside down. Rather than outright excluding it from future art competitions, we should consider ways to regulate it as the technology evolves.

Whether what Allen instructed the AI to create is art will depend on who you ask. Either way, our parameters for ‘art’ will have to accommodate AI’s growing prevalence.

A lot of the backlash prompted by Allen’s win stems from our frustration that AI can create art better than a human—at least according to the contest judges.

The last bastion of human supremacy is the idea that computers can’t make art. Now that they’re coming close, we’re uncomfortable.

Art and other highly creative fields had been assumed safe from the AI takeover that’s transformed some industries, but that may no longer the case. No one likes feeling useless, and that’s why effective art-generating programs like Midjourney are so disturbing.

The arts are already gravely undervalued in society compared to STEM fields. If AI can produce art that’s cheap, fast, and effective, human artists may soon be forced to compete with AI for jobs.

However, AI doesn’t eliminate the need for artists in society—human creativity and our capacity to translate emotions into art is unique. The whole basis of Midjourney and other AI art-generating systems is pre-existing artwork. The AI can’t do what it does without human art.

Regardless of how good AI gets, human art will always exist. We need to approach the use of AI in the art world cautiously and with respect for creative labour.

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Diplo ‘Wins’ Art Basel Miami by Topping ATM’s Leaderboard

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Photo: Thaddaeus McAdams/Getty Images for Ocean Drive

Diplo has about $3 mil in the bank, FYI. The celebrity DJ who once streamed Sophie Turner’s wedding to Joe Jonas (remember that?) claimed to have “won” Miami Art Basel this year. One of the most talked-about pieces at the annual art fair is an ATM that posts your picture and bank balance if you use it. The ATM has a leaderboard, which Diplo topped on December 2. At the time he posted his “high score” on social media, Diplo had $3,004,913.06 in his account. So we know his cash assets, but do we know if he’s in on the joke? This piece is from Brooklyn art collective MSCHF, who are known for their trolly stunt art. “ATM Leaderboard is an extremely literal distillation of wealth-flaunting impulses,” MSCHF co-founder Daniel Greenberg said on NPR. “From its conception, we had mentally earmarked this work for a location like Miami Basel, a place where there is a dense concentration of people renting Lamborghinis and wearing Rolexes.” The piece is goofing on ostentatious displays of wealth, Diplo. Having the most ostentatious display isn’t the flex you think it is. The ATM was a collab between MSCHF and the gallery Perrotin. They had the banana duct taped to the wall, to give some more context on where everyone involved stands on the art vs. prank spectrum.

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Free Press celebrates launch of art exhibit

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The Winnipeg Art Gallery has opened its doors to an exhibition focusing on the Winnipeg Free Press and its 150th anniversary.

Headlines: The Art of the News Cycle, which includes works from seven artists from across North America as well as archival material from the Free Press and the gallery’s permanent collection, looks at the many changes that have taken place in how the Free Press and other news organizations let their readers know what’s going on in the world around them.

The exhibit runs through to May 21, 2023 at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

— with files from Alan Small

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Inuk art scholar makes leap to National Gallery of Canada

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The National Gallery of Canada is home to a rich contemporary Indigenous international art collection, as well as important collections of historical and contemporary Canadian and European Art from the 14th to 21st centuries. (Photo by Christine Mastroianni)

Jocelyn Piirainen, from Cambridge Bay, will help the gallery curate its Indigenous and Inuit art collection

Jocelyn Piirainen is bringing an Inuk voice to the way the National Gallery of Canada acquires and exhibits Inuit and Indigenous artwork.

The arts scholar and former Cambridge Bay resident was appointed in early November to the role of associate curator for the gallery.

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Piirainen brings experience from her previous role as associate curator of Inuit art at the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s Qaumajuq museum, which she has held since March 2019. Qaumajuq is a collection of almost 14,000 contemporary Inuit art pieces, making up the largest collection of its kind in the world.

Curators organize and set up exhibits, said Piirainen in an interview from her home in Winnipeg.

Jocelyn Piirainen is an urban Inuk artist and curator originally from Cambridge Bay. She was recently appointed to the role of associate curator at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. (Photo courtesy of Jocelyn Piirainen)

“The curator is really there to allow artists to tell their stories,” she said.

“If there’s a specific carving that has a story or legend associated with it, you know, you want to tell the public about it.”

Piirainen joins the national gallery’s recently formed Indigenous Ways and Decolonization department. It has a mandate to amplify the voices of Indigenous artists, curators and scholars.

In an email, Michelle LaVallee, director of the department of Indigenous Ways and Decolonization, recognized Piirainen’s skill as a collaborator in her work with arts and culture professionals and Indigenous communities to highlight Inuit artistic and cultural practices.

“I am excited about her lived and professional experience as an Inuk curator which she brings to the national gallery,” she said.

Piirainen is joining the gallery as some controversial changes are taking place there. The Globe and Mail and other national media reported last month the departure of four curators from the gallery’s Indigenous Ways and Decolonization department. A former senior curator, Greg A. Hill, tweeted he was fired because he disagreed with the “colonial and anti-Indigenous ways” the department was being run, the Globe reported.

Piirainen said the Canadian art world needs more Inuit curators and art professionals. She credits a government-funding initiative, called Inuit Futures, for leading the way in that respect.

Inuit Futures in Arts Leadership: The Pilimmaksarniq/Pijariuqsarniq Project supports Inuit and Inuvialuit by giving them access to the training, mentorship and professional opportunities necessary to find success in the arts industry.

Piirainen was invited to be a mentor in the Inuit Futures program in 2019, where she was paired with mixed-media artist Aghalingiak (Zoe Ohokannoak). Aghalingiak, who identifies as they/them, is in their fifth year of study of fine arts at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.

Aghalingiak said in an interview that being a participant in the Inuit Futures program as a research intern and mentee has been both challenging and a confidence boost, accelerating their development as an artist.

Multimedia artist Aghalingiak is grateful to the Inuit Futures Leadership in Arts initiative for boosting their confidence and helping to launch their career in the arts. (Photo by Jonas Henderson)

In April 2022, they curated their first exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s Qaumajuq Museum under the mentorship of Piirainen. The exhibition is called Kakiniit Hivonighijotaa: Inuit Embodied Practices & Meanings.

“I didn’t think that I would ever be curating exhibitions at this point,” Aghalingiak said, reflecting on their recent solo exhibition and their experience with Inuit Futures.

As Piirainen prepares to move to Ottawa in January, she acknowledges that although this appointment provides an opportunity to be part of the national gallery’s efforts to ensure Inuit art and culture are appropriately represented, her hiring is not a solution in and of itself.

“There is also a lot of pressure that comes to that, to be kind of representing all Inuit, but I am aware that I can’t do that either,” she said.

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