Is Art Dying?

I know that someone read the title of this and internally shouted, “No!” Possibly they shouted it for all the world to hear. Perhaps they’re having a bad day. I don’t know.

This particular musing from me is spurred by a posting on NVIDIA’s site touting GauGAN, a program which “turns doodles into stunning, realistic landscapes.”

The Bias Worsens

Being able to turn doodles into “realistic landscapes” will further dilute people’s appreciation for actual art by strengthening the bias that things must be rigidly photorealistic to be valid.

Color balance, composition, style, and meaning fall by the wayside far too easily for people entranced by “photographically accurate depictions of reality.” Art already suffers enough with this bias, which only gets reinforced with tools like this.

The Photoshop Effect

I complain at times about the damage caused by Photoshop.

To be clear, I love Photoshop. I adore it. I do things with it for fun and profit.

The problem is that as soon as someone figures out how to use that tool, they fancy themselves a designer. They may produce things that are cluttered monstrosities, but the fact they created it “with Photoshop” lends it additional credence in their minds. It has a transitive authority because it’s done “with Photoshop.”

I think a similar thing will happen here. I’m not lumping early adopters in with this, as they usually self-select and adopt this tool to use with their pre-existing experiences. Nor am I saying everyone who uses the tool will be a charlatan or philistine. I’m saying that as this tool becomes more widespread, the waters get murky.

Color balance, composition, style, and meaning fall by the wayside far too easily. Now that we’re offering a tool this powerful, people with no artistic sense will have one more arrow in their quiver to argue that they are as knowledgeable as professionals and artists.

You may think it shouldn’t bother me, but it does. It’s as annoying as the person who watches football on weekends and thinks they’d be able to manage and coach the team.

George Steinbrenner New York Yankees.
While Steinbrenner wasn’t a pleasant owner, unlike the guy whose picture I didn’t use, his team won championships. I didn’t use that other guy’s image by choice. Also this was an easy way to troll fans of the New York Yankees.

The Marvel®™© Effect

You see this decay for the appreciation of art, and craft, in the world’s most popular film franchise right now. The appreciation of craft arguably suffers even more than art.

I say this because while these movies may generate more revenue than the GDP of some small nations, people simply consume. They don’t discern.

Sure, there are people who make comments about how the special effects are inconsistent in these blockbuster films. They don’t care, though.

Audiences have been browbeaten just to expect what they get. Content is consumed, plot points advance over the arc of dozens of movies, and art takes another blow. The baseline changes.

Once some people start spitting out these sorts of “realistic landscapes” at home with GauGAN, I shudder to think how discussions between artists and clients will shift.

There’s nothing I can do about it. I’m allowed to mourn it, though.

It’s one of the reasons I reacted so joyously to Solo: A Star Wars Story. I saw a real sense of both craft and art with that film, and it was like a breath of fresh air to encounter it. I’m not talking just about its visual effects, either. The film is the work of a team of artists invested in their craft.

It makes a difference.

Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner in Hulkbuster Armor from Iron Man in Avengers Infinity War a Marvel movie.
I mean…

A Possible Core Truth About My Rant

Every generation bemoans at least some of the advances made in its time. When it comes to art, and craft, I tend to take it more personally than other things.

Perhaps I’m just a snob. It’s possible I’m overreacting. I’m willing to entertain that as a possibility.

But I think I have a point.

Clint Eastwood Gran Torino being grumpy.
I swear I’m not just being a grumpy old fart. At least, I don’t think I am.