Last generation of artists?
Artificial Intelligences are beginning to
compete and win
in official competitions.

The machine revolution was beginning to have a wide and strong presence in the art world, and it has already begun to conquer the human one as well.

The Cannes Film Festival opened the door last August, when it awarded the prize in the category of best short film to “The Crow” by director Glenn Marshall. A piece, undoubtedly beautiful in its aesthetics, made from the recording of a real choreography, and transformed into animation by Artificial Intelligence. 

In it, the protagonist mimics the appearance of a crow, creating a series of discontinuous interpolations that resemble the strokes of a traditional paintbrush, with a marked aesthetic of the most surrealist current. 

The video input, that is, the original material used by the AI, is a choreography written and directed by Duncan Mcdowall in 2012, called “Painted”. This short film, selected at the time for several competitions, captures much of the essence reflected in the winning short film. The dancer and the crow are already the leitmotif of Mcdowall’s piece, and the shots, as well as long complete sequences, are identified one by one as a tracing. It is true that some shots have been removed from the final edit and make it slightly shorter. Otherwise, you can easily try synchronizing the two videos compared here at various points. 

Reinterpretation or appropriation of the work?

I am a great supporter of the practice of decontextualizing original works, using their fundamental elements, and reconverting their form and meaning into a new piece. 

 However, the award to The Crow gave me a feeling close to injustice. First of all, I made the mistake of relating my assessment to the use of Artificial Intelligence, and I wondered what responsibility a jury should have when assessing a creative style made by an AI, versus a traditional process, when its final result is so similar to the original.

But then I thought, would I have agreed with the jury’s decision if a human artist had created The Crow by applying filters and VFX over the original video? Honestly, I’m not sure. 

Divided audience

It is obvious that The Crow is a conceptual work elaborated from many more elements than the processing of a simple machine. 

 The choice of music, the author’s own research with the AI until reaching that aesthetic intention, or the final reinterpretation towards the post-apocalyptic wasteland scenario, make this a different work. But how much difference is enough to save it from judgment and comparison? Is the difference directly proportional to the merit of the result? 

Artificial intelligences have no copyright, for the simple fact that they are not authors, but tools (at least for now); so they have no plagiarism or reproduction responsibilities either…. This valuation, and its consequent regulation still belongs to us, the imperfect humans.

When I saw the two videos compared, my first thought was: Was the Cannes jury aware of the existence of the original video? 

As a motion graphics teacher I have evaluated a great variety of works, and without a doubt, videos based on such a predominant base already produced by someone else, was a handicap rather than a help for the final grade.

The culture of effort dictates that the work invested in the development of each part of the process, and the originality of the author, should be valued with another scale. However, should we reward a work that, under this premise, has a worse result than the AI? Art is a constant debate, impossible to classify with defined rules or lines. It is the purest subjectivity, based on values not measurable in a table. However, it is also visceral, honest, and easily degradable when social rules are added as conditioners. 

And this is just getting started.

Recently, Jason Allen a.k.a Sincarnate, president of the board game company Incarnate Games, won first prize at the Colorado State Fair fine arts competition in the Digital Art category with his work “Théâtre D’opéra Spatial”, made with Midjourney, another AI tool I recently blogged about.

Allen, printed the image on canvas and simply won, with a work generated from his directions, but without a single brushstroke of digital palette. This revolted much of Twitter’s participants and opinionated commentators, who are now wondering if a new category should be established for this type of work. 

But who really wins?

The day will come when the machine will indeed be the architect of creation, but so far it still needs an initial human instruction. The reality is that the proliferation of so-called AI artists is multiplying every day. And while in its beginnings, we associated this discipline to technologist-artists who were dedicated to experimentation, programming, and the study of complicated software; the current tools have reduced the technical part to apps, so easily researchable by anyone, that only through a few lines of text, taste and time, create truly wonderful products, which are sold in NFT galleries, win contests and are even auctioned.

That’s right, despite the revolution we are living this 2022, it’s already 6 years ago, in 2018, that the bookmaker Christie’s sold the first work completely created by an algorithm, called “Edmond de Belamy, from La Famille de Belamy” by the French art collective “Obvious” for $432,500, which exceeded up to 40 times its starting price (between 7 and 10 thousand dollars). Not without the subsequent uproar of the code’s creator and artist, Robbie Barrat. And it is that before, the creation of the algorithm was art in itself. Something that, after the multiplication of almost automatic Deep Learning creation systems, no longer seems to be part of the intervention of the work.


The reality is that these impressive unregulated creations are still unclassifiable, and fill the networks with equal parts admiration and fear for the guild. 

At this point, the question we must ask ourselves is why the pursuit of machines to employ their potential in something as human and ethereal as art? 

The industrial revolution has already replaced the mechanical work of man by the machine almost completely. Applications in engineering, medicine, agriculture, security, etc. are clear improvements in our daily lives. But why is art the new target of R&D?  A discipline of imprecise, subjective and imperfect idiosyncrasy. A science that is ultimately human, in the most earthly sense of the word, and which, it seems, is the ultimate test of the cognitive development of an artificial neural network

So far, and in spite of the advanced technology, human instructions have been needed as a starting point, but will the machine be able to overcome the soul? Artists are influenced by their own existence in their socio-historical context. They grow, evolve, become depressed, experience euphoria, happiness, heartbreak. All in the same life. 

A journey that can be eclipsed by the precious results of computational infallibility