A.I. IS NOT ART !
Updated: Oct 9
The Unclear Future?
Artists – pianists and poets – are never expendable. So says Manohla Dargis in her Sunday, October 1 New York Times’ article on AI in the context of the theater and film, and related to a central issue in the recent Hollywood, CA actors’ and writers’ strike.
Since I identify as a fine artist, and an incipient (very) pianist and yet-to-be-trained poet, I join with those who think that in fact, we are expendable. As over 350 leaders in AI declared in a letter not long ago, “Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war.”
I would have signed that letter.
That's nothing surprising. I am a reluctant user of cell phones. I only obtained my first one as a gift from my partner at Christmas 2019 because I was going to travel internationally the next year; of course the pandemic put a quick end to that plan, but I was stuck with a cell phone. I don’t much like AI-themed movies because they fit into the category of “sci fi” in my mind, a genre which was never my cup of tea – until recently.
Now I'm keeping an eye on artistic folk who are endeavoring to meld music, fine art, or poetry with AI, or who speak out and write pro or con about AI, so that I inform my opinion and give it a chance of being improved by nuance, or changed, or confirmed.
Recently Garreth Brooke, my occasional zoom piano teacher (from Germany) and gentle friend-commentator when I forward questions and concerns on music, published “On Being,” a fascinating piece he composed using AI along with the piano. It’s a piece from his collection of experimental pieces titled “Conversations” and released on September 28, 2023.
Garreth says “More recently I’ve been testing out music generated by free-to-use AI music generators, Google’s Magenta in particular. It reminded me of teaching my beginner piano students to improvise: at the beginning they move their fingers randomly, but after a while they learn to craft phrases, later how to add emotion to their melodies.”
Since he knows how much I fell in love with his slow lyrical pieces “Waking” played on my home page, and then with “Loving” played in recent blog, I’ll be brave enough to say this recent joint project with AI sounds dull and Musak-like by comparison, absent of any added emotion. It didn't get one chill out of me. When composing this blog I wondered if he thought that AI added emotion to this piece, but after he read my blog, he assured me that he felt no emotional reaction to it either.
I did love other pieces in this collection, namely his experimenting with developing a piece while playing with his partner who is not a trained pianist, and figuring out how to play along with sounds he captured as created by a natural plant!
Not long ago I was gobsmacked to read that in July 2, 2023 for the first time a robot conducted the South Korean National Orchestra. It’s worth watching, bows and all. The attempt was called “very good” by some while the conductor was quite magnanimous in his interview response by saying that the real conductor and the robot could “co-exist” and not be thought to “replace” each other.
Shortly thereafter the first poetry book "written" by AI came out on August 1, "I Am Code: An Artificial Intelligence Speaks", touted as an anthology based on the analysis of some 10,000 poems written by 'code-davinci-002'. And fine artist David Selle is dealing with AI as a type of art student and trying to educate it with a view toward helping artists streamline their production through "text prompts" (not sure what that is) and sketches. He is trying to teach AI how to paint better and more realistically with spirit, elan, and flexibility.
Somedays I wonder why I bother?
I’m not holding my breath about perfecting AI to act fallibly human (so ironical, no?), but I am searching for spirit-centered ways to deal with the advent of AI and it’s “worst case scenario” in art.
I decided for now to approach it the same way I consider matters such as the Ukraine War and the madman who started it all, or for that matter, the madman who wants back into the US Presidency, or the extremists of the NRA who want their absolutist version of "freedom" for anyone to own and carry all sorts of guns in all sorts of public places, or the anti-majoritarians such as The Supremes devoted to retrenchment in women's 50-year old prior right to control our own bodies; I could go on.
Some months ago I asked a local musician what he thought about AI and the future of composing and the arts. He indicated that the topic gave him a royal headache and he wasn’t prepared at the time to discuss the implications. My piano tuner who is a cellist and pianist, ignored the same question I recently asked by email. Fine artist David Salle won't even opine if AI would one day replace him entirely and said "that's the future."
I'm sure those artists have given far wiser responses by withholding response than I have by considering the topic at this early, under-educated stage of my knowledge, but who said I was always wise?
Over a year ago a friend gave me a tough but cogent challenge to write a poem about the effort and good will underlying the creation of things of beauty as opposed to the ease of their destruction and their extreme fragility. It set me to thinking for a long time after that.
Since I’m worried about the ease of destruction by AI and the fragility of beauty in music and all of the arts, the answers I came up with in four prose-poems seem applicable today. (The first two poems appeared in Vol I of "Poetical Musings about Pianos, Music & Life" a poetry anthology in the process of redistribution; and the second two will appear in Vol II in the process of initial distribution).
RESPONSE 1: WITH ALL GOOD INTENTIONS
Some things need not be said, but heard.
The World of Light transports as it transfixes
Those who see and hear, but do not speak.
There is no need for words when hearts connect
With others or with thought, as we cathect
What is, with meaning.
There is no darkness that exists
That beauty cannot ore’come,
And it’s easy to forget
That we are One.
Listen! Can’t you hear
The melody of love
That resides in you, in me,
In living beings and the soul of those
Who move beyond to greater things?
From deepest despair we lift each other up
to hear again what we know:
Let go, attend, listen to what’s inside of you,
Then offer up your soul with all good intentions.
There’s no monster lurking there in his lair
Whom we cannot defeat, dissolve, dismiss
By just allowing who we are to shine,
In trust that someone, somewhere will hear us cry,
Will hear us speak our from our deep and keen desire
RESPONSE 2: HOPE
What I see in my mind
Comes out in words;
I listen to the pictures there,
And paint the sounds I hear
On my piano fair,
And dance the dream I’m dreaming there
In poems–nothing important
To anyone but me, because what I see
Is only there, inside my mind.
It all comes down to creativity.
Delay an instant and the thought abates,
Wait some more and it’s gone
And my song is lost forever more!
I must move along my groove
When rhymes strike deep,
Perhaps in sleep, then I rise up,
Open my dream book,
Take up my pen and write.
What delight to seize the thought,
Pursue the dream
Weave a carpet without seam
Into whole cloth of rainbow threads!
I live with hope the best will come of it
When facing down the darkest days.
It’s in sharing that the sun’s rays come
To warm our hearts, inspire the dream,
Help us capture thought in poem or note–
The music there as it always is,
Ours to seize, create, and give.
RESPONSE 3: EXILES
Destruction comes in many forms
and is not new.
Neither is suffering.
They did it before us, our parents,
suffered World Wars,
famine, poverty, and more.
Musical exile as from Ukraine is new,
where artists flee, yet some remain.
But in times before, musicians left their homes
to pursue their musical dreams,
like Horowitz and Alfred Cahn,
one you know and one you likely don’t.
No matter that.
What matters is that they did not stop
creating things of beauty in their world,
refuse to unfurl their gift, did not go adrift
or give up because beauty is ephemeral
and fragile, too.
But is the goal to create only
what endures? Is that not
a symptom of ego in excess
with which most are blessed
or rather, cursed?
Does not the exercise of effort
and good will deserve rejoicing and respect?
Should they not be enough,
RESPONSE 4: IN THE PRESENCE*
Play always as if
in the presence of a master or mistress.
So said Schumann.
Reflecting on this, said Isserlis,*
we would not then drift off and dream as we played
or check email and other things.
So my advice? Forget the concern that you express.
Do your best to compose or paint or dance,
ink your thoughts or touch the keys,
start with the song within your mind
or upon the score,
don’t stop to spend one second more
on war and famine and death in store
for all of us.
Play now as if in the presence
of your god or goddess, maestro or maestra,
no more, but certainly, no less!
*Inspired by Steven Isserlis, a master concert cellist and author,
Robert Schumann’s Advice to Young Musicians Revisited by Steven Isserlis.
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