From the outside, the last few years have seen a continuous revolution in the industrial world.
Since they found widespread notoriety early last year, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have commanded multi-million price tags for pieces of digital art. But critics described them as fundamentally worthless grifts that offered nothing to art patrons, and artists themselves complained that their work was stolen and “Minted” without their knowledge..
At the same time, the Web3-based metaverse has been touted as the new home for that industry — a digital environment Facebook has sunk billions of dollars into, even as its own employees have failed to adopt its use.
And more recently AI art (which can create art based on text prompts or simply an unfinished sketch) has been coined as a path to the “democratization” of art, allowing those without technical capabilities to create images cheaply and quickly — though only later. Systems are trained on billions of examples from existing industries, often without the consent or remuneration of the original manufacturers.
So what gives? Why has the art world repeatedly pushed for changes over the past year that have been marketed as benefiting artists but that have seemingly upended the way art is made and consumed? Why are technological innovations supposed to affect the way society operates as a whole and have courted controversy, especially in industrial spaces?
“These technologies find ways to present themselves, to be discussed by the art world,” explains Rob Horning, a technology writer and founding editor of Real Life magazine, pointing to the rise of NFTs in particular.
An NFT is a creation that primarily operates from the Ethereum blockchain — effectively a system that publicly records and tracks online transactions. The main purpose of this system is to make it possible for the Ethereum cryptocurrency – which uses “fungible” (exchangeable) tokens, meaning they can be traded for each other as functionally identical items – to function.
In contrast, the “non-fungible” nature of an NFT means that it is unique – the two are not interchangeable. This means they can be linked to a digital artwork (which itself is rarely stored on the blockchain) to authenticate it.
In short, this means that the valuable part of an NFT in the visual art world is the perception of value. Although digital art is bound up with the fact that it can be copied many times, only one person can say they have an “authentic” copy.
That technology, Horning said, had little or no clear purpose before inventing a market for itself for selling digital artwork.
Pushback, a critique of technology in the art world
Although the initial stated goal was to empower artists to sell their work without representation, NFTs have proven far more divisive among artists.
when theft And piracy Proving to be a huge problem in the space, pronounced pushback against NFTs has led to the very group they were originally supposed to help: small artists who find themselves pitted against technology and crypto using — and selling — subcultures without finding new ways to sell their work. their work Without the consent of the artists.
But despite the pushback, the technology continues to be pitched and promoted, Horning said, as NFTs and cryptocurrencies remain only “as important as the buzz around them.”
“There’s a constant push for people invested in crypto to get crypto in the news, to get people talking about crypto,” he said. “And one of the ways you can do that is to have artists talk about crypto or have artists create things that tangentially involve crypto or NFTs.”
More recently, though not unfamiliar, the tumultuous intersection of the art and technology worlds is now seeing AI collide with the industry. With machine learning models like DALL-E, Stable Diffusion, and Midjourney, anyone with an Internet connection can input a few prompts and generate any image they want.
As with NFT, some artists have fought back against it. Artists like Simon Stalenhag — whose sci-fi visuals inspired the Amazon Prime series Stories from the loop — and web-comic artist Sarah Andersen Alleged that those systems are trained from publicly available art with their own work. It gives users the power to request that images be made in the style of a living artist, copying their work — and potentially taking business away from them.
I found the idea that they just proceeded to be eccentric and infringing. Art comes from one person’s complex perspectives and life experiences, not to mention years of work; Training an algorithm to imitate one, without my permission, just feels insulting.
Artificial intelligence art generators “are no longer in the hands of the artists. It’s in the hands of the early adopters of the technology,” Stellenhaug said. In a recent interview with Business Insider.
Blair Attard-Frost is a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto who studies the implications of AI and ethical ways of implementing it in industry. They said those artists fall into the “worker-displaced” camp, whose workflows have been fundamentally altered by the implementation of AI. And like Stålenhag, Attard-Frost says they’re concerned about how AI art systems are built from artists’ creations with little or no remuneration.
But these problems arise in many industries that apply artificial intelligence. The reason it is more visible in the art world is because of the centrality of art in people’s daily lives.
“One of the reasons this ‘AI artist’ thing is getting so much attention is because it’s so generalized, right?” Attard-Frost Dr. “It affects everybody, and it unlocks all kinds of new capabilities for a lot of people … in a way that more specialized applications aren’t quite doing.”
There are several reasons why these technological innovations have created such a strong connection with the industrial world as opposed to other fields. Robert Enright, senior contributing editor of Manitoba’s Border Crossings magazine and research professor of art theory and criticism at the University of Guelph, says it stems in part from the transfer of art to value the sale of art.”
“One of the things that’s happened – and I think this explains why there’s this search for NFTs and why there’s a new thing to sell – I think that in many ways, the marketing of the industry has become a very, very important part of the process. part,” says Enright.
“Because there’s so much money in the world now, and because the rich have to find something to do with their money, one of the things they do is pay a lot of money for art.”
At the same time, as Attard-Frost explains, these are technologies that sooner or later are coming to all spheres of life. They’ve just taken their first stumbling steps into the industrial world, when the regulation of many of these technologies is still in its infancy, likening it to the “Wild West”.
But Sarah Ludy, an American artist whose work often uses new technologies, says that’s only indicative of the field. The nature of art is experimental, which will always draw artists to new mediums and techniques, which are not yet widely understood.
While this can make it incredibly difficult to keep up with the changing needs of the tools an artist needs to master — and lead to potentially predatory business practices from those outside the art world who see opportunities — art and technology have always found themselves intertwined. Will do, he said
“Artists are driven to expand our definition of the world and ourselves. Technology is here to expand our definition of self and connection and all of that,” Ludy said. “So … our motivations are very much in parallel with each other.”