I am a creative person. I write fiction and poetry for fun, I make (naïve) art and a lot of crafts, and it is a big part of how I view myself in the world.
I am also a consumer of other people's creativity, whether that's books, graphic novels, tv, music, film, or even the random little things that people do in this world, like sticking googly eyes in unexpected places.
|Googly eyes on the cover of the USB charging point in a bus|
Being creative is not easy, but not in the way that you might expect. I am lucky in that I don't lack creative ideas at all, and I have enough experience to implement them, and also not worry so much when they don't work out as I expect.
The thing that blocks my creative practice the most is judgement. In a world where we can hear professional musicians at the touch of a button, or see media made with vast amounts of talent and resources streamed into our devices any time we want, it can be really hard to look at my own efforts. When I'm comparing my amateur attempts at, for example, lino cutting with those of professional artists who have been doing it for many, many more hours than I have, then it's hard not to become discouraged and lose the will to keep trying, keep creating.
Hustle culture adds to this negative pressure on human creativity. In a world where everything has to be monetised, any time spent doing something badly for fun is considered a waste, and therefore shameful.
Let me be clear - this world with our ability to see and hear amazing creations so quickly and easily is amazing, and I am very happy to be part of it. But I do feel that we need acknowledgement of the creative things that are raw, that are rough around the edges, that aren't perfect, and that we as humans are allowed to create such things.
I believe that humans are fundamentally creative. We want to make stuff, and in times of enforced idleness, we will make stuff. During the covid lockdowns, when people were furloughed, it would have been so easy to default to the oft held belief that people would just sit on their sofa watching tv all day. This didn't happen. Whether it was musicians recording acoustic albums in their bedrooms, or the fad for sourdough bread, people were making things. Even with all this free time for "self-indulgence", people still found, and made, purpose in their lives.
So, what about AI? What about AI generated art and ChatGPT writing poetry?
I don't believe that it is possible to be creative in a vacumn - though of course there's no way of testing this. All human creativity is inspired by and builds on what comes before, whether that's how we make our clothes, or how we put paint on things.
AI art generation does this on an industrial scale - it hoovers up vast amounts of training data, i.e. images of artworks, and then uses those artworks to generate images of its own. There are lots of issues with how the training data was collected - copying copyrighted artworks from the web is not ethically or legally sound, but I'm not going to get into that at this time. Some people claim that this is just how human inspiration works - we see things and then we spin ideas off those things to create new things. The difference is just the speed and volume that the AI can manage.
I am not a trained philosopher. I am not a professional creative. So I can only tell you my opinions and thoughts here, rather than being able to generalise more widely.
ChatGPT's ability to write a perfectly metred and rhymed sonnet on a topic you give it makes me feel like my efforts to write sonnets are somehow less. Yes, the AI outputs are trite and lacking in deeper meaning, but to be honest, so are some of my creations. I am not a visual artist as such, but if I were, the AI art bots would induce the same feelings in me.
This makes me cross. AI and mechanisation was supposed to give us the tools to do boring stuff quickly and easily, so we could spend more time doing fun stuff like art. But it seems like it's the other way around - we're left with the boring drudgery while the AI is pushing out images and words at a rate that no human would ever be able to manage. What's worse - this AI art is quicker and cheaper than a human artist, so of course in a world where costs need to be cut to the bone to maximise profit, it's the human artist who's going to be ditched.
And then where will that leave us? Starved for non-AI generated media and new content? AI can't use art to explore what it means to be human, because it isn't human, and is only basing its output on statistical transformations of its training data, what has been done before.
So, what am I arguing for? A world that allows and encourages us to be creative, and rewards us for our efforts, even if our painting is wonky, or our fiction is derivative. A world where we have the time to experience amazing art done by amazing people, and become inspired by it to make our own creations. A world where the effort needed to create good art and music and words is not invisible, so we can all see and know and appreciate just how much effort it takes to create something.
Where does AI fit in? Let it be a tool, a prompt generator to spark ideas. Let it be a starting point for inspiration, not the ending point of creative endeavour. Let it give us the inverse of ourselves, so that by seeing what it is, we can understand what we are.
Most importantly, let us play. Let us be creative, and let us acknowledge our creativity, in whatever ways those manifest. Because that is a huge part of what makes us human.