Where in the World Are We Going With Art & Tech?
In 2019 (that pre-Covid world seems so long ago!), I had the privilege of having one of the best experiences of my life. It happened in Provence, France, at the Carrières de Lumières in a quarry near Les-Baux-de-Provence. Although we were deep into the long, hot days of summer, the limestone quarry was cold. However, we were prepared with sweaters.
Since this was the first multimedia show of this type I saw, I didn't quite know what to expect. However, I was blown away by seeing the works of Vincent Van Gogh on enormously tall and imposing quarry walls. Once the show began, colored light reflected from every part of the exhibit space, and Vincent Van Gogh's work was everywhere—the walls, ceilings, and floors. It was an incredible experience and one I hope to do again at that same quarry in the South of France.
The Painting of Starry Night
Even if you have a passing understanding of art, you've heard of Vincent Van Gogh. And the chances are that you know one of his most famous pieces, Starry Night. As the story goes, he painted it in 1889 during his stay at the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum. The village is close to the town of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.
Currently, Starry Night is at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. As a writer and creator, like many worldwide, I've been captivated by the piece for a long time. Many know Van Gogh painted it after cutting off his left ear and entering into a deep depression. His beloved brother, Theo, ensured funding for his care and Vincent's art supplies in the asylum, which was a freedom—among others—he received that others didn’t.
It was clear that Van Gogh needed to paint. And although he was permitted to have his supplies, as well as books, and freedom of movement around the grounds of the hospital, he was still in an asylum. He would retreat into his room and contemplate the sky during the night, and he then proceeded to paint during the day. In all of it, he existed in a chaotic environment with shouts and screams from other men who had a mental illness.
And that’s where the miracle that is Starry Night is even more profound. To think that he was disturbed by his mind, which was not well, and that of other patients, to then have the ability to create Starry Night is nothing short of magical. Through the paranoia he experienced and mental instability, including suicidal ideations, he was still able to imagine and create a masterpiece of beauty.
Artificial Intelligence Replicating a Master Artist
Today, it seems that artificial intelligence can do just about anything it seems—so, buckle up—because it's got enormous amounts of digital data. Essentially, the vast amounts of data (more than humans can genuinely wrap their minds around) that gets digitized allows AI and machine learning, well, learn.
Pablo Picasso is another artist known to billions worldwide. Painting does not come cheap or free because artists must purchase canvases, paints, and other supplies. Therefore, it's not uncommon for painters to paint over painted canvases, especially when they need to paint but can't afford more supplies.
In 2021, AI recreated the painting of a nude woman, The Lonesome Crouching Nude, which is beneath a 1903 work of art called The Blind Man’s Meal by Picasso. That replication of Picasso's work recreated by artificial intelligence got exhibited by Deeep AI, sponsored by the Morf Gallery in London. The technology essentially 'studied' Picasso's paintings at a lab at the University College of London. Then, it got to work recreating the piece underneath The Blind Man's Meal.
So, one could ask, is the piece painted by technology art? Some would say yes. Personally, I'm of the old school mentality that it takes all of those beautiful human qualities, such as creativity, human experience, and inspiration, to create art. But, I'm also of the mind that if humans use technology to create art, it's art. Still, who am I to say what art is or isn't? I'm not trained in the arts, and it's just an opinion like anyone else's.
Where is Technology Taking Art?
Not too long ago, I attended a virtual session hosted by The Big Idea in Ireland. One of the discussion points that captivated me was that creative young people were leaning into the use of technology in the pursuit of creating art. In France, I know of a young woman of humble means who's in the process of transforming her life path by attending a prestigious art school, and she's passionate about digital art.
The more I read about the power of the technologies available today, and in the near future, the more I realize that leaning into that which is distinctly human is essential for society. In other words, although technology seems to create art or music, it's doing it because it was programmed to do it. There's nothing innate in its nature that inspires technology to create art or anything else for that matter.
Therefore, I think more opportunities exist for creators and artists to take advantage of technology's benefits, including technological platforms shifting the business models for earning money to creators. Moreover, the very definition of art and how it gets sold, traded, monetized, etc. continues to evolve. Look at the swooning happening around non-fungible tokens or NFTs!
All you have to do is visit a platform, such as OpenSea, to see digital art for sale by thousands. Currently, OpenSea is the world's largest marketplace for NFT digital art. Anyone can buy and display their pieces in their homes and join people like Paris Hilton, one of the leading celebrity faces promoting crypto and NFTs.
You could also look at an art collective called Breakfast in New York, a robotic kinetic art studio. Its focus is on technology integration for immersive and interactive art for the public. The studio is home to scientists, engineers, and digital creatives. So, yes, you could say that scientists and engineers are artists too!
Essentially, the very nature of art is changing. Does it have to get done by humans? What defines art? How could humans leverage technology to not only make art but earn a living at it? What, if anything, distinguishes technological art from what was art done by humans? Is there more space for women and more diverse artists in this new world of art (as we know, many of the West's leading painters are primarily men with countless pieces of art by women and persons of color vanished forever)? Ultimately, I think art is whatever it is through our personal experiences, ideas, and lenses.
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