I had a conversation with an artist about the difference between his art and AI art. He seemed resigned about continuing his craft. He was discouraged by the fact that AI could create art so much faster than he could and lost motivation to spend time on his craft because “AI is taking over.”

In a world where craftsmanship takes so much time and the world is short on time and patience, he found it hard to validate reasons for putting in the effort when AI art is available. I pointed out to him the intricacies of his art: the lines in facial features which were so exact that it looked like a photograph. He is self-trained and was a mechanic with a Da Vinci-level artisan existing in the depths of his psyche and hands. We went back and forth about the efficiency of AI and its ability to eliminate the mundanity of the brush stroke.

So I wondered if we could reframe that thinking. It’s not mundane. It’s an act of worship or celebration, I thought. We summarized art history over the past 1,000 years and the legendary predecessors who paved the way to various styles. That was an exhausting discussion but seems to be necessary in the days of AI.

Then we went to church through our discussion and had a mini-worship service in conversation. What do I mean by that? We discussed the soul of a human being versus AI. I reasoned with him that AI can’t replace the artist because the artist has a soul. Anything the artist creates is much more intricate, unique and divine because it comes from a hand, attached to a body that has a soul living in it, and a brain to think through the creation. The brain is made up of neurons and electrons, which fire divine ideas and thoughts that come from inspiration in thinking because we have DNA, which has telomeres that, though shortening through our lifespan, also get massaged by complex thought. And we are divine beings.

Whew! So that was going to church in our conversation.

He thought about it and realized AI creates art from inputted data and images it copies from descriptions of things that our brain programs it to do. It does this without feeling because it has no soul. We looked at a picture of a face he painted in which the model was disabled and had many imperfections. The picture looked like a photograph.

I explained that I would rather buy a piece of art made by a human who put feeling and soul into his depiction which I then could interpret in my own brain. I could even discuss it with him from a spiritual perspective. I couldn’t do that with AI. He finally began to see what AI can never provide for the creative arts: soul, insight, perspective, feeling. These things cannot be manufactured.

AI can only copy and output data. Maybe we should stop calling AI art “art” and instead call it “depictions.” The artist/artisan will always be necessary in this world if our cultures are to continue having soul.

EL Serumaga is a resident of River Forest and founder of Ecovici.com.

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