The argument over whether AI generated images are art rages on, but it is a pointless argument…at least in how the current debate is framed.

There is no one clear definition of what art is, making it difficult to determine whether AI art is actually art.

Some argue AI generated art is not real art because it is created by a machine and does not involve any human creative input. Others add to that argument, claiming that talent — however they define “talent” — is needed to produce art and if that talent is not evident in a piece, it is not art.

It is argued that machine learning software doesn’t know how it creates images, so therefore, it is not art; that AI generated art is a mashup of a vast array of existing art, photographs, and other visual material. It has also been argued that AI generated art is “merely a clever way to plagiarize and steal intellectual property, one little byte at a time instead of wholesale.”

There are a lot of serious issues around AI generated art; arguing whether it is “art” is not one of them. Many of those issues pop up in the debate about whether AI generate content is art or not, but they are lost in that senseless argument.

In 2021, the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg, Denmark found itself having to deal with the question of what is art in a very real way when Danish artist Jens Hanning delivered two blank canvases to the museum. He received the equivalent of $84,000 to create the works.

“Take the Money and Run” by Danish artist Jens Haaning

It’s not the first time the question of what art is has been raised. There is a long history of what is now recognized as art being dismissed at first as not being art; of being nothing more than a child’s scribbling, something a monkey could have done; and so on.

One: Number 31, 1950 by Jackson Pollock

Discussions around the definition of art have been around for centuries. Those discussions are vital to the evolution of art and the emergence of new artistic movements. Expressionism was a early 20th century movement that sought to present the world around us from a subjective perspective by distorting images for emotional impact. The expressionist movement was just one of a long line of artistic movements — baroque, romanticism, realism, art nouveau, impressionism, post-impressionism, cubism, op art, pop art, and many others — that questioned the nature of art.

Marcel Duchamp, a pioneer of the Dada movement, questioned assumptions of what art should be and how it should be created. He used a urinal — among other things — to make his point as he challenged conventional views of what art is. If a urinal is art, then surely at least some of the images created by AIs could be considered art.

Duchamp’s perspective was basically, if the artist calls something art, then it’s art. So, if you call a something generated by an AI art, then it is art. Case closed.

Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 sculpture Fountain.

Yes, we should discuss AI generated images, but let’s remember all the things that were not considered art because they challenge conventional views of what art is.

Instead of looking at how a piece of art was created, we need to look at what thoughts and feelings it evokes in those who create it and those who view it. Leo Tolstory, in What is Art?, went beyond how a work was created when he attempted to define art.

To evoke in oneself a feeling one has once experienced, and having evoked it in oneself, then by means of movements, lines, colors, sounds, or forms expressed in words, so to transmit that feeling that others may experience the same feeling — this is the activity of art.

Leo Tolstoy

The fundamental question we need to ask is not whether AI generated images are art. It should be about whether that image evokes a feeling, a thought, or an experience for the creator and the viewer.

Art is the lie that makes us realize the truth.

Pablo Picasso

Instead of fussing about what is art and what is not, perhaps we ought to spend a lot more time and energy looking for the lie that is revealed so we begin to realize the truth.

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