“An artist friend I received an AI-generated painting as a gift from my side. I can see that he tried to personalize the concept, and it’s well-crafted, but I still feel a little cheated on my part. Is that fair?”

-No return.

Dear no return,

There’s something distinctly counterintuitive about feeling “cheated” by a gift. A gift, by definition, is something that comes into your possession without cost or effort, something that exists outside the economic concepts of debt and fair exchange. But the fact that these offers often leave us with a sense of inferiority suggests that there is a shadowy economics of gift-giving, with rules that are clearly and loosely defined. While I won’t pretend to know the critical history of the responsibilities and credits that undercut your friendship, I think I can guess why. AI-generated painting disappointed you. First, the gift cost your friend next to nothing: the painting was probably produced using one of the free diffusion models available online, and therefore required zero monetary sacrifice. Second, the gift demanded no real creative effort other than the immediate idea. Your friend is an artist, someone rich in creativity, yet he apparently refuses to contribute a portion of that private reserve to your gift. The resulting artwork makes you feel generic and impersonal, lacking the unique imprint of your friend’s creative mind.

Your question made me think of Lewis Hydes. GiftA 1983 book about the role of art in market economies. Although writers and artists who have praised it (Margaret Atwood, Zadie Smith, and David Foster Wallace among them) regard the book as a metaphysical volume, it presents itself as a somewhat dry, economic book. Presents as work. Anthropology Hyde begins with a lengthy discussion of gift economies, such as those found on the South Sea islands or among Native Americans. While modern markets are defined by fairness and reciprocity—it is crucial that sellers receive equal compensation for the work they do—gift economies, he argues, are circular rather than reciprocal. The recipient of a gift is not expected to repay the benefactor directly, although it is assumed that they will contribute to the community in some way—to pay it forward, so Talk. Rather than insisting on justice, such communities maintain a kind of faith that whatever you give will come back, albeit not directly or on a fixed schedule. “When a gift moves in a circle its movement is beyond the control of the personal ego,” Hyde writes, “and therefore each bearer must be part of a group and each donation is an act of social faith. “

Hyde’s larger point, which may be relevant to your question, is that artists tend to thrive in gift economies, where objects of art are viewed not as objects with precise monetary values ​​but as a communal energy. Understood as the expression, what Hyde calls “the commerce of commerce. The creative spirit.” The process of artistic creation is already in a wave of give and take, as inspiration itself is drawn osmotically from an array of external sources. We call gifted people “gifted” because it is assumed that true creativity is not earned and coveted – there are no private reserves. Hyde writes, “When our gifts rise from the pools, we become lighter.” “Then we know that they are not egoistic alone and that they are insufferable.” This is why any real confrontation with art completely defeats the normal logic of fair and economic value. When you stand in awe of a Hokusai painting, you’re usually not thinking about the price you paid for admission to the museum, or whether it’s a good one. It was a deal. The gift of these encounters inspires the recipient to create something of their own, and thus the creative energy is passed from person to person.

You pointed out the general quality of the AI ​​art you were given, despite your friend’s attempts to personalize it. Interestingly, individualism is a quality that characterizes both the best and the worst art: listening to, saying, the Bach cello suites, or reading Sappho’s lyric poetry feels transcendent, perhaps It arises from the intelligence of the work. Not created by the individual mind, but drawn from the well of the collective unconscious. (Recall the scores of artists who have referred to themselves as “conduit” or “instrument”, insisting that they are merely technical instruments of some larger cosmic energy.)

There is, however, a difference between art that achieves a wonderful universality and a product that is designed to be benignly universal. In the space of hotel paintings, mosaics, and formulaic paperback novels lies the dark side of the transpersonal quality of great art. I think it’s fair to say that AI-generated art, at its current stage of development, belongs to the latter category. Although it is drawing on “pools we can’t understand” to borrow Hyde’s formulation (an apt description of the vast reservoir of training data that makes up the model’s subconscious), and although its stochastic Logic is as vague and mysterious as human creativity, but his output is still the stain of art that was created by committee and calculated to serve specific market objectives. If generative models were able to create something like the original van Gogh, things might be different. As it stands, your friend gave you the digital equivalent of a. starry night Jigsaw puzzle.