All Art is Theft

As artists, lots of us feel threatened by A.I. art, worry that it will steal our art, our jobs, our vocations, our very livelihoods. If just anyone can instantly make impressive and evocative art, what value will the world place on our skills? And if those programs steal art from working artists, non-artists can stand on the shoulders of giants and do work just as good. How is that fair? It’s not fair, but that’s Art. And Art has never been fair, especially to those who lionize how it’s supposed to be. It’s especially not fair to gatekeepers.

But I’ve never been a gatekeeper or been very fond of gatekeeping, and admittedly, my entire aesthetic philosophy orbits around the absurdity of the concept of ownership, especially when it comes to art, and I may well be in the minority when it comes to artists’ stances on this issue. So let me just state this unequivocally: A.I. isn’t the problem. Capitalism is.

Copyright mostly serves big corps like Disney and suppresses free expression, aesthetic communion, and artistic experimentation. Artists who are especially concerned with keeping their intellectual property well within their own control know to severely limit what they post online, because once posted, it’s essentially public property. We all know this. If someone steals your art online, there’s a limited tool kit for what you can do to stop them. Severely limited. Were it not for the factor of money, or artists needing to earn coin on their work in order to be in a position to even make it, I think we’d be having a markedly different discussion about A.I. right now.

Art wants to be free, no matter what artists want for it. It doesn’t belong to us, just like our children don’t belong to us no matter how we try to convince ourselves and society otherwise. It wants to mix and mingle and touch and inspire and impregnate and gestate and evolve. When you create something, you can hide it away in your studio, maybe let friends and loved ones take a glance (but never a photograph!), or you can put it out there, sell it to someone, or exhibit it online, after which its life is its own and frankly none of your damn business, thank you very much. You don’t get to choose where it goes, with whom it associates, how it may change and grow, who it sleeps with, or with whom it procreates. Van Gogh never intended for his art to adorn travel bags, but he has no say. He’s dead, and every artist will join him, but scant few will have their art exhibited on wine totes, coffee mugs, phone cases, and whatever comes next until the end of time.

Art belongs to the world, and the world will have its way with Art. Art is a psalm, eternally composing itself through media and mediums of infinite varieties. It’s a raging river, and we can try to dam it up, divert its flow, or fill it with pollutants, but that water will keep on flowing. We can be as mad as we want about A.I. suddenly and brazenly putting a tool into the hands of “regular people” that will allow them to make amazing art in no time, but we can’t stop that from happening, and we can’t expect to be relevant in the impending A.I.-heavy art world if all we can do is grouse about how we were stiffed by the latest tool. The avalanche has already started; it’s too late for the pebbles to vote.

There’s a guy in France, who sells prints of my work. I can’t legally stop him, and why should I? Is he taking money I would otherwise be earning? No. Not without me putting a lot of time and effort into having shows and promotions there. How does him doing so hurt me? Maybe it’s how he feeds his kids. Even if it’s how he funds his weed habit, what difference does it make to me? Let the dude profit off my work. It doesn’t give me any more work or any less money.All this pearl clutching over the “rights of the artist” rings pretty hollow when many of the same people who are decrying the perceived ethical breaches wrought from A.I. have never had such an issue with things like fan art, which steals intellectual property, like cover bands, which do the same, like music sampling, remixing, and mash-ups, like analog collage, which I should point out, I sell quite a lot of. It’s stolen. I took pieces of the work of other artists, ripped it up, and glued it back together in a way that I liked. Now, you can argue, “Oh, but M-A! YOU combined those pieces! YOU decided where they go and how they should be arranged! The other art was just the material YOU used to make YOUR art!”

And I would agree. But isn’t that exactly what an A.I. generator does? It just references work and remixes and reshapes it to create a new image. If that’s stealing, then all of my art has been stealing. In fact, I’m pretty confident that all art is theft.

No one comes up with new art out of thin air. All art is inspired by art and ideas that already existed. We’re just riding the wave of the latest iteration of riff upon riff upon riff. You think all the classical painters, all the writers of antiquity, Sophocles, Euripides, all the sculptors of statues and illuminators of manuscripts and bards and slam poets and abstract expressionists just made all that stuff up?No one has ever made anything up.

Thag saw a bison and wanted to make one, but he couldn’t. He tried and he failed. All he could manage was a silhouette that was vaguely bison-shaped on the wall of the cave. Betty saw his bison, and made a better bison next to it. This continued through endless permutations until the Mona Lisa, and how many of her have there been, some refreshing, some stale? It continues through today, when some folks are keen to play with a new aesthetic tool, and some want those ding-dang A.I. bots off their lawn.

All art is theft.”

Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital.” – Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Lumbering Giants of Windy Pines

The Lumbering Giants of Windy Pines by Mo Netz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Endearing, clever, and with a nice balance between warmth and spookiness, Lumbering Giants packs as many punches as it does hugs, and without being pretentious or outré, manages to be wholly unique and surprising. The characters are nuanced and relatable, flawed in perfectly human ways, yet empowered with equally human talents and emerging author Mo Nets has done an impressive job of rendering them simple, and effable, and sympathetic on the surface, whilst allowing their complexities to coat the book’s subtext with wondrously layered results: Jerry, with her matter-of-fact and sweet non-conformity, her (to her, anyway) embarrassingly pink wheelchair, her ostensibly imaginary pet dragon, is easy to love and cheer for; She wields self-deprecation and self-esteem clumsily, like a double-edged sword, and has had a lot more uncertainty in her life than stability. Chapel, who Jerry meets in the beginning of Lumbering Giants is one of those rare kids that some of us were lucky enough to know in our youth; Brazenly sharp and precocious, bold and headstrong, but also kind and funny, with a mind for justice and an intolerance for the unfair. The pair’s interactions, dusted with the awkward inexperience of youth, are honest, cute, and somehow both wholesome and cool. Their blossoming friendship is a key ingredient to what makes Lumbering Giants instantly iconic, and it’s a sign of an emerging author who has a cavalcade of fantastic characters waiting to be discovered. Moreover, Netz’s prose is a delight; elegantly blunt, it brightens the senses and serves both story and character with aplomb. As this book just showed up on the scene, I don’t want to give too much away about the story itself, or too many of the creatures and characters therein, as I so enjoyed discovering each new bit of funky forest lore as it arose. But ya know, there might be giants. Dig in and enjoy this’un, folks!

View all my reviews

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