I had a powerful debate in 2017 with James Brett, the entrepreneur and owner of The Gallery of Everything and The Museum of Everything – fun names but not true to their word! They are exclusively Outsider art venues. I said the definition of fine art is a quality, an exquisiteness and he argued vehemently that it is a behaviour – art is a behaviour. I now love that definition and I agreed wholeheartedly with him. I have in the following years also changed my view on art. It is of course a quality but most importantly, fine art contains knowledge. You know you are in the presence of fine art because the art teaches you something. It will teach you how to see the world differently, teach your eye to see everyone suddenly looking like little stick people – Lowry, or that if you squint you can see the colours created in a garden like Monet’s work. Mondrian teaches of a world of shapes and minimalism – the simplest forms related to their spiritual essence etc. I want to create fine art also, which is why I add great depth of knowledge and thinking into my work whilst attempting to make my paintings as rich and vibrant in terms of their quality also.
Holly King has written about my work:
‘Degard’s pieces always prioritise depth and meaning. But what makes them powerful is the emotional resonance they have with viewers. Her artworks are not just images on a canvas – they’re gateways to another world, a world where emotions run deep and healing is possible.’
It’s this knowing, seeing auras, the Visionary experience and an emotional offering, that is fundamental to the impact of art on its viewers. Art has the power to move us, to make us feel things we might not otherwise be able to articulate. It can transport us to other worlds, help us process complex emotions, and connect us with the divine.
But what about the role of technology in art? It’s a question that’s becoming increasingly relevant in a world where artificial intelligence and machine learning are changing the way we create and consume art.
Given these definitions does this mean that AI can be fine art too? Of course, it isn’t automatic for a machine to be creative! We plug in the data and out pops the info, mangled up. That mangling process is however fascinating to me as an artist.
For me, this question is at the forefront of my latest project, which involves experimenting with AI-based image generators such as StableDream to try and create my signature style. The process is simple enough – I input a brief description, such as “landscape, Heavenly, Henry Darger, Af Klint,” and the AI generates an image based on that description. Almost without fail, the result is a landscape complete with detailed mountain ranges and winding rivers. They can be awful too – especially with the word ‘heaven’ added, it tends to generate images of caricatured palm beaches, glaring colours – I hope that isn’t heaven – horrible!
But what I found really fascinating is what I discovered when I decided to try to copy this AI-generated image closely. When an artist copies work, the eye is able to read the image more closely. What I found was that the images produced by AI were simply complex collections of meaningless objects. They might look like they have meaning and depth, but they’re ultimately devoid of a real-life circumstance. The AI tries to create a vista, but instead brings together a yellow patch of colour, “higgledy piggeldy” little elements caught from some odd illustrations of hens or some strange incomprehensible poultry, along with a mini mountain range and clouds with circles in them. Sounds trippy, I liked it at first but it is nonsense – this isn’t fine art but throwaway fun.
This is the Degard AI collaboration at its best in my view:
And this one below is the worst, I hope this isn’t heaven!
I suppose the question therefore is can Artificial Intelligence produce high quality art without having eyes, senses, emotions and a life lived? Could the text in the shredder be picked out, placed together and it would create a novel?
Below is my interpretation – pre-AI – of the keywords ‘landscape, heavenly, Henry Darger’.
And just exuberance and love for a place…
As an artist doing a doctorate, I believe AI is a very helpful, very fun assistant. Assistant is the key word here. I am confident that AI will not overtake humanity!