Tobold's Blog
Thursday, December 07, 2023
AI-ification of art and the lesson of Impressionism

While great and original art certainly still exists, these days we are often confronted with the more commercial, mass market targeted works of art. When big companies make art for profit, they frequently try to find the "secret formula", and then mass produce following that formula. Which leads to Disney movies like The Marvels or Wish, which feel very generic and formulaic. In video games we get open world games that follow the Ubisoft formula, or games like Diablo IV, which feel like a "best of" previous games, with a bunch of modern monetization added. Passion project, like Baldur's Gate 3, are few and far between. Online writing is often search engine optimized, rather than original. I call all of this the AI-ification of art, because if this stuff isn't already made by AI, it soon will be. Finding the formula of already existing stuff, and generating new artworks based on that is exactly what AI does well. But this isn't the first time that technology threatens art.

During centuries, if you wanted a portrait of yourself or your family, you had to hire a painter. Many famous painting, like the Mona Lisa, are originally commissioned works of art. It was the daily bread and butter of painters. Then in 1839 Frenchman Louis Daguerre invented the Daguerreotype, the first form of photography. Other, even cheaper and faster methods of photography were invented in the following decades. Now, if you wanted a portrait of yourself, you could get your photo taken, at a fraction of the cost and time a painted portrait would have taken. Painters were out of their day jobs. When in the 1870s in France the first impressionist paintings appeared, that was not a coincidence, but basically a reaction to the threat of technology. Impressionism tries to depict the human perception and experience of a scene, rather than just the most realistic image. By adding more subjectivity and "soul" to their paintings, the impressionists tried to create works of art that technology couldn't. And that was a critical and commercial success.

Audiences this year have proven that they can distinct between formulaic products and original art, and generally prefer the latter. It is to be hoped that the companies that produce artwork for our entertainment will learn the lesson. We might see more AI-generated products for some years, which hopefully will be rejected by the public in favor of artwork with more "soul" in it, leading to the emergence of new styles based on human creativity rather than technology and formulas.

I haven't seen The Marvels and I'm guessing you haven't either but I was under the impression the big commerical problem it had was that it *didn't* adhere to the Disney/Marvel formula and wasn't formulaic and generic enough. From the reviews I read it seemed that it was because the movie was trying to do something different that it failed to attract the kind of numbers who were looking for "more of the same".

I guess I won't know for sure until I watch it.
Art is highly subjective and I would argue that copying successful things has always been part of what humans did.

I think that it's rather a stretch to say people choose original over formulaic.
Looking over the best selling games of 2023 [1], we have the original Harry Potter franchise, Zelda, Star Wars, Resident Evil, Dead Island (sequel), MLB, WWE, Sons of the Forest (sequel), Dead Space (remake), Metroid Prime (remake). In other lists [2] you find more 2s, 3s, 4s and 23s.
Oh and Starfield "the first new intellectual property developed by Bethesda in 25 years". I guess that counts.

In terms of cinema [3]: Barbie, Super Mario, Oppenheimer (history), Guardians of the Galaxy, Fast and Furious, Spiderman, Little Mermaid, Mission Impossible, Elemental (Disney/Pixar), Ant-Man and Wasp (Marvel) and then more 2s, 3s, 4s.

So I don't really see people choosing original.

When big companies make art for profit, they frequently try to find the "secret formula", and then mass produce following that formula.

I'd argue not just big companies do this. Go to any artists corner at a gaming convention and you are going to find tons of "original" Genshin art because it's the hot seller right now and those artists have discovered the "formula" for selling is creating Genshin art. Im sure they can even tell you which poses or outfits or characters sell better. Art made for profit naturally gravitates towards what makes its creator more profit.

AI created content is going to fall into the same bucket procedural generation does in my opinion. When used skillfully it will be a tool used by video game devs to create great things. When used unskillfully or lazily it will create boring uninteresting things.
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