April 21st - May 19th, 2023
Match Pace presents a young artist (me) grappling with the development and increasing availability of Artificial Intelligence (AI) art generators. Their emerging presence threatens to replace creative labor, a field continuously afflicted with career instability. Applications like Lensa can produce infinite stylistic renditions based on photographs for a $4.99 monthly subscription. With Midjourney, DALL-E, and Stable Diffusion, AI programs that rely on user-input text rather than selfies to generate artwork, your first few images are typically free. To compare, an artist should be charging, at minimum, the cost of materials, an hourly rate, and fees to offset costs of retail, shipping, and other operations. Ironically, we are also beholden to advertising on social media platforms, leaving our work vulnerable to appropriation by AI technologies. The work of an artist parallels other undervalued occupations; we invest innumerable resources and lack adequate compensation. The widespread and affordable usage of AI programs diminishes the already dwindling opportunities for a career artist.
In Match Pace, I attempt to compete with such applications by rendering drawings in one minute (even longer than most applications would take) without requiring payment and instead providing an option to “pay as you wish.” In this format, the consumer decides the value of my labor but admittedly has less certainty in customer service. I will tape the minute-long drawings onto the wall. Visitors can leave or take a drawing without my vetting to see if they compensated me or even chose the “correct” drawing. I also display practice samples and past still lifes and figure studies to demonstrate my preparations and capabilities beyond one minute. These collections are subject to being taken, as well. I employ inexpensive materials — newsprint and charcoal — and keep the pieces unframed. My installation forgoes the same meticulous, evenly-spaced technique common to an art gallery or Instagram page. This format suggests the futility of contending with AI by demonstrating the facets of creative labor unaddressed by our robot competitors.
Experts continue to debate whether machine learning constitutes theft. Here’s the gist: AI software undergoes training, in which programmers feed the machine examples for it to learn, even employing a tool to comb internet archives. The machine is not beholden to citations and becomes increasingly accurate in its replications of work that took hours, days, months, or years in a matter of seconds with only pixels as its medium. Art applications feel unsettling because they seek to perform tasks previously assumed to be intrinsically human.
Supporters dismiss criticisms of AI by pointing to similar skepticism throughout history. The invention of the printing press, the camera, and the computer all yielded outrage despite being commonplace today. Technological advancements often cause panic because their implementation alters the future landscape, particularly through labor distribution. Artists circumnavigated other inventions, so why would AI’s impact be insurmountable? However, advancements in other fields, including sustainable energy, high-speed railways, or even polymerase chain reaction (PCR) COVID-19 tests, fail to become the most affordable versions of their predecessors. Participating in an AI art generator application does not answer the consumer's needs but benefits corporations that profit from undercutting human labor and stealing people’s work. Artists who adapt to and work with technology can find a job and still be forced to rely on freelance work and crowdfunding to sustain their practice. Technological advancement is not inherently progressive; human adoption decides the influence of tools, and I encourage critical engagement when choosing what we purchase and employ.
Choosing to pursue making art with my hands feels like a radical refusal to accept the need to value my time with capital altogether. Human error is persistent, but AI is not absolved of human error, anyway, because our biases permeate its function. Humans should, without shame or consequence, live their lives enjoying human things and value other humans doing the same.
The less you eat, drink and read books; the less you go to the theatre, the dance hall, the public house; the less you think, love, theorize, sing, paint, fence, etc., the more you save — the greater becomes your treasure which neither moths nor dust will devour — your capital. The less you are, the more you have; the less you express your own life, the greater is your alienated life — the greater is the store of your estranged being. (Marx, 1844)