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AI Will Make Human Art More Valuable



The rise of generative AI models has led to equal amounts of clapping and handwringing.  One worry is that, as Kevin Kelly put it, “artificial intelligence can now make better art than most humans.” So where does that leave us?

The mistake is to assume that the meaning of “better” will stay the same. What’s more likely is that the goal posts will shift because we will move them. We have changed our collective tastes in response to technological progress in the past. We’ll now do it again, without even noticing that it’s happening. And if history is any indication, our tastes will evolve in a way that rigs the game in favor of human artists.

It’s not surprising that in conceiving of a new world awash with AI art, we haven’t accounted for a society-wide change in taste. We tend to assume that in the future we will want the same things we want now, and that only the ability to achieve them will evolve. One famous study dubbed this the “end of history illusion”: People readily agree that their most strongly held tastes have changed over the past decade but then insist that from this point on those tastes will remain as they are. Having presumably reached some peak level of refinement, they can now rest idly in their self-assurance.

In truth, what turns us on and off is constantly being reshaped by a range of powerful social forces, mostly beyond our awareness. Technological progress tops the list because it changes what is easy and what is difficult, and our running definitions of the beautiful and the vulgar are instantly affected by these criteria. When new advances expand the confines of what is possible, collective tastes respond—by wanting to partake of the new abundance and by wanting nothing to do with it.


I think of this as the William Morris effect. Morris was the bushy-bearded figurehead of what came to be known as the Arts and Crafts movement, which emerged in Victorian England in the 1870s. The timing was no coincidence: Britain had reached the peak of the industrial revolution. It had become the fastest-growing country on the planet, and London its largest city. For the first time, tableware, jewelry, and furniture could be made in factories, at scale. Such a quantity of goods had never been so accessible to so many.

Morris and his acolytes denounced the new abundance. They decried the soulless homogeneity of the machine age. In response, they looked to the past, seeking inspiration in medieval patterns and natural forms. Their designs were all intricate leaf patterns, elegant ferns, and curving flower stems. It was a radical move for the time, and the “medievalists,” as they were called, were mocked at first. But they quickly found a receptive audience. Just as technology was bringing mass-produced goods within reach of the middle class, under the influence of Morris and his acolytes, elite tastes turned to block-printed floral wallpapers and furniture purposefully left unfinished, the better to hint at its handmade origins. Soon, this fancy spread through English society. By the end of the 19th century, Arts and Crafts interiors had become the dominant style in British middle-class homes.

William Morris shaped British tastes, spawning imitators throughout Europe and across the Atlantic. But he was also a product of his time. The zeitgeist was waiting for a figure like Morris. The general unease with Victorian factory conditions and the dense London smog expressed itself through a sudden appreciation for intricate hand-drawn floral patterns. Time and again, technical advances change our sense of what is appealing or valuable. And as in 19th century Britain, the change often runs against the grain of technology, rather than with it.

So what does the William Morris effect imply for our newly expanded possibilities? How will the ability to spontaneously generate images by dictating a prompt to an AI reshape our idea of what is beautiful? Forecasting trends is a tricky business, but in this case, we don’t lack for clues.

A full 15 years ago, a team of researchers from University College London and the University of Copenhagen put people into an fMRI machine and showed them a series of abstract images. They told them the images were either made by a human or by a computer. A clear winner emerged. People not only claimed to prefer the (identical) human-made pictures, their brains’ pleasure centers actually lit up more brightly. What the researchers didn’t anticipate, but which is likely to happen, is that this visceral preference for human over robot makers might grow stronger with time, just as technology closes the gap between them. Think of it as humanity’s collective defense mechanism.

Why would people derive more aesthetic pleasure from an otherwise identical illustration, painting, or poem, merely because of how it was made, or by whom? It’s one of the distinctive quirks of modernity. Consider what a recent invention the notion of a “fake” is. Art historians estimate that half of all commissioned artworks in the 16th century were copies of originals. As long as they were competently executed, those copies were thought to be almost as valuable as the real thing. You see it in the prices each would fetch: In the Renaissance, an original painting went for about 2.5 times the price of a good copy. Now, that ratio might be closer to 10,000:1.  A perfect replica of an Old Masters painting valued at millions might fetch a few hundred dollars, at most. The market for copies is so dismal that few painters even bother. Our tastes have long been shifting in a direction that might strike any AI as baffling, not to mention deeply unfair. It’s a learned preference, and we’ve been working hard at our lessons.

Today, the William Morris effect is once more upon us. The first-wave craft revival that Morris brought about was the precursor to our current yearning for “authenticity” in every guise. Just as an unprecedented expansion of international trade has made cheap goods manufactured abroad widely accessible, the Western consumer has become enamored of locally made small-batch mustard with handwritten labels. The distinction comes down to the presumptive identity of the maker, and what we like to assume of their intent.

In my book, Beyond Self-Interest: Why the Market Rewards Those Who Reject It, I argued that the incentives of capitalism lead us to value disinterested makers over self-interested ones. In a crowd of greedy profit-seeking market actors, the only ones we can trust are the obsessives who care more about their craft than their bottom line—or at least claim to. One paradoxical result is that doing things for their own sake has become a profitable move. We find individual passion reassuring, and this preference is not limited to farmers’ markets: Experimental evidence suggests that corporate managers view passionate workers as more competent, and they promote them more rapidly—even when those passionate employees’ output is actually lower. Artists face an extreme version of this whim; their market success depends on being seen as oblivious to market success.

The advent of AI models will only accelerate this trend. We will place ever more value on works that seem made for their own sake, rather than ours. That’s bad news for the AI robots, which are explicitly designed to please us. Engaging in a task for its own sake is one thing that, by construction, is beyond any AI’s ability. Trained on what has appealed to us in the past, they offer it back in new colors.

We will look upon these pastiches with increasing suspicion, scrutinizing the provenance of words and images. Books and movies will tout their full-blooded bona fides. We will regard these as “better,” just as we convince ourselves that small-batch mustard tastes more “real” than its supermarket equivalent. We will develop increasingly sophisticated means of telling the two apart, and technology will itself be enlisted in the effort.

The ground has already been set, which is often the case. It turns out the gothic revival had been in the air for over a decade by the time William Morris offered British elites hand-painted tiles from his atelier. Similarly, the AI revolution will elicit a further elevation of “authenticity” from consumers, which painters and illustrators and writers will pounce on. Far from signaling a decline of original art made by humans, the advent of AI will render it more precious by contrast. The gap between the artists and the robots will grow wider, just as their technical abilities continue to converge.

What actual form might our newfound preferences take? William Morris provides some additional clues. His greatest influence was the art critic John Ruskin, who was 15 years his senior and can be credited with launching the gothic revival that Morris capitalized on. Ruskin was a polemical thinker who united a set of aesthetic preferences with a zealous social philosophy. He not only had set ideas about church stonework, but also strong beliefs about social institutions. Inveighing against what he saw as the dehumanizing division of labor in Victorian factories, he held that makers should be involved at every stage of the making. “The painter,” he claimed, “should grind his own colors.” Morris himself embodied this idea, and it proved good business. Though he eventually found himself at the head of a thriving firm, he never stopped grinding his own colors; he remained obsessively involved at every stage of production.

Expect the trend to continue. We will demand works that can be attributed to an identifiable individual vision. The AI age will lead to a doubling down on biography, which happens to be another thing robots are notably short on. Already, there is grumbling over how major contemporary artists, from Damien Hirst to Jeff Koons, rely on vast studios of assistants to do the actual painting and sculpting as a way of keeping up with the demand for maximal scale and output. Expect the complaints to grow deafening, and the rote response, according to which even Renaissance artists delegated tasks to dozens of apprentices, to lose its potency. That may have been fine for Titian’s time, but we now have painting robot upstarts to contend with, and our tastes have grown fickle.

This isn’t to say that artists will not take up AI as a new tool. Even the Impressionist painters, who responded to the advent of the daguerreotype in the 19th century by going to places where photography couldn’t follow, relied on photographs as a sketching device for their own work. But AI creations will only be rescued by tethering themselves to an individual human vision.

It turns out we’ve been prepping for the AI revolution for decades, developing quirky tastes for the very kind of symbolic values—individual passion, purpose, lived experience—that robots will not exhibit anytime soon. That’s why AI is unlikely ever to produce “better” art than humans. Instead, it will transform our sense of sweet and sour. Our collective defense mechanism will kick in. It’s the robots who should be wringing their little grippers.


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Is This The Actual Cover-Art For ‘The Winds Of Winter’? – Forbes



I’ve penned many an article and blog post about the long, long wait between books in George R.R. Martin’s fantasy series A Song Of Ice And Fire upon which the HBO hit show Game Of Thrones was based. Mostly, when I post these it’s some kind of grappling with disappointment, some attempt to give up the ghost and move on from what used to be my favorite fantasy series of all time.

After all, the world has changed since A Dance With Dragons released back in 2011. I’ve changed, too. Maybe I should be able to move on now, nearly twelve years later. I wish I could.

Today, however, I come to you with that terrible, wonderful poisoned chalice: Hope. Winter may be coming at last, and just in time for spring. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a “chalice half-empty” kind of guy when it comes to Martin’s novels. I love his writing—just not the pace of his prose.


But now we have this possible cover art for The Winds Of Winter and while it might not be the official cover art for the book it also might be. The artist, Ertaç Altınöz, released the below image a few days ago on Instagram and Art Station and it’s possible this is more than just fan-art. This is, after all, the same artist who did the cover art for The Rise Of The Dragon, the new illustrated book set in Martin’s fictional realm of Westeros.

I reviewed that book not too long ago, and it really does have a bunch of lovely art.

That lovely artwork on the cover of Belarion the Black Dread? That’s by Ertaç Altınöz. So when he posted this cover of The Winds Of Winter, I stopped and took note:

When a follower on Instagram asked the artist if this was the official cover, since he’s worked with Martin before, Altınöz replied “I have my moments David, so who knows, my friend?”

That’s what we call ‘playing coy’ and could mean a lot of things. It doesn’t rule out the possibility that this is, indeed, the long-awaited Winds Of Winter cover. Then again, it’s far from a sure thing.

Let’s pretend it’s the real deal for a moment. If it is, that could also mean that we’re getting an official announcement of some kind—perhaps even a release date!—in the not-so-distant future. In the artist’s other Instagram posts, he typically notes when something is a fan poster or fan-art and he doesn’t do that here. Then again, when he posts the official artwork, it usually is accompanied with some kind of publisher copyright—and this, I’m afraid, has none.

I know what you’re thinking. I’m thinking it, too. This is probably nothing, signifying nothing, a bit of fan-art from an artist as hopeful as the rest of us that Martin will finish the damn book and we can all wait another decade for the last one (to probably never come out). I’m not bitter, you’re bitter.

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Imaginary Friends: Barcelona art show aims to connect with our inner child – The Guardian



Nine leading contemporary artists have come together to create an interactive exhibition in Barcelona for kids – and anyone in touch with their inner child.

“Before the pandemic we had the idea of mounting an exhibition of contemporary art for people of all ages, something that children could relate to but also so that older people could relive the experience of being a child and participate as if they were children,” said Martina Millà, who jointly curated the show at the Fundació Joan Miró with Patrick Ronse, the artistic director of the Be-Part contemporary art platform in Belgium.

Millà added: “There’s much in this exhibition that’s therapeutic, above all a return to a pre-pandemic spirit after we’ve all suffered so much.”

Tails Tell Tales, an installation by Afra Eisma.

The show, titled Imaginary Friends, brings together installations from nine contemporary artists, several of whom are known to Ronse from his involvement in the 2018 Play festival of contemporary art.

Outside, at the entrance to the exhibition, visitors are invited to sit on Jeppe Hein’s beguilingly convoluted bench, conceived as a riposte to the hostile architecture of street furniture, such as benches designed so that homeless people cannot sleep on them.

One of the most striking installations is We Are the Baby Gang, a collection of colourful, feathered polar bears created by Paola Pivi, an Italian artist who lives in Alaska, which Millà says is designed to make us consider the anthropomorphic way we look at animals.

Pipilotti Rist’s oversized sofa

The creatures are very tactile but this part of the show is not interactive, leaving one small and disappointed boy to go into a screaming meltdown when he was told off for touching the exhibit.

That aside, the gallery is filled with the babble of excited children and the British artist Martin Creed’s Half the Air in a Given Space gives them plenty of opportunity to let off steam.

Creed has filled a room almost to the ceiling with large orange balloons, creating an immediate feeling of disorientation and claustrophobia accompanied by an irresistible impulse to burst out laughing.

Perhaps the most engaging work in the show is the Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist’s oversized sofa and armchair. Sitting on the enormous sofa, with your feet barely reaching the edge of the seat, never mind the floor, is an Alice in Wonderland moment that provokes a powerful physical memory of childhood.

“These works are a way of inventing a parallel life,” said Millà. “It’s like having an imaginary friend, and also a means of escape.”

Imaginary Friends is at the Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona until 2 July

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Inspired by a Lifetime exhibition showcases art by nonagenarians –



A local artist is capturing the beauty in sunset years by teaching seniors how to paint. Their work has made the walls of a local gallery. 

“I thought I’d be dead before I got famous. Thank God that’s not the case,” jokes 92-year-old Keith Sumner, one of the many seniors whose original art is displayed at the exhibit titled Inspired by a Lifetime at Stonebridge Art Gallery.

A resident of Leacock Retirement Lodge in Orillia, he is one of the students taking lessons with Lisa Harpell, an Elmvale-based artist who has been teaching art classes to seniors in retirement homes in the region. 


The work of about 40 senior artists ranging in age from 81 to 101 years old from seven retirement communities is on display at the Wasaga Beach gallery until March 27. The show includes work done by residents from Waterside Retirement Lodge (Wasaga Beach), Chartwell Whispering Pines (Barrie), Aspira Waterford Retirement Residents (Barrie), Allandale Station (Barrie), Lavita Barrington Retirement Lodge (Barrie), Bayfield House (Penetanguishene), and Leacock Retirement Lodge (Orillia).

The exhibition also includes Harpell’s paintings and sculptures. 

True to its title, each painting displayed for Inspired by a Lifetime has an impactful story to tell.

Verna Stovold, who suffers from macular degeneration, was one of Lisa Harpell’s students whose work is part of the Inspired by a Lifetime exhibit now on at Stonebridge Art Gallery. Contributed photo by Lisa Harpell

Verna Stovold, who lives with macular degeneration, is one of the many seniors attending the classes.

“Verna paints beautifully because her body remembers how to paint background, middle ground and foreground,” said her teacher, Harpell. “She tells us the paint that she wants and she dabs her brush and goes right ahead and paints. She asks me all the time if it’s okay if she comes to class … I say, ‘Verna, you’re the one that’s inspiring everyone else.’ Because I am holding up [her] paintings and everybody goes ‘wow.’” 

Stovold has two large paintings and ten studies included in the exhibition.

The process of training seniors to paint has been extremely gratifying for Harpell. 

“It is deeply satisfying to the soul. It brings me to tears all the time,” she said. “Because I know that what they created is worth showing. And it needs to be brought to the community not only for their sake, but for the community to realize that anyone can do this. Creativity is something that gives us hope. And that is something that is necessary in this world right now.” 

In her early days, Georgian College, Barrie, grad worked with the late Canadian artist, William Ronald. 

“He really did bring out the kid in me. He was such a kid himself. And that [thought] is what I really try to pass on, not only his legacy. I also find that the child in every one of my students wants to just play with paint and get their hands dirty. And have some fun and laughs,” says the mother of four. 

Alysanne Dever, lifestyle and programs manager at Chartwell Whispering Pines Retirement Residence, said the exhibition and art classes have brought a wave of positivity for the artists, their family, and their caretakers. 

“This is the first time that I have ever seen or heard of an art gallery showing for seniors with no prior experience,” says Dever, noting the opening day reception crowd packed the gallery. “Really, that’s what it’s all about! The residents were so proud that people were complimenting and wanting to learn about what inspired them to paint specific photos. One of our residents actually sold an art piece as well and she was so thrilled!”

Dever is a strong proponent of the benefits of art therapy, and says it provides residents with a creative outlet to express what might otherwise stay bottled up. 

The talented group of senior artists at Chartwell Allandale Station Retirement Residence. Contributed photo by Lisa Harpell

“This allows them to escape from reality, even for a little bit as they immerse themselves in their art piece in that moment,” says Dever. “Art therapy encourages seniors to use their creativity and gives them a sense of control and independence, which are essential qualities as you age.”

Not every brush stroke is smooth, and not every day was wrinkle-free for Harpell while she taught lessons in retirement homes. From outbreaks and whiteouts to loss of confidence, the behind-the-scenes training and coordination to make the exhibit happen meant clearing several hurdles. 

And yet, Harpell says, it is during the most trying circumstances that intuitive art therapy has a larger role to play, especially among the community’s vulnerable ones. Art has played such a role in Sumner’s life, after he picked up the brush in his 90s. 

“Painting puts you in a different mindset. Takes you away from everyday things,” says Sumner. “My perception of things has changed. The sky is different every day… and it intrigues me. I am observing things more critically, in more detail…and painting has encouraged that.” 

The exhibit is supported by the Wasaga Society for the Arts, in part because it helps accomplish the society’s mandate of making art accessible. 

The society’s interim president, Steve Wallace, said the group aims to introduce the community to all kinds of art, and to promote diversity and inclusion for artists and patrons. 

The Inspired by a Lifetime exhibition runs at the Stonebridge Art Gallery until March 27 on Thursdays and Saturdays and on Monday, March 27 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Lisa Harpell at the Christopher Cutts Gallery in Toronto where she attended an event honoring her late mentor Canadian artist William Ronald. Contributed photo by Antoine Adeux

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