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  • Writer's pictureChris Beatrice

"Abolish Copyright" says some dope

A highly opinionated piece from a proud member of the artistic peasantry.

After listening to this rigorous and well thought out video by Steven Zapata Art on the subject of AI image making (link in first comment), this two word phrase, "abolish copyright," was all one commenter had to say. Of course my reflexive reaction was: "ignorant @#$%!"

But, I understand the sentiment. It clearly and succinctly reveals a perspective perhaps shared by more people than we’d like to think.

Most of the population are not (professional) creatives—they are consumers of created media and entertainment. And at this point in history it is highly possible that humanity has created enough music, art and literature that, were we to abolish copyright and use all this art to train AI’s to generate an infinite amount of custom pictures, music, video games and books, most of the consuming public would be fine with that. They’d have more stuff to consume, more variety, more customized and targeted to their personal tastes, more to binge on and numb out to. Though this may be unthinkable to us as creatives, it’s easy enough to see the alternate view, possibly the majority view.

It’s hard to defeat this argument, this “more people want it this new way than the old way, so the new way is better” assertion. Pointing out that it’s unfair to the artists who unwittingly and without permission trained these AI’s, and that a lot of humans will always have the strong desire to create unfortunately does not speak to the consumer perspective at all.

For artists and other creatives this would represent the end of civilization, and in many ways literally would be the end of civilization: humans doing uncreative jobs so they can buy entertainment made by machines. At the root of this, for me, is the question of meaning and purpose in life vs. addiction to entertainment. We artists have always been as interested in making stuff as in consuming stuff. But we are not the majority.

Being mostly consumers of entertainment (or “content” as we now label the manifestation of our creativity), the vast majority will never know the deepest satisfaction that comes from creating, when you do it a lot. The most profound joy ultimately comes from accepting and working with your own “limits” and STRENGTHS (the two being largely indistinguishable when it comes to creativity). It does not come from being able to do EVERYTHING really well, without effort. It comes from doing YOUR thing as well as you can. It comes from nurturing your own special thing, your own very limited thing.

The other result of this is that you simultaneously appreciate and enjoy all the other kinds of art that you don’t happen to be able to do really well because you only have one lifetime and some things are just not as much of a natural fit for you. Great! So while it’s perfectly natural to air drum to some great music and think, “it’d be really cool if I could do that myself,” you overindulge that impulse at your own peril. Because thinking it’d be really cool to be able to do something is not the same as it being accessible to you creatively.

I sympathize with some of the AI image-making adopters, because they are reacting to the frustration familiar to artists when our skills don’t appear to measure up to (what we believe is) our creative vision. They have not yet learned the hard lesson that these are one and the same, that what you imagine is not real, even in your imagination. That that internal vision is an illusion. What comes out of you on the page, by contrast, is a precise representation of you at that moment, however hard that might be for you to accept. You need to work with THAT. That’s what artmaking is.

Honing your own skills in ways that support your beautifully narrow and wonderfully limited unique voice (vs. wasting time trying to be other artists, or worse, all artists) is how you manifest your vision. It is a process of discovery and evolution. It cannot be had in an instant any more than swallowing a nutrient pill can replace the experience of eating a good meal. And it cannot be based on the work of billions of artistic images made by other people.

So to the current wave of promptsmiths: I am not going to debate about what is or is not art, or expect to convince you that you would get more joy out of using more modest “tools” (to accept for the moment your misuse of this term). And I won’t argue the legalities because I know it’s vital to you to believe that what’s happening is perfectly legal (and if it’s not it should be), and that it is simply the same as what “human artists” do. No, I will only ask this: do you not see that by using these AI’s you are merely training them to replace you, and that that will happen very quickly?

Maybe you imagine that this big leap in the “democratization of creativity” has finally empowered you to deliver your graphic novel or video game to your eager audience. Well, though took hundreds of years of work by countless artists to figure out how picture making works (something that has so far eluded most of you), which has then been used to train these AI’s, it’ll take no time at all for AI systems to learn to do what you do, which is so ridiculously easy that literally anyone can do it (this being its main selling feature). In other words, in your ideal world, no one wants or needs your graphic novel—anyone can make their own. You may think that’s fine, because you create just for yourself. But you will learn that an integral part of creating is connecting with an audience. Creativity is a communication, a sharing, an exchange.

So, if you consider yourself a creative person and not merely a consumer, please ask yourself whether these products are ultimately for your benefit, vs. for the profit-making machinery of big corporations. These are not tools made to empower you—they are systems explicitly designed to replace you.

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