AI: Artistic Identity
Ha, you didn't think I was going to fall into the trap of discussing Artificial Intelligence did you!
I am not touching that one at all!
Not on my quiet little blog anyway. I've seen the AI users fighting to justify themselves as artists and artists taking a surprising amount of flak for being artists...wait, I'm doing it aren't I?
I said no. I will not be discussing AI image creators on here today. Too much hassle.
I will be, instead, talking about the other big AI for artists - Artistic Identity.
It's one of those subjects that my mind comes back to quite regularly, unavoidably because I tend to see it as my biggest weakness as an artist.
Now, first of all, we're going to separate this out a little from the broader sense of the term; if you want to identify yourself as an artist then by all means do it. There is nothing wrong with that at all.
I'll do it for you if you like - I dub thee artist!
Easy. You now have an identity as an artist, you never have worry about if you have the right to call yourself that again. We've agreed it, you are an artist.
But what kind of artist are you? What kind of art do you create? Does it matter?
This is were I get a little unstuck...
You see, I usually refer to myself as an illustrator. Once you get past "artist" then that seems like a good fit for what I do. I draw things that attempt to convey story, a narrative or a concept or a personality. I try and show you what I think a certain thing or situation would look like.
But immediately that puts me into what feels like a bit of an awkward category.
The first problem is how I tend to feel around other classifications of artist. I go to a local art group and they're all lovely people but they operate in what I would consider the more classical art space. You have artists who work in ceramics, paintings, landscape artists, sculptors, that kind of thing. It's a very much a how I feel thing, because I feel that they are "proper" artists and I'm just a guy that draws stuff.
Paradoxically I am reasonably certain they would largely say the opposite. My skill at the craft of drawing gives me a certain amount of credibility that some of them might feel they lack.
The truth is of course, it's an art group and we're all artists of some description. There's no such thing as a "proper" artist and we're all just suffering from imposter syndrome.
I mean, I literally just said that illustrator is a category of artist, why would that even be a problem then?
If I call myself an illustrator, then by extension I should be comfortable with calling myself a artist and the group should cause me no worry at all.
Except, am I an illustrator?
And if I am an illustrator, what kind of illustrator am I?
Am I even good enough to call myself an illustrator?
I mean, I can draw pictures, but am I a proper illustrator?
There's that word again. Proper.
And if I'm not a proper illustrator, then I'm not a proper artist. It's a spiral based entirely on a word that has no place in the discussion.
For years I have been trying to logic myself out of it. Originally I set the bar at, if I illustrate a book then I am an illustrator.
At this point I have illustrated 5 books and a handful of book covers. Does that count?
Well, they weren't really paid work and I wrote most of them, so that threshold doesn't work anymore.
New threshold established! I must be paid to call myself an illustrator! Then I know I'm at least good enough for money to exchange hands.
Except then I went and got paid for illustrating. Just nibbling around the edges of the industry, but still paid work.
I mean, dammit! Don't they know that I'm trying to undermine myself calling myself an illustrator here! Calling myself an artist!
So, I start meandering around more pointless subcategories to prove that I do not belong. The next subcategory, what kind of illustrator am I?
This is where I hit my biggest weakness. I can't argue it and I can't classify it. I don't know.
My entire artistic identity flounders on this one question, what style of work do I produce?
And it is a problem, because as someone looking to get paid for creating art it really helps to have a fixed identity. When I try to define myself artistically, to describe which tribe of the artworld I belong to, what do I say?
Am I a cartoonist?
Sometimes. Sometimes I love going big with fun and expression and just embracing my goofier side. But sometimes I like drawing the less fun stuff.
Am I a horror artist?
Sometimes. I wrote and illustrated 2 horror comics and I regularly draw some pretty unpleasant creatures (they do not make it to my website very often, or my social media). But they can get boring if that's all I do.
I could go on, I dabble in painting, pyrography, charcoal, portraits, water colours and occasionally even a little bit of sculpture (I am so bad at it, it's hilarious). And yes, I draw horror and cartoony images, but also I draw comic book style stuff, vector art, portraits, landscapes and lately I've had an itch to learn manga style illustration just because I've never done it before. It's on my list of things to try.
As a result my identity as an artist feels constantly in crisis. I am a dabbler, constantly playing with all of the toys on offer to try and find that one thing that provides the base of my identity as an artist.
I just want to be a artist guys!
If I know what type of illustrator I am, then at least I know that I am an illustrator and then maybe I can comfortably call myself an artist.
Well, I may have been looking at this whole thing completely backwards. The whole time. I am and always will be an idiot. I can't help it.
You see, I had this thing completely wrong. I was trying to work from details of what I do in order to justify my identity as an artist.
I am an artist because I do these things.
But, while that is useful for third party identification (I saw you draw a picture therefore you are likely an artist) it's not really addressing the internal machinations of my brain.
I do these things because I am an artist.
And there we have it. The truth of where we are at. An artist is what I am, creativity is a fundamental aspect of what makes me tick. Every time I draw a picture it isn't to make me an artist, it is because I am an artist and that part of me requires expression.
I am only really wholly myself when I am creating something. You know that feeling you get when you get home from a long day and you unbuckle your belt or you put on your slippers and just get to be you for a second? That's how it feels to create art, even when it's hard.
All of those details I worry about, all those bits of creativity I play with like writing, painting, vector art and so on. It's all an aspect of the same thing, all expressions of what I am. They don't build my identity or justify it, they are just how that identity trickles out into the world.
So I can call myself an artist, and you can too. I can't argue with your nature any more than you can argue with mine and honestly, we're probably better off not even trying.
This does kind of bring us back around to AI in the traditional sense though. Artificial Intelligence.
I know, I said I wasn't going to talk about it. But it's only a little bit and hopefully most of the people who want to argue about it left when I started to get pretentious.
Now, we're going to sidestep the ethical issues for the moment. It's not terribly important for what I want to talk about.
I want to talk about AI Image creators as a way of expressing your artistic self. If you identify yourself as an artist and you believe that finally you have a way to express yourself, for that creative part of you to trickle out, then I would implore you to go and draw a picture. It doesn't have to be good.
Now draw another one. Could be anything.
It feels different doesn't it? Different to writing an AI prompt anyway.
It's something that I think a lot of artists have been trying to articulate online but it's something that's not really come across well.
AI image creators are like an art drug, cheap fixes for your creativity. It takes a minimum amount of effort to create a product that might take hours or even weeks the traditional way. It fools you into thinking that with just a few words (or paragraphs), that you can make something beautiful.
But your creative output is the prompt and not the final image. The AI made the final image, not you.
That's why you can't copyright it.
It's closer to writing a design brief than actually creating the final image.
So, in my view at least, you are doing yourself a disservice.
If you are an artist and you have that urge to express yourself, to spill your creativity into the world, why on earth would you want to spill so little of it.
Sit down and draw something.
It might not be a masterpiece but every line you draw, every single squiggle will be entirely and absolutely you. Every single stroke of your pencil is a creative decision; how hard do you press, how curved is your line, will it cross the next line it meets or join it instead?
There will be more of you in that picture than anything an AI can generate for you in a life-time and the process is all the more satisfying because of it.
It's not about the end result, it's about the process. That is where you really get to express your creativity the most. Where you get to be an artist.
So, how do we bring this all back around again?
I'll just say that again to give myself a few minutes to come up with a solution.
I think one of the reasons AI image creators have been so contentious an issue is because there are a lot of people out there who really want to call themselves artists. To own that identity.
The same struggle that has consumed me for so long is not so rare I think. Artists out there thinking that they can't call themselves that because they can't produce something high enough quality or of the right kind to claim that title. It's hard to deny that sometimes 'artist' can come with a certain amount of prestige (and baggage) and that means it is desirable.
And AI images will feed that demon. They will tell you that you can be an artist now, you can create something amazing. Their technology can make you one of the elite, standing shoulder to shoulder with those artists you likely adore.
But it's a lie. Not in the way you might think though.
It won't make you an artist. You were already an artist. That's why I spent so long talking about artistic identity at the beginning. That drive you have towards creativity, that is what makes you an artist. AI image creators feed on your insecurity and will they feed your ego while your creativity withers and dies.
By giving you maximum results for minimum effort they rob you of the experience of the process of making art, of expressing your creativity.
Of being an artist.
So if you are an artist; write stories, draw pictures, paint, sculpt, make prints, burn wood, carve stuff, cut ice with a chainsaw, whatever happens to be your favourite or all of them. Even if you never make something that you might consider good, you will always have that avenue to express your creativity. That's why a lot of artist have been so horrified by these new fangled AI programs. The process was always the most important part.
Just enjoy being an artist.