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What is Art? What a (good, bad, stimulating, headache-inducing) question!

Anneliese MartinezThe rise of image generators like Midjourney and DALL-E have engendered countless discussions about AI-generated art. Is it legitimate? Can humans take advantage of – and even learn from – this tech? We discussed this hot topic with Anneliese Martinez, Senior Director of The Pop District at the Andy Warhol Museum.

TEQ: How do you foresee AI changing the landscape of art?

Anneliese Martinez: AI and art have deep connections when it comes to shifting perceptions. We’re seeing art that regurgitates norms and tropes around common art practices. We’re seeing very plastic-looking imagery as well as art that is almost indistinguishable from art made by humans. That has political, economic, spiritual, ethical, moral implications and conversations that I think we’ll be unpacking for a long time.

What’s more interesting is to look at these [AI] images in aggregate. I think that the more we see in mass, the more sameness we’ll see. It’s a great opportunity to untangle what the human touch in art is all about. 

TEQ: How do you think Andy Warhol would approach AI art?

AM: I think he would find his path to use and play with it; to make with it, exploit it, break it, and do all the things that a great artist does with any medium. I’m not a Warhol scholar, but being steeped in Warhol culture over the last couple of years, it’s evident to me that he believed in any medium necessary. And he was both entrepreneurial and a fine studio artist who was particularly well-positioned to braid those two attributes of his practice together. 

AI is a medium, a tool. It can be very intoxicating, confusing and alluring. But I think the novelty of it is just impressive to us. . . much in a way that the potential of a platform like MTV was, or Interview Magazine – it’s about evolution and our comfort with it. 

TEQ: What concerns about AI are you hearing in the art world?

AM: Tons! Everything from credit, rights and reproduction; to the plasticity of a lot of the results of these works of art that the AI is putting out; to the end of the artist’s labor.

There’s certainly precedent that every time this terror of the end of the human artist arises, the human artist perseveres. It certainly brings a lot of interesting questions to the fore: “What is art? Who is the artist? Is it all an illusion?” Those beautiful art school dorm room conversations have suddenly become common discourse, which is fascinating to see.

TEQ: Do you have any final thoughts to share?

AM: I encourage the public to keep an open mind. I encourage artists to be steadfast: study, do your research, protect yourself and your work. Change is our only constant, so we shouldn’t let this change rattle us too deeply, especially in such an early state.