A.I. Art — From Suspicion to Acceptance

Pedro Elias
7 min readFeb 15, 2023

My first contact with AI-generated images was through Midjourney. I remember being stunned looking at the gallery with that WOW effect in my eyes. However, immediately another look overlapped and I could see that although the images were aesthetically impactful, I didn’t stay more than 3 to 5 seconds looking at each one. Well, one of the attributes of art is exactly the ability to promote a dialogue between the observer and the object, allowing something new to be born from that interaction. With those images, apart from the WOW of amazement, there was no dialogue between me and each of them. And it was from this initial experience that I wrote my first Facebook post, questioning:

Are we entering an era where art moves out of the hands of the craftsman, into the hands of the storyteller, with the execution left to A.I.? And without the hands of the craftsman and his sensitivity and intuition, can we continue to call the result art?

It was certainly an opportune reflection and, on that basis, I moved on to my second post where I made a synthesis of some theories of art advancing my own theory (Remember that I see the world through the lenses of spirituality, so don’t be shocked by that):

After writing the previous post I was left to reflect on the matter. Could the works created by A.I. be art? And what would be art anyway? This is not a new question, and there are many philosophical currents and theories about it.

One of these theories, known as the theory of art as imitation says: A work is art if, and only if, it is produced by man and imitates something.

This theory had a problem. It put out all currents that did not try to imitate the real world, such as abstractionism, surrealism and even impressionism. Only figurative works or works that attempted to capture the reality of the visible world by imitating it would be considered art.

Then a new theory emerged to accommodate these new currents, the theory of art as expression, which stated: A work is art if, and only if, it expresses the artist’s feelings and emotions.

Here we had another problem: how to know whether or not the work expressed the artist’s feelings? At most, it could evoke emotions and feelings in the observer and these could be attested by the observer himself, but whether or not the artist had felt something while painting remained in the realm of speculation.

A third theory emerged to solve this problem, the formalist theory, which states: A work of art is art if, and only if, it provokes aesthetic emotions in people.

This theory focuses on the reactions of the viewer to the work, and if there is an aesthetic emotion to the work then it would be art. The problem with this theory is that different people could have different reactions, one could have an aesthetic reaction and another could be totally indifferent, and in this case how to qualify the work? This third theory, however, could encompass all forms of expression, including the works created by an A.I., because the focus would be on the reaction caused in the observer and not on the work itself.

In the face of all this, reflecting on the subject, perhaps we need a new theory that I could call the Theory of Art as a Mirror Function that could say something like: A work is art if, and only if, it places the observer before himself in an interpellation that provokes a questioning, be it positive or negative.

Here we would no longer be in the domain of the simple aesthetic reaction.

Now, the mirror function is something that can only be magnetically imprinted on the object if there is a heart involved, and therefore a channel for the soul to express itself. This impression is made by the artist’s own heart if the artist is in this internal dialogue when creating. This dialogue does not only have to happen with “spiritual” people; an atheist can imprint more soul in his work than a believer.

When the mirror function is imprinted on the object, all those who observe it will be referred to themselves, and a dialogue will occur between the person and the work itself. But couldn’t this theory have the same problem as the previous one, which said that art is any work that provokes an aesthetic emotion in the observer? No, because a mirror does not leave anyone indifferent, it always reflects something, which may even be unpleasant, but something is always reflected.

So, based on this theory, the works created by an A.I. would not be art, because there is no heart involved capable of imprinting on the work that mirror function. Although they may provoke an aesthetic reaction, and therefore be considered art from the point of view of the formalist theory, they would not provoke an internal questioning, a catharsis, a plunge into ourselves, and thus would not be art from the point of view of the theory of art as a mirror function.

With this post the matter was resolved for me and I could move on with my life. However, that was not what happened. An inner uneasiness did not leave me satisfied with the result of this reflection. And that is how the third post came about:

After having questioned in the first part if works created by an A.I. could be considered art, and if we were entering a new paradigm in which art would leave the hands of the craftsman to pass into the hands of the storyteller, and after also going through some theories of art in the second part and realizing that in the formalist theory, A.I. would be considered art for provoking aesthetic emotions in those who observe, I advanced in that same second part with another theory that I called art as a Mirror Function. In other words, art would be everything that manages to take the observer back to himself, in an introspection that leads to a reflection and a dive into his inner self. I concluded that this mirror function can only be imprinted on the work if there is a heart present, that is, if there is Soul. And so if a work is created 100% by an A.I. it could not be considered art in the light of that theory because that heart does not exist.

However, I was not satisfied with the conclusions and a new reflection arose soon after. Would it be possible to use an A.I. as a working tool, the same way a painter uses a brush, a sculptor a chisel and a designer a specific software? Would it be possible to impregnate a work created by an A.I. with soul if the artist is in the command of that creation, leading the A.I. where he wants it to go without letting it loose? It was this exercise that I proposed to myself when I composed 21 images in a collection I called “Treasure of the World”.

The images in the first two posts were created 100% by A.I. and so, although they are aesthetically impactful, I feel them cold, soulless, and lifeless. The images for this collection were also created by A.I., but it was I who directed A.I. on the results I wanted to achieve. Instead of just writing a sentence and letting A.I decide what to do with it, I resolved to guide it in the result I wanted, and so, besides the sentence, the elements I wanted to see in the composition were introduced, the expressions, the poses, the color, the framing, and the painting style itself. It was an exercise of trial and error, and many results were abandoned because they did not translate what I wanted. The final work is not 100% A.I., however, since there is also a post-production work done in Photoshop to eliminate imperfections and remove/add elements.

The final question of all this reflection is to know if by using A.I. as a working tool, it is possible to impregnate the work with the Mirror Function that returns to the viewer a reflection that goes beyond a simple aesthetic reaction.

The result of this collection that I made as an experiment to test the theory I had raised, was impactful for me. I could clearly see that what was reflected in all those images was exactly the vision I had for this collection. That it worked as a whole and there was coherence between all the images and the theme of the collection itself. I was the author of that work and not the A.I. that merely executed the work that I had envisioned, in the same way that a designer is the author of the chairs he has designed, even if they were executed by a carpenter. That a fashion stylist is the author of the clothes he envisioned, even if they were executed by a seamstress. That a composer is the author of the symphony he created even if it was performed by an orchestra without him playing a single instrument, but giving instructions to that orchestra on how to play his work by using a music score. So it was with the images I had created. I was the author of these works, even if it was the A.I. executing the vision I had on my mind, the feeling I wanted to put into them and the context and narrative I wanted to represent.

I thus went from a skeptic to a believer through the direct experience of having the courage to not close myself over my own prejudices and test, in the first person, this working tool to sculpt the images I could envision in my mind, putting into this work my whole soul and thereby imprinting that so-called Mirror Function only possible when a heart is present. And a heart was present during the whole process of creation.

Deep Peace,
Pedro Elias

See the Treasure of the World Collection here:
https://foundation.app/collection/treasure-of-the-world

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Pedro Elias

I'm a writer, composer, and artist and you can follow my work here: http://pedroelias.org/en