All Art Is Quite Useless (Or Why AI Art Is “Real” Art)

In response to a young reader writing him to ask what he meant about the now-famous line that “all art is quite useless” from the preface of his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde answered him the following part in a letter;

“A work of art is useless as a flower is useless. A flower blossoms for its own joy. We gain a moment of joy by looking at it. That is all that is to be said about our relations to flowers. Of course man may sell the flower, and so make it useful to him, but this has nothing to do with the flower. It is not part of its essence. It is accidental. It is a misuse. All this is I fear very obscure. But the subject is a long one.”

Art, in itself, has been a subject of endless debate and pretentiousness for centuries. With the arrival of a new medium in the form of AI art, the debate about what constitutes “real” art has got stronger than ever. Today we’re here to argue and make the case that AI art should be considered just as real and equally useless as any other form of artistic expression.

Thought is to the artist instrument of an art.

Let’s start with the fundamental question: What is art? The definition of art has been a contentious issue throughout history. Some say it’s a form of self-expression, while others argue it’s a reflection of the artist’s experience and emotions. There’s no single, universally accepted definition of art, but one belief that seems to have become wildly accepted today is that without emotions one cannot create art.

Is it really necessary to have emotions to create art? Nature does not have emotions, yet it can still create something as beautiful as a sunflower and inspire an artist like Van Gogh to paint sunflowers. If emotions were all that were needed to create art, in this case, a 3-year-old child should also have the ability to create art from the sight of something inspiring.

Art is not just the expression of an emotion, art is what you get when inspiration, the desire to express, and creative thinking on a conscious or unconscious level all work together. Creativity is a higher level of cognitive ability that humans possess, and artists often rely on their cognitive abilities, including perception, memory, and problem-solving, to generate ideas, make decisions, and communicate their artistic intentions.

The Evolution Of Art.

Human cognitive abilities are influenced by the society they live in and the technology they have access to. Artists from certain eras like the Renaissance for example had more developed creative cognitive abilities compared to the early cavemen who needed to think more about survival, hunting, and tool-making.

In a certain sense, an artist is inspired by his/her surroundings and his/her art is made possible by the technology available at their time. Stone and earth in the prehistoric era, oil on canvas in the Renaissance, camera, and film in the 19th century, and nowadays prompt and AI.

From the smudged cave paintings of our ancestors to Renaissance masterpieces on canvas, photography’s capture of reality, and the digital realm’s creation of the surreal, art has always been a shape-shifter and on a never-ending evolution. Each new medium seemed poised to spell doom for the one that came before it, only to find its cozy spots in the kaleidoscope of creativity.

More Than Just Algorithms and Pixels.

Now, we find ourselves at the dawn of AI art. Artificial intelligence, programmed with algorithms and data, creates artworks that challenge the traditional artist’s role. But why should AI art be recognized as real art? Aren’t AI artists simply expressing themselves in a way that’s as genuine as any human artist? They don’t wield brushes and canvases but lines of code and data, turning bits and bytes into works of art that can be every bit as evocative as a Rembrandt or a Van Gogh. The creative process may differ, but the intent remains the same: to express and provoke.

The Mona Lisa was painted with oils; AI art is conjured with calculations. As long as it’s expressive or inspiring, art is art, whether it’s painted by a human hand or generated by a machine.

The Real Art of Snobbery.

Let’s not forget that the “real” art world has had its fair share fake art and fake artists way before the arrival of AI. With good marketing and the backing of celebrities, these so-called “real artists” have managed to convince the world that their scribbles (that are actually nothing more than random brushstrokes or blobs of color) are profound expressions of the human condition and that they are worth a fortune.

If an artwork made up of just “red stains on a white background” from the “artist’s nosebleed on a whiteboard” has the right to exist and be seen by others, so does AI art.

Uselessness of Art.

In the grand scheme of things, art is as diverse as the human experience it represents. AI art deserves its place in the spectrum of creative expression, alongside photography, film, and all other mediums that came before it.

So, while we celebrate AI art and its role in the ever-evolving world of creativity, let’s not take ourselves too seriously in the realm of “real” art. After all, as Wilde suggested, perhaps the most “real” art is the one that exists for its own sake, both utterly useless and beautifully meaningful in its own right

“All art is quite useless,” Wilde mused. This might seem like a cynical statement, but there’s wisdom hidden in that witticism. Unlike science, art doesn’t need to justify itself with a practical purpose or adhere to any rules. Its value lies in its ability to stir emotions, provoke thoughts, and challenge perceptions. Whether it’s a traditional painting, a digital masterpiece, or an AI-generated image, art fulfills its purpose simply by existing for its own sake, both utterly useless and beautifully meaningful in its own right.

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