The Briefing: AI: Death of The Artist? - Episode #20

In this week's episode of The Future of You, we'll take a whistlestop tour around some of the recent opinion on AI art and creativity. Image credit: Together for eternity (2023) AI generated artwork by photographer Mateusz Siedlecki (Poland)

The Briefing: AI: Death of The Artist? - Episode #20

In this week's episode of The Future of You, we'll take a whistlestop tour around some of the recent opinion on AI art and creativity. Image credit: Together for eternity (2023) AI generated artwork by photographer Mateusz Siedlecki (Poland)

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In this episode of The Briefing I consider how AI is impacting art and artists. We drop in on the Stanford event around Creativity in the Age of AI, we consider some of the news making headlines about China and AI. And we end up at the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art, in Warsaw, from where I spoke about AI and the Death of the Artist.

Tracey's book 'The Future of You: Can Your Identity Survive 21st Century Technology?' available in the UK and US

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Is AI Killing Art?

Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence: Creativity In The Age of AI event

Mateusz Szsiedlecki on Instagram

"'AI: The Death of the Artist?' is part of the Culture Tensions discussions curated by Manick Govinda and Agnieszka Kolek, commissioned by the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art, Warsaw Poland”.

Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art, Warsaw Poland


Tracey Follows  0:20

In this week's episode of The Future of You, we'll take a whistlestop tour around some of the recent opinion on AI art and creativity. We'll drop in on the Stanford event around creativity in the age of AI. We consider some of the news making headlines about China and AI. And we end up at the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art, in Warsaw, from where I spoke about AI and the Death of the Artist.

Tracey Follows  0:47

Nikkei Asia reported on the generative AI lead that China has in business applications. Benjamin Speyer gave us some prominent examples that include online retail at, launching ChatJD in February, to provide shoppers with personalised recommendations and give sellers automated smart pricing and advertising tools. NetEase, the world's second largest gaming company launched a low code platform that customers can use to produce simple software based on text prompts, and search engine operator Baidu linked with a local carmaker joining forces to develop smart vehicles with AI supporting the user interface, assisted driving and an intelligent voice assistant and Up FinTech Holdings, Tiger Brokers introducing an AI powered investment assistant that analyses market data and generates real time insights to guide clients to make investment decisions. Now many underestimate China when it comes to creativity in business, but in many consumer areas, they're far far ahead of the West. In another article I saw, which I'll link to in the show notes, two famous Chinese artists discussed whether AI was killing art. The two artists said that they believed other artists needed to find innovative ways to express themselves. As stated in the article if technology can help with that even better Book from the Ground, for instance, was made using computer software that was later patented and offered to the public, who were then able to create entirely new narratives using the icons. One of the artists Xu was a real enthusiast when it came to AI. He sees it very much as an enabler, not a competitor. And as was quoted in the article, AI can help artists overcome constraints and achieve results that are not humanly possible. And Xu clearly believed that it's up to the artists themselves to find their place in this brave new world. As he said, "I've never loved art more and in the future, as AI develops, humanity will need art even more." In the next episode of the future of you will have an in depth discussion about prompt engineering, which is a key part of all of this. I interviewed David Boyle, who has spent his life understanding audiences and connecting them with entertainment brands. And now, he has several prompt engineering handbooks or cookbooks, as he calls them under his belt. Here's a little snippet from our next episode on why he's not worried about prompt engineering, ushering in some kind of homogeneity in creativity in the future.

David Boyle  3:31

So we had one client, I really loved them, they read the book very early and tried out for themselves were quite excited about the results. That's great. And then I did a project for them for one of their, one of their brands. And I came up with these audiences, these audience needs. And these kind of marketing suggestions they were a lot better than the ones that they'd come up with. And even when I gave them my prompts, they still weren't able to get output that they thought was as good as what I'd done. And I think that therein lies the lesson and kind of answer to your question, which is, if you didn't really deeply have expertise in the area, you know, what you want, there's a lot of very subtle things you do differently subtle wording changes to prompt, subtle changes in the sequencing of the prompts, giving ChatGPT feedback at every step of the process. And it should be lots of steps in the process. You shouldn't ask for the final answer in just one prompt. Which means by the end of it, although the text was literally written by Chat,GPT is very, very much created by you and is unique to you. And so there's a 100 different ways you would guide it towards that an answer that that's yours, that you want. And then at the end of that as well, I would also say, You never should just take ChatGPTs output and just use it. You always should then reword it to make it yours and truly yours. You'll always want to remove one or two bits that don't sit quite right. And you always want to add a couple of bits that it's missed out despite your best efforts for nudge it, so it really is your output by the end or that you were helped along the way by ChatGPT. So I think the only reason you'd get standard or similar outputs from lots of people is if people just use simple prompts, and they all use the same prompts. But that's really, really not how you should use it. So I'm not too worried.

Tracey Follows  5:18

Now, back on the 24th of May this year, Stanford Institute for Human Centred Artificial Intelligence ran a fascinating symposium, the subject of which was creativity in the age of AI. AI impacting arts, arts, impacting creativity. Amongst a host of great speakers and complex topics, was a very informative talk on generative AI and art, copyrights and open source, Scott Draves, and AI artist and Pamela Samuelson, a professor of law spoke to the issues arising. And that is really worth checking out. I'll leave a link in the show notes for you to have a look at later. A further session looked at artist perspectives on AI, copyrights and the future of work. And that featured Rebecca Blake, the design director at Optimum Design, and Steven Zapata, a designer, Illustrator and educator. These two professional artists discuss their work and the evolution of it in the face of AI. Now Rebecca was saying that artists must be compensated for the use of their works in AI datasets. And that's any use of imagery must be expressly permitted by the artist. And it wasn't really good enough to sort of ask for permission or ask for a licence later on after the event. Illustrators leverage fair use but there needs to be a bar. The interest of human creators must always come first, she said. Steven, on the other hand, made clear that he does not want to undermine the efforts of truly creative people in the AI sector. But he does want the people who are making these AI models to do so ethically. And he was suggesting that that is far from the case, in actuality, today. To quote him, "they use our labour to train tools that will compete directly against us in our very markets with, as has been said, no credit, no consent, no compensation, and seemingly not honouring that we would have any right to determine how our work is used." He refers to these models as poisoned trees that are only going to produce poisoned fruit, and he does not consider open source to be part of any solution. In fact, he thinks open source is propagating these issues on a wider scale. We need to move on from assuming human creators as a resource to be strip mined in this new automated process. According to him. Steven and other speakers referred to prompt engineering as an intermediate phase. I do not think people will be prompting for very long, he said, and I think that's probably right. It's really worth checking out though his talk was brilliant, and he had so much clarity on his belief that complete automation of art is ahead. And with it the era of bespoke art. To quote him, he said "a few multimodal auto GPT agents, utilising a text to image function will be able to create more art than all of the artists in the world combined per day, they'll completely wash us out." And I foresee, I think that we will see projects that have all of their design decisions made by an auto GPT art director, based entirely on budget comparables, trend analysis, and target markets. He gave an example of the idea of a song generated for you in the voice and style of your favourite artists that is about your actual recent breakup. Great, we're all Taylor Swift now.

Tracey Follows  8:53

In his example, he suggested that the lyrics could reference real events that happened between you and your partner, if you'd had access to your social channels, for example. It's a bit similar to what I forecast in The Future of You and the chapter on connecting you where I talk about the holographic Popstar Hatsumi Miku. She owes her success to the fact that fans can generate their own music for her to sing. And I was imagining that it was only a matter of time really before you could ring up and arrange for Miku to turn up at a friend's party to sing them a song of your own making. And this idea of personalised entertainment really does seem to be a probable future as Stephen points out, personalised or bespoke art is coming to. Another speaker suggested that generative AI hijacks the creative process, replacing human imagination and offering us something else not quite as good in exchange. And of course, the concern is that humans eventually get taken out of the loop altogether. Interestingly, it was a familiar refrain during most of the talks that it's not generative AI itself that is harmful or threatens the role or work of the artist, but it's the social economic regimes that deploy it. But is this really true? You'll hear in my talk in a few moments that I think this is to misunderstand the inherent transformational qualities in such technologies. And in fact, I make the argument that AI in this context has some very deterministic effects, which are due to its inherent nature, not independent of it.

Tracey Follows  10:34

So, turning now to the event I speak at it was part of the Culture Tensions discussions curated by Manick Govinda and and Agnieszka Kolek, and it was commissioned by the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw. I was alongside the Polish photographer, Mateusz Siedlecki, and we both addressed the question set for us; is AI the death of the artist? Mateusz spoke in quite some detail of the pros and cons and issues and opportunities for art that is co-created with or inspired by AI. He talks about how the future may bring innovative methods that combine human creativity and the capabilities of AI as I did. How copywriters designers and programmers may be threatened due to these new capabilities, and how ethics transparency and honesty will be truly essential in this collaborative venture. However, he believed that despite all the mentioned threats, it is worth emphasising that artificial intelligence is not about to replace what makes art so unique, which he sees as human creativity, emotions and artistic intuition. To quote, "AI can generate artwork, but it lacks the depth and originality that comes from human experience and imagination." He thinks human creativity is unique. And he spoke of many other aspects too, but the one I was most interested in myself was his comment that through this symbiosis of art and technology, an artists can open up to new perspectives, broaden their horizons, and reach new audiences. Because that dovetailed very nicely with my own talk, where I focused almost exclusively on what do we mean by art? ie. how do we judge what is and isn't art? And it's my contention, that we are judging Art in the Age of AI in the rearview mirror, that we are judging it by a notion or virtue or standard, if you like, that no longer exists. And that is authenticity. I make the argument that we should be judging 21st century art, not by authenticity, but by possibility. And in so doing, we're redefining art and the artist, away from merely the role of content creators, and back to World explorers. People who could go beyond themselves to re-perceive reality on our behalf. I also talk about the notion of obsolescence. What do we really mean by the death of the artist? Surely that is impossible, isn't it? And in fact, it is authenticity that is dead, not the artist. Anyway, rather than explain, I will wrap up this episode of The Briefing and leave you with a reading of my talk, which, though billed as AI the death of the artist, had an alternative title. Stay tuned, if you'd like to hear the talk in full. And meantime, thanks for listening to this episode. There's a lot more to come on generative AI on next fortnight's episode where we meet up with some digital people and ask whether they really exist.

Tracey Follows  13:45


Tracey Follows  13:51

Ai the death of the artist, or Video Killed the Radio Star. Except it didn't please subscribe to my podcast leave a five star rating and hit the notification bell. So when Manick and Agnieszka first discuss the possibility of this event, I happen to have a copy of Walter Benjamin's The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction on my desk. And I asked them if they'd read it. It was one of those moments of synchronicity. Because whilst this book was published in 1936, it poses questions of authenticity and authorship around the time of the emergence of photography. And there are parallels with AI today. We seem to be pained by the idea of duplication and reproduction. Benjamin was writing at the time of the shift from production to reproduction, or as we might call it today copying and that is indeed one of the criticisms of AI art for creativity, that by its nature of being digital, it is reproduced, output is copyable. And input is copying. And as the argument goes, because it is copying and copyable, that means it's not authentic. So how can it be valuable. Authenticity you equals value in art in this model. But if it's not authentic, then it's just uniform, homogenous, and frankly, just a little bit cliche. There can be no value in that, as the argument goes. Just to reprise Walter Benjamin's theory then mechanical production of arts, which is art from something authentic to something technical, and we end up with copies, but no original. Benjamin's theory reflected the media of his time, he was critiquing the shift from fine art to photographic mechanical media. But it is the same debate going on now around AI and art. And it reflects once again the tension between art for the elites and art for the masses. How dare the plebs think that they can use AI to create their own artistic endeavours! What will become of art if they are permitted to do so? How what will become the artist, if there's nothing original about the art that is created in collaboration with AI, surely we can say that AI or AI art is not really art at all. Those working within it cannot refer to themselves or be considered artists. If everyone is using it to create art, then presumably the concept of the artist is gone.

Tracey Follows  16:08

I think though this is to miss the point. It's authenticity. That's debt. I've written before about how the notion of identity is no longer wedded to the idea of authenticity. And in fact, it has more now to do with profilicity. In a paper for the Journal of future studies entitled disrupting identity, I explained how the ongoing digitization of selfhood is transforming our identity, where once we talked of authenticity, now we talk of profiles. And it is not only because we love to post our likes, preferences, pronouns, whatever, to ensure that we are identified in the way we want to be. It is because we are no longer in physical proximity and now have to rely on an intermediate environment to represent us. Today, we are relying on technology to profile and represent us, we no longer represent ourself. This point is well made by Hans Georg Muller, Professor of Philosophy in Macau. In his fabulous book, You and Your Profile. He writes, "just as sincerity lost its grip on society and individuals with the shift towards modernity. Authenticity is now fading away along with more recent changes. Authenticity relies heavily on personal interaction between people, authentic individuals mutually confirm their identity value. And to do this, they must know one another and be in the same time in the same place. In the virtual world we inhabit today, such real life interaction has become less and less important," end quote. And he of course, goes on to coin the phrase, profilicity. So the age of authenticity is over, we are entering the age of profilicity, we are being transformed into data. And to be more specific data profiles, we might want to represent ourselves in one way, but we will be augmented or limited by whatever the machine can read of us. And that's what goes out into the world. Furthermore, our identity is now platform dependent, as we surely must acknowledge that our profiles on each of the social networks are slightly different, and have been for a while. On Facebook, we are a bit more sociable. On Instagram, we appear a bit more creative. And on Tinder, well, a bit more dateable. We are all but layers of digital information in these new spaces. And this challenges us to rethink what we might have taken to be a truth about the real world too. That we do not and should not try to represent the same version of ourself to everyone we meet. That representation should be context dependent. I suggested this in The Future of You, the book, that it was time to start thinking about our identity as more like polymorphic code. That is code which mutates whilst keeping its original algorithm intact. A sum, for example, could be expressed as one plus three, or as six minus two, with the end result being the same. Our identity would function in a similar way. I could use different data in different contexts to project different versions of myself, but will always achieve the same end result - me. A cultural researcher in China who I was chatting to, when I was researching illuminated this point saying to quote, "I have so many different selves, and they're all authentically me. But they're all different for all different usages, different contexts, different social circles. He was in fact describing something akin to profilicity. There, Hans Georg Muller, echoes that sentiment in a recent interview I did with him on this very podcast, when he suggested that, to quote "in profilicity, we can recover this actual art of existence that we have. We're equally the Father as we are the kid. They don't kind of cancel one another out, they enhance one another. And I think with pre Felicity and living and creating and being truly invested in different profiles, we can actually go back to some sort of richer existence. Why not?" End quote. So let me say authenticity is the standard by which we judge art and artists is dead. Walter Benjamin was right about that, and a long time ago. In this era of profilicity, the artist is like a work of art themselves. They are no longer known through a physical artwork, but through the mediated representations of their work, that is how we shall know them. And therefore, the artist is not someone or something who can transcend new media. They are by their very nature, created, curated and communicated via that media via the representations or re-presentations of themselves and their work. They cannot shun AI or digital media, because they are by default, represented through AI and digital media, to an audience with whom they wish to communicate. So by what standard should we judge who and what counts as an artist? I would say that it is not by authenticity, but by possibility. And by possibility, I mean, the idea of re-perceiving, it's the re-perceiving of reality. At their best artists enable the seeing of something hitherto unseen, they reveal a new perspective, a new reality for everyone else to see too. Marshall McLuhan knew this, it is why he talked about artists as being on the frontier of perception. He recognised that they see things before others. And he was fond of quoting Ezra Pound, when he said, "the artist is the antenna of the race." McLuhan's work is seminal in understanding what is happening with AI today, as both a medium and a technology. McLuhan would say that AI given it's a medium is not just or not at all really a tool. It is transformational. It not so much creates content, but conditions humans, the medium is the message that people may say media is a tool for shaping the self, an identity tool, if you will, we shape our tools, and then our tools shape us which in fact, Marshall McLuhan never actually said. But AI is less at all and more an environment. And so then, it's an environment that shapes us. Or as McLuhan might say, environments shape their occupants. And what does the environment then mean for the shaping of the artist? What does AI as an environment do to the identity of the artist. I think it's bringing back to the idea that the artist is not a content creator, but a world explorer. The artist is a re-perceiver, an explorer of worlds, a traveller to new realms. Look at it this way. Artists and AI, are both employed in the search industry. They're searching on behalf of humanity. But it's a very different type of search off course. AI is searching for things that have already happened, what we already know, or things we might have already said. Whereas artists are searching for things that have not yet happened, that we probably think could never happen. And for things that have not yet been said, or perhaps things we believe could never be said. When they discover or uncover some of these things it is the artists showing us that something we thought was impossible is possible. Now, they're only able to do this because the artists can look beyond themselves. Whereas AI cannot look beyond itself. AI is the summation of if this, then that. There literally is only if this, and then that? And certainly not what if or if only? Not really. I think the real question is, can these types of search coexist? Can we use AI to search for information, in collaboration with the artists search for perception or re -perception? Can these searchings combine? Imagine, for instance, that we use AI personal agents to help create not only our art but ourselves that are creating the art? Imagine we have more than one personal agent, co-creating and co-piloting us towards an artistic expression. Would this take us beyond ourselves into re-perceiving a new reality? Many people think so. Eric Schmidt, for example, said recently that AI assistance would give us a new perspective on our lives, that integrating that AI agent's perspective into our own views of the world will change our outlook on the world completely. Personal agents, of course, will look and sound and feel very much more sophisticated in the future than they are today. But this addition of personal agents could be one way that artists reach beyond themselves and into a new reality. And that might be the artistic breakthrough.

Tracey Follows  25:22

But before we get to that, let's just unpick what we think we mean by the word death, not just by the word artist. We might well regard some of the AI art that we're using today is naive, and original and derivative. Although some of it is really quite fantastical and very striking. We might call this phase of its lifetime, hyper Gothic. The point is that we are just at the very beginning, this will evolve. It's like we've discovered fire. It's a new tool, but all we really know how to do with it at the moment is cook meat. Soldiering metals with it to make luxury jewellery hasn't even really occurred to us yet. Over time, AI as a creative energy source, will evolve to be used in many new and different ways. I was listening to somebody speaking about this the other day, someone who an artist who works in the AI art area, and he said, the artist will break the constraints and someone will find their voice using AI. He meant I think that they will bring real meaning, bring a new idea and a new thought or as I would say a new perspective to the rest of us by using AI, and we will call them an artist. In fact, contrary to the expectation of his or her death, it will be the birth of the artist. This is a point well made by McLuhan in his tetrad, a framework for analysing the effects of media and technology. He's got four quadrants, one for each effect. What does the medium enhance? What does the medium retrieve from the past? What does the medium flip into when pushed to extremes? And what does the media make obsolete? The question here today suggests that AI as a new technology might render art and therefore the artist obsolete. But as McLuhan would likely say, AI will reshape and reform the artist rather than replace them. AI should be seen as a transformative force that influences artistic practice shifts the boundaries of creativity, and prompts artists to explore new modes of expression, and to reach beyond what we already know. To reach beyond themselves. I would argue, AI has obsolesced the lone creative genius. That because we are now digital beings connected and interconnected, we have multiple identities, avatars, and digital twins, we are distributed, copied, pasted, pixelated, posted and shared, the artist is no longer the isolated genius, but the connected creator. The artist as a network, that's what will emerge at some stage. Art and indeed, the artist will reinvent themselves. Contrary to the notion that the artists will be subsumed by AI technology. In the end, the artist will be transformed by it. I spoke with some creators using AI today and their views were well, to quote "I see it as another tool of the trade" or "AI is not the idea". Or "try it, expand it, explore it, blend it with other art forms, don't simply disregard it" as one said to me. And another person spoke to me about his wife who'd trained as a surface pattern designer, her first reaction was, there goes the pattern industry. A pattern designer would spend five days producing something but it took minutes with AI. William Morris would be spinning in his grave, as he said. And this is the point someone will come along and break the pattern that exists at the moment with AI creations. And that will be the birth of the artist in the age of AI. Authenticity is dead. But the artist is not. The artist is likely hibernating or rather we should say gestating. They are searching embryonically for a way to use AI to break the pattern of AI. Until that time, we will continue to judge this new media in the rearview mirror. By applying the old standard of authenticity to the new media of AI. I argue that we should now judge art by a different standard. By possibility, not authenticity. So this is not the death of the artist. This is the birth of the artist. And in fact we can arrive at no other conclusion in reality. For to be candid and to quote Hilary Mantel, "there are no endings if you think so you are deceived as to their nature. They are all beginnings. Here is one."

Tracey Follows  30:12

Thank you for listening to The Future of You hosted by me Tracey Follows. Check out the show notes for more info about the topics covered in this episode. Do like and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts. And if you know someone you think will enjoy this episode please do share it with them. Visit for more on the future of identity in a digital world and for the future of everything else. The Future of You podcast is produced by Big Tent Media.

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