artificial intelligence

[New School] Pursuing art in the time of social media and AI

Karen Manese

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[New School] Pursuing art in the time of social media and AI

Marian Hukom/Rappler

'Did the art I post have any meaning at all if it didn’t make me happy and no significant amount of people cared enough to like it? Was my art not pretty enough?'

Every year throughout my childhood, I was asked about what I wanted to be when I grew up. Once, I wanted to be a geologist. Another time, I said I wanted to be a singer. Later on, I said I wanted to be a writer, like my eldest brother. But I wasn’t necessarily good at piecing a story together in words. Ideas came to me in little movie scenes that only lived in my mind. So the best way I was able to communicate these ideas was by drawing. I enjoyed putting my ideas on paper and seeing other people’s reactions to them.

When I was 12, a lot of my peers had begun making social media accounts. So as not to miss out, I followed and made my own Instagram account. What bugged me was that I didn’t have anything to post. So I started posting art. I didn’t think much of it, other than the fact that it made me happy. I ended up posting drawings every now and then, when school wasn’t overwhelming.

I was 14 when I decided I would be an artist. And it was around this time that I would post my art as often as possible. That’s what the algorithm wants you to do – post as often as possible, make reels, participate in trends. This will help you gain followers.

I tried to post at least once a week, with a short caption and 30 hashtags every time.

Sharing art on social media can be fun. Every now and then, you’ll get a kind comment and maybe up to 40 likes if you’re lucky. But I realized it’s unreasonably demanding and there is no guaranteed reward for the work I did. The art I posted simply became content, equivalent to any meme or fit check. 

So, did the art I post have any meaning at all if it didn’t make me happy and no significant amount of people cared enough to like it? Was my art not pretty enough?

These thoughts would swirl up in my head before but I’m relieved to say that these are no longer questions I ask myself. Likes, shares, views, follows – all the numbers that I used to measure my self-worth were never meant to be interpreted in such a way. And that’s applicable to anyone striving for an audience on social media platforms.

I stopped posting art on social media earlier this year, partially because I was sick of the routine and partially because of the popularity of AI “art.” I avoided Instagram for months and mostly used X (formerly Twitter) to enjoy the work of other artists. I no longer wished to push myself for 30 likes per post and compete against AI “art” accounts with thousands of followers. It’s sad to think that much of the art that blows up on social media is just a pretty picture to the viewer and nothing more. It doesn’t matter if it was made by AI or a human. Social media will continue to promote the content that AI generators make. And the use of AI generators will save corporations money at the expense of the work and passion of thousands, if not millions, of artists.

It might sound ridiculous that even after knowing all this, I still want to pursue art for my future career. I want to create characters people will love and stories to empathize with. I enjoy the process of brainstorming, sketching, and painting. This constant effort to create something meaningful gives me fulfillment.

Keeping hope intact for the future of art

A recently conducted study titled “Humans versus AI: Whether and why we prefer human-created compared to AI-created artwork” suggests that people prefer human-created art over AI “art.” Participants of the study used criteria (liking, beauty, profundity, and worth) to judge 30 art pieces which were randomly labeled either AI- or human-created (despite all being AI-created to avoid discrepancies). The researchers observed an anti-AI bias that could be considered the same as a “pro-human” bias with regards to the creation of art. 

The anti-AI/pro-human bias that the researchers mention is an idea I’d like to link with empathy. In line with the conclusion of the study, I believe empathy may be the crucial factor in separating art from content online.

In traditional art galleries, exhibits, and museums, we may be able to peek into artists’ lives by reading their “About the Artist” cards displayed next to their work. Where were they born? What was their family like? What did they go through to express this sadness or joy? When we know we can empathize with the person behind the art, I believe we enjoy it more. It’s the same as listening to a song and being amazed by how accurate the lyrics are to your own experience. The knowledge that you are not alone in the feelings you feel or the problems that you have to deal with is relieving.

Reading the study brought me back to a quote from Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell:

“She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.”

It might sound cringey to some because of how the quote trended on TikTok but the statement still stands, in my opinion. There is so much more to art than being pretty; it restores my faith in humanity when people understand that and prove this statement right.

My father asked me a couple of days ago, “Are you going to go ahead with your plan?”

I discussed my career plans with my parents very often. Go to art school, work in a video game/animation company, maybe start an art outsourcing business after establishing my name in the industry, and figure out how to get a pension. Regardless, I’m sure he and my mother worry about the numerous problems that would arise to threaten my dreams.

Are you still going to be an artist despite how uncertain the future of art is and how unstable of a career path that is going to be for you and everyone that chooses this dream?

I told him I was sure of myself and I couldn’t see myself pursuing anything else.

I’m sure this path will still be extremely difficult. I can’t confidently say there has ever been a good time in history to be an artist. However, I’m more than willing to persist for a future wherein artists of all kinds are able to thrive together – a future wherein artists and their work are treated with humanity and respect. –

Karen Manese is a senior high school student in OB Montessori Center Las Piñas.

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