AI and Black Art: A Conversation on Ownership
What’s the 411 on artificial intelligence (AI) art? How far is too far in surrendering our creativity to technology? And as the nation’s largest Black owned bank, we ask, “Where does ownership come into play?” Are Black artists being honored or exploited?
AI refers to Artificial Intelligence, which are machines that attempt to think and act like humans. Artificial intelligence art is any artwork created through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) programs such as text-to-image models and musical generators.
The field of AI has progressed swiftly, even faster than some anticipated. Its ascendence has given rise to technologies like ChatGPT, an incredibly advanced language processing AI model, and DALL-E, a generative deep learning model that produces digital images.
Both of these simply require a prompt to start the creation process and to generate convincing results. Essentially, these technologies use information across the internet and other databases to artificially create text and images after being given directions from the user.
Are we, as the Black community, ever really in the driver’s seat of these technologies? The intersections of the Black experience lend an interesting lens into this conversation and reveal how artists uniquely tap into, capture, and express our community.
Chief amongst these artists is Addonis Parker, our artist in residence at OneUnited Bank and creator of our card designs, whom we asked to share his perspective on how these technologies and others alike affect our community.
While AI-generated art may captivate, there seems to be a lack of life, what Addonis calls “the unique qualities of the human hand and eyes”. He explains that “AI moves the mind, hands move the soul,” pointing to the ways in which human creativity is the hallmark of meaning in art.
"AI moves the mind; hands move the soul."-Addonis Parker
Furthermore, Addonis challenges our desire to live in a Meta world. He states, “it’s an experience that acts as an imitation of life, but not real life. When we turn the screen off and step out of our digital world, we will still have to deal with ourselves. In these realms, we are stepping in and out of illusions, and at some point, we lose connection with reality.”
Addonis adds, “There are a lot of talented companies, a lot of talented artists out there that are dabbling in it (AI). I’ll just wait my turn. Still, it’s just that, for the artist, the traditional artists…the ones looking for longevity, you cannot ever replace the human hand because it’s unique. We are flawed on purpose.”
At the same time, creators of color have been quick to respond. Some created new online marketplaces for POC artists, such as Melinated AI, supporting AI artists and creators of color. Others advocate for the right to ownership and the marketplace to remain within the domain of non-AI-generated work.
Regardless, bias and underrepresentation lie at the heart of the reported disastrously flawed systems across the tech industry. Power imbalances in the design and control of AI replicate many of the discriminatory practices one would expect in a field overwhelmingly represented by one group; White and male.
Addonis shares, “If we are not included at the top, what makes you think we are going to be accepted. They will put us in the position of being a consumer. We are Black enough for them to accept our money, but not our employment.”
When we are not represented in a deep, thorough manner, what Addonis cites as “having no DNA strand in the creation,” we have no ownership. Much of what is produced through these technologies is based on our work but does not compensate our communities.
Ownership over our work is critical, “When it comes out to the proceeds, there are so many red flags and red tape we have to jump through just to own our own self, who we are” Addonis states.
Many artists still heed the call to stay updated with technology and try to shape it rather than be run over by it, regardless of risks. Addonis shares, “I have to deal with technology, I have to keep up.” He recently launched an NFT “From Paris with Love” in tribute to Josephine Baker. He touches on how even in gaming we can see the lack of diversity and the problems in how players experience games.
“We need to be in technology in general. There is an invisible fence or border to keep us out and to keep us in the position of the consumer. Shifting our position from consumer to leading and owning design requires us to embrace technology and identify, through investigation, where it undermines us.”
Addonis points to the “invisible slave ship, that lifts and traffics our identity” and how we combat it by “interacting with community members who are fluent in digital to help us not only eat at the table, but protect our identity, our intellectual property.”
These are areas where technology, perhaps through the use of blockchain, a form of digital ledger, should have been focused on securing artist ownership, and compensation, before the arrival and domination of AI. Addonis concludes by stating, “Some of our faces are viral. We don’t even know they are being used. That’s what bothers me. Extraction from our community takes many forms, this is its newest shape.”
Could AI-generated art ever rival our creativity and our stories? We are of the belief that Black art finds its soul when Black artists craft the story and takes ownership.
Rooted in the heart of our collective and uniquely distinct experiences, Black artists will continue to leverage technology to showcase their genius. Technology can be used to build the in-real-life events, opportunities, and conversations that give art its meaning!
As the nation’s first digital Bank, OneUnited Bank recognizes our relationship with technology is not one we can abandon entirely; however, we can fight for control of our narrative and ownership. #BlackArt
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