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A sense of purpose.
On manifestos, Guardians of the Galaxy Part 3, and the survival of our species.
Lately I’ve thought about what my purpose as an artist is… what my mission statement would be. What do I focus on? What’s most important?
Here’s my list:
Communicate the wonders of our planet and the universe to a larger public audience, marrying my knowledge of science with my passion for storytelling,
Promote the inclusion of the arts in STEAM, using art to elevate scientific outreach to the public,
Amplify the vital importance of human artists and creativity in the face of AI technologies, for the survival of our species, and
Advocate for the necessity of space exploration (human and robotic), to further research and technologies that benefit all, and promote a future-forward outlook of hope for our species.
It was hard to narrow down to just four. I have strong opinions on more than this, but one can only choose so many battlegrounds. Subject to revision, these are the hills I choose to die upon: that the natural world is wondrous, that the arts belong with STEM, that AI “artwork” is gross theft and plagiarism, and that space exploration gives us hope for the future. Fight me.
To talk about all four points at the length they deserve would make for a very long newsletter that I will likely never finish, so I think I’ll break it up into (you guessed it!) four parts. (Light spoilers for GotG Part 3. It came out a month ago, suck it up.)
The Rise of the A(nt)I “Creative”
I originally started this post a month ago, to talk about AI and creativity. I was fresh off a viewing of Guardians of the Galaxy Part 3, a truly satisfying end to by far my favorite trilogy of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The plot revolves around a character called The High Evolutionary, who has taken it upon himself to modify species in an effort to perfect life. (So you can guess how that goes….) He is the creator of Rocket Raccoon, having experimented upon him as a cub, given him speech abilities and high intelligence, and educated him. His desperation in the film to reacquire Rocket (his brain, specifically) for further study is only matched by his galloping hubris, that he (or anyone) can single-handedly evolve a perfect species, given enough time and research.
Interestingly, a very timely topic is raised by the plotline, in that Rocket is the High Evolutionary’s only experiment who demonstrates creativity and innovation. Rocket’s gifts have already been seen in prior films, of imagining and assembling highly-complex inventions, using his innate understanding of mechanics, engineering and science to MacGuyver bombs out of spare parts and ships out of scraps. But no other creatures display this trait. The High Evolutionary creates beings with seemingly endless stamina and other physical traits, but he laments that all require education and explanation of any task or problem. There is no imagination, no creativity.
The High Evolutionary: Without the capacity for invention a civilization dies on the vine!
His manufactured utopias prove this. Species can be perfectly sentient and capable, but without the capacity to innovate or problem-solve, their societies are doomed to collapse. They lack that spark, that creative drive, the ability to think and wonder without running to him for instruction or guidance. A life without curiosity is not really a life at all.
At this, my strangely-wired brain went, “ooh this is exactly the problem with AI-generated art.” Yes, there is nothing new under the sun, it’s all been done before. However, the true creative takes an existing idea and says “yes, but make it ____”. (I hinted at this last post—draw rockets, but make it iconography. Paint an asteroid-impact mission, but make it Art Nouveau. Leaving aside the whole issue of AI training on artists’ works without permission being gross copyright infringement and theft—as I said, strong opinions—it can only train on ideas that already exist. Yes, you can conceivably generate an AI version of Titanic done in the Studio Ghibli animation style, but 1) Hayao Miyazaki had to first exist, to originate that style, and 2) someone had to think of that mashup idea and type it in, in order for AI to generate it.
This is the shortcoming of AI. It can’t think of anything new—it only draws on prior learning from existing language or media or artwork to assemble something new. (I don’t use “create” here. AI deserves no such distinction.) Social media is rife with examples of AI-generated text, articles and conversations that are “almost, but not quite”, demonstrating that while it may understand words and assemble them into paragraphs, it has no overall comprehension of what those words mean when strung together. It lacks context and nuance. It is a mimic—diversely-trained, but only parroting back in remixed form what already is.
In a way this gives me hope, as an artist, for all of us crazy creatives out there. AI can do a lot of things, but it cannot innovate or create, it can only recombine. So be wild, have off-the-wall ideas. Combine things not even a computer would connect together. It’s the only way our species will survive, and outlive this very weird phase we’re in.
I took a break from space art this month to paint the first of two landscape commissions, for a friend and coworker, in honor of her late father. I also did some travel paintings, though not as many as I should (I have most of 2022 and some of 2023 to catch up on.) I’m back at it though, working on a Hubble image of the Lagoon Nebula (see top of this post) on black, with pearlescent watercolors. Hop on over to my Instagram to see some timelapse videos of the progress (warning: you may be mesmerized!)
I will be in my second group show this September, here in Medford, Oregon! Details to come, but all art will be 8”x8” square and priced at $80. (I’ll be submitting 4-5 pieces.) There’s a vast array of styles and artists, should be a fun one!
— Keepin’ it real(ly nerdy), Danielle
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