AI & Navigating the Unknown at Columbia University
In a rapidly changing world where technology is reshaping our lives and creativity, Lance Weiler, an art professor at Columbia University, is introducing his students to an unknown future. His graduate course on digital storytelling delves into the potential of AI tools like ChatGPT and Midjourney for the creative process. The challenge lies in whether students will see these tools as powerful assets or mere crutches.
Teaching Art in the Age of AI
Weiler has a history of experimenting with emerging technologies in his courses, blending augmented reality with Edgar Allan Poe, virtual reality with Sherlock Holmes, and machine learning with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Now, he aims to prepare his students for an art world that is gradually embracing the latest digital tools.
"The class is about daring students to embrace the machines," Weiler explained.
ChatGPT and Midjourney have the potential to revolutionize the creative process by producing scripts and artworks based on algorithms and replicating human creativity. However, not everyone in the art world is convinced of their value.
Behrang Garakani, 50, an aspiring artist and former video game developer, finds AI tools indispensable. He says that ChatGPT and Midjourney have become a part of his artist's toolbox, comparing their impact to that of Photoshop in photography.
Despite the enthusiasm for these tools, some artists view AI as a threat to their livelihood. Cases of AI-generated images mimicking the styles of living artists and potential copyright violations have raised concerns.
"We're taking our consent back. That data is my artwork, that's my life. It feels like my identity." - Karla Ortiz, one of the illustrators who filed a class-action lawsuit against AI companies
Embracing AI in Art Education
Weiler remains undeterred by the potential pitfalls and criticisms. He believes that embracing AI is the only way forward in a rapidly evolving world. In his course, he encourages students to experiment with AI tools while being aware of their limitations and potential consequences.
As part of the course, students present their AI-generated artworks to an audience of arts professionals. Their creations range from apocalyptic scenarios to underwater civilizations, showcasing the potential of AI tools in the creative process.
"It's possible that we may have arrived at this point without AI, but the machine helped us spark this idea in seconds," Garakani said.
The Debate over AI's Role in Creativity
While some students and artists embrace AI's potential, others have raised concerns about the technology's impact on creativity and the art world as a whole.
Haiyu Zhang, a student in Weiler's class, highlighted the ongoing debates over the authenticity of AI-generated images. "Not every class lets students use ChatGPT, because many professors assume that it's plagiarism," Zhang said.
Weiler, however, argues that introducing students to emerging technologies is crucial for their future success. He acknowledges that Columbia offers other courses that delve into the computational side of programming artificial intelligence, but maintains that his focus is on incorporating these tools into the creative process.
AI in the Art World: Challenges and Opportunities
Despite the challenges and concerns surrounding AI's role in the creative process, many students and professionals in the art world see the potential for these tools to enhance their work.
Haiyu Zhang believes that AI allows artists to concentrate on big ideas while algorithms fill in the details, ultimately putting a greater premium on creativity. "What makes artists special is their ability to imagine something new," she explained. "So while I think that AI tools help express our creativity, creativity will still be the driving force behind the future of art."
Weiler's perspective is that embracing AI is the only way forward. He questions the possibility of slowing down a cycle that is moving as fast as artificial intelligence. "Well, nobody is slowing down. We've opened Pandora's box. It's already out of the box, man."
Preparing for the Future of Art and AI
Art schools across the nation, such as the California Institute of the Arts and the Rhode Island School of Design, are offering courses that prepare young artists to code with machine learning or employ programs like Midjourney, Stable Diffusion, and DALL-E 2.
Jane South, the fine arts chair at Pratt Institute, pointed out the precedence for experimentation with technology in the art world. She emphasized that throughout history, critics have worried that technological innovations would threaten the artistic profession, only to see it adapt and thrive. South believes that the artist's role today is to produce meaning, not just images, and that technology can help develop new meaning about contemporary life.
As AI continues to make inroads in the creative world, artists, educators, and students must grapple with the potential implications and opportunities that these tools present. Weiler's course at Columbia University represents just one of many attempts to prepare the next generation of artists for an ever-changing landscape where AI may play an increasingly significant role in shaping our artistic endeavors.