August 5th, 2023

Sara Edgar, "Jawbreaker," 48" x 48", acrylic

Sara Edgar, “Jawbreaker,” 48″ x 48″, acrylic

Written by Ellie LeMonnier: Gallery Intern

Over the past year or so with AI making its first debut to the average public everyone has been completely captivated — myself included. Just as AI has changed technology, it has changed politics, the educational system, economics, while becoming one of the most popular topics of conversation (in my life anyway). Everyone sees AI in a different way: those who believe AI is the key to our success, those who see it looming as the bearer of our downfall, those in the middle, and others who just don’t care.


Whatever the future holds of technological advancement and AI, I will remember our amazing, living, breathing artists that spend hours over a painting, using their calloused hands and individual brain to think up and execute original ideas. AI cannot do that.


I find AI really scary, mostly due to the spouters of bad news who warn that everyone’s jobs will soon be replaced by AI, how AI gives easy access to mass production of misinformation, or that kids will never actually learn again. With this fear, like I hope most people do, I turned to educating myself and trying to get a fuller picture of AI, what the experts and the regular people think, and the predictions for how AI is going to change our lives and how soon. As I am not an expert or even a well-rounded source of knowledge on this topic, all I can do is provide some recommendations of my favorite source of information: podcasts!


First is Hard Fork, a New York Times podcast where the hosts simply discuss the changing world of technology and the implications for all of us. This podcast does not necessarily deal with AI every episode, but it does very often. The hosts are fun, informed, and concise — perfect to listen to on a quick drive.


My favorite podcast of all time is Ezra Klein, a New York Time’s opinion writer. Ezra Klein talks about pretty much every subject, proving to be the most informed and talented podcast host I listen to. His ability to listen, process, and ask intuitive questions blows me away every time. Ezra Klein has done many episodes on AI (how could you not?) with some of my favorites being Is A.I the Problem? Or Are We? and Freaked Out? We Really Can Prepare for A.I. I recommend everyone and anyone to listen to Ezra Klein whether they are interested in AI or not.


Finally, I most recently listened to NYT’s The Daily which just came out with an episode titled The Writer’s Revolt Against A.I. Companies. This episode talks about the comedian and actress Sarah Silverman and how she has filed two lawsuits against AI companies for scraping her writing without consent. The longer that AI is used by humans, the more it learns from humans, sounding more like a human every day. Further, in many cases, AI looks at the already published bodies of work from actors, writers, poets, comedians, and even random blog posters to scrape the style or tone to be implemented later.


In the episode, the host decides to ask AI to write an article in the same way she would. Even though the host has been a reporter for many years, meaning she has a lot of content available for AI scraping, she seems completely surprised at the accuracy of the AI and how it picked up on the smallest things that people could not even notice.


This episode especially got me thinking for this week’s blogpost and how AI is simultaneously scraping artist’s content as well. The first type of AI I ever used was DALL-E, an image generator. Similar to the experiences I imagine everyone having, DALL-E was incredibly fun to use: creating both hilarious and cool images and leaving me feeling like a world-renowned artist.


But after all of the information-gathering I’ve been doing, as well as some warning words posted by the artists I follow on Instagram, I have begun to realize the full implications of AI scraping and art. Questions of authorship and ownership come quickly knocking: who is the “artist” of an A.I.-created imaged? Me? The AI? The mix of well-known and obscure artists the AI copied? Other issues of monetary value and demand come into play as well. With all of this AI art at our fingertips, is it worth pursuing a career in art when all one needs to do is type a few words? Is it worth purchasing art when one could just log in to DALL-E and access their online gallery?


Working at an art gallery and studying art history, I find myself a little haunted by these and similar questions as I am sure many others in the art-world are too. And unfortunately, there are not a lot of answers to my questions. We are in a period of time where AI is still getting ironed out and we still don’t know what the full consequences (and tentative benefits) will be.


All I really know is how I feel. I know that I have begun to value human artists and human-made art more than ever. My favorite thing about working at the gallery is seeing the artists come in. I’ve mostly come into contact with Sara Edgar. She comes in carrying her massive canvases with hands speckled with pastel paint. I love listening to her speak about her piece: the process and struggle of getting it perfect. Recently, Edgar brought in Jawbreaker and showed Maren and me her favorite parts, described her process, and explained the meaning behind the painting’s title and balloon-letter words. I love this painting because you can find a lot of different meanings depending on how you look at it. The painting speaks to the importance of candy coating your life and romanticizing the little things like enjoying a piece of candy. It also alludes to the difficulties of life that must be sugar coated to bear. The balloon words sit at the center, popable, but safely enclosed by the gridded and colorful rings of Edgar’s painting. What rests at the center of your life?


With everybody’s talk and anxiety about AI, I come back to the real life moments like the one with Sarah Edgar. Whatever the future holds of technological advancement and AI, I will remember our amazing, living, breathing artists that spend hours over a painting, using their calloused hands and individual brain to think up and execute original ideas. AI cannot do that.