AI & Artists

It's all about taste & curation. More than ever.

April 29, 2023

In the past months, we've seen an explosion of generative AI technology. Today's models are capable of generating photorealistic images, synthetic copies of voices, lyrics, story lines, graphic designs, websites, and music loops. All of that is possible with a simple instruction in the universal programming language, English. Every kid today can play around with these models and generate impressive-looking results. This explosion of capability and awareness leads to questioning the role of an artist as we know it today. Or does it?

It's arguable how good or unique the output of generative AI models is. Yet, it's undeniable that this technology will have a lasting impact on how art is made. To me, generative AI is an equaliser along the dimension of capability. No longer do you need to learn the manual traits of creating something beautiful. Now, you can use the power of your words to create. The barriers to entry have dropped. Significantly. Through iteration with the models, you have the power to engage in the process of the craft way beyond your skill level and dive into an extended world of expression. One may argue that the magic of the artistic process used to lay inside the many years of practice to eventually attain mastery in one craft. Yet, in society, effort is not rewarded, only results (read the myth of effort). This allows us to question the fundamental assumption behind such arguments.

Our aversion to change in society is nothing new. But time has proven again and again that change, despite perceived negatively and emotionally, ultimately yields great benefit for the overall quality of life. Also, we tend to overestimate the real impact any technology will have on our lives in the short-run, and underestimate its effects in the long-run. With generative AI and arts, I believe fundamentally two dynamics are changing in relative importance. Firstly, creating arts will be less about capability. No longer will the artistic craft be limited by the skill level of the individual as, together with generative AI models, the real limit to creation is our ability to phrase and interact with these models. This, of course, only applies to digital creation for now. As capability drops in importance to the artistic craft, the importance of taste increases materially. The consequence many fear, which in essence is likely correct, is that our world will be flooded with creations as the barrier to creating drops. This means we will likely observe a higher volume of creative output from us as a species. Yet, what makes an artist distinctly noticeable is taste. Even in the past, artists had the opportunity to create anything they wanted. And deciding what to make was and is the differentiating factor. And the artist's unique taste and curation is what made their art stand out and pass the test of time. Consequentially, the relative importance of taste over capability is the distinctive factor differentiating an artist from the rest. And I would argue, this has always been the case.

What is taste and curation? Or what makes taste good or bad? Firstly, I think it's impossible to objectively classify taste as either good or bad. Rather the measurement should be whether something resonates with someone or not. Resonance on an emotional or spiritual level is what makes art great. If you listen to a track and feel something, the artist succeeded. If you read a fictional story and you are left with a sense of wonder and awe, the artists succeeded. This is what taste and curation is about, does the thing you are making resonate with someone? If the answer is yes, it's about finding those other someones that share the resonance to the work you are producing.  Thus, taste and the audience you want to serve is impossible to be disentangled. We could go deeper into where taste comes from (it's increased consciousness) but this it topic for another time.

So what do I believe will the impact on generative AI be on artists? Well, frankly not that significant. As taste and curation defines the true quality of an artists, the one's succeeding at this and making things that resonate with others will still be successful. Only can they go beyond their current level of capability more easily and do more. Meanwhile, we will see a flood of content on the long-tail of attention with anyone creating something that seems impressive. Yet, what differentiates great art from the rest is taste, and this will never change.