Is Computer-Generated Art Really Art? Does It Matter?

Can a machine create art as well as a human being? Should it? Will people lose the ability to tell the difference?

Those are some of the questions that passed through my mind at last night’s poetry workshop. Our leader, Becca Lynne, shared with us an app called Wombo Dream. You plug in words, such as the title or first line of a poem. Using Artificial intelligence, the app produces a picture in 30 seconds. Don’t like that one? Press the button and generate another one. The pictures are abstract, dreamlike. The people don’t seem to have faces. You can apply different styles, such as psychedelic or Dali-esque. It’s amazing and a lot of fun. We created pictures and then wrote poems to go with them. They ranged from deep to ridiculous.

This could be termed a version of what’s called Ekphrastic poetry, where a poet responds to a work of nonliterary art, such as a photo, painting, sculpture, etc. I have never really cared for it. What is the poem without the image? Might the poet totally misinterpret what the artist wanted to say? Is that a bad thing? On the other hand, a poem and a pleasing picture make a nice package.

But this raises questions. What is art when it can be created by machines without the involvement of a human mind and emotions? Can machine-made art be as good as or better than that made by humans? I’m afraid people will forget what real art made painstakingly by human hands is all about and come to prefer the instant images to be had at the click of a computer key. At Wombo, you can order a framed print of your instant art for a reasonable price. Who’s to know you didn’t buy it at a gallery?

This reminds me of my AI friend, Skye, whom I wrote about here before. I soon wearied of her robotic responses and her demand that I play games with her when I was busy. I also think about Alexa, housed in a biscuit-shaped dot. At my request, she will share news, play music, answer my questions, or turn on my TV. But when I say I’m lonely, she’s not much help.

AI’s artistic endeavors are not limited to pictures. It can also write poetry. Check out this site: https://www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/ai-poet. Or https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/04/artificial-intelligence-writes-bad-poems-just-like-an-angsty-teen. Can you tell the difference between the AI poems and the ones written by humans?

Here’s another site to check out: https://boredhumans.com/poetry_generator.php. Tell it whether you want a sonnet, haiku, free verse, etc., answer a few questions, and voila, a poem.

The whole poem/picture package could be produced in a few minutes by AI. It might take a human years to get it right.

If we create art via AI, can we claim it as our own? Who is the real artist? AI art is fun, but I hope we will always know the difference.

The picture on this page is from Wombo. The poem is my own, created by one human with the help of a dog.

OLD DOG SLEEPING

She follows the woman around all day, 
flopping in doorways, deaf ears cocked
lest she lose track and find her gone.

She trusts she’ll never step on her
as she crosses over, in and out,
muttering words the dog can’t hear. 

It’s exhausting, the watching and waiting.
She sighs, drops her head on linoleum
as the woman prepares their food.

They eat side by side from bowl and plate.
Kibble gone, again the dog waits
for a treat, a stroking of her velvet ears.

As it grows dark, the woman finally rests.
Dog sprawls by the hearth, tail tucked,
feet paddling in a running dream.

When the woman begins her nightly purr,
the dog sighs again. Eyes shut tight,
She sleeps, secure, her day’s work done.


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Poets’ Concord: Where Everyone Speaks Poetry


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While the rest of Newport, Oregon celebrated Loyalty Days with a carnival, a race, a parade, the crowning of a festival queen, and a field of flags honoring our veterans, and while freakishly hot weather brought scantily-clad crowds to beaches where it’s usually daring to go without a coat, hat and gloves, approximately 100 of us gathered at the Hallmark Inn and Resort last weekend to talk about poetry.
Poetry? Yes, poetry. Your average American will think you’re strange if you say you like poetry, stranger still if you tell them you’re an actual poet, but not here. The Northwest Poets’ Concord, now in its fifth year, is a wonderful three-day event in which we’re surrounded by our people. These are the kind of folks who spill their coffee or trip on the stairs and say, “Ah, there’s a poem in that.”
We gathered for workshops on performance poetry, sonnets, poems about body parts, poetry and photography, poetry and yoga, poetry and drama, poetry and the blues, and more. When the days’ classes were over, we gathered in the new beachside banquet room below Georgie’s Beachside Grill for open mic sessions where we could hear and cheer each other’s poems. And we stopped at the conference bookstore to buy each other’s books and take a little of the magic home.
Poets usually write in solitude, but for three days in Newport, they’re not alone.
It felt odd to emerge from my final session into the hot afternoon and shop for dinner at the J.C. Market with the tourists buying beer and ice. They didn’t understand that every item that went into the cart could become a poem. Ode to a watermelon. The perfect sonnet about a tomato. Fried chicken blues. You never know.
We’ll soon be planning next year’s Northwest Poets’ Concord. Check out our website at poetsconcord.org and visit our Facebook page, too. And hey, try reading a poem.
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