Five Guardrails for Artists Working with Machines and A.I.

While attending the July Center for Machine Arts residency, surrounded by so many seductive artmaking technologies, I had to spend my time efficiently as we prepared for a fast-approaching exhibition. This is not an unfamiliar process for me as I routinely evaluate how machine learning serves my art practice; sometimes it does and other time it does not. These layered experiences inspired me to document how I make decisions about how and when to use machines in my art practice. The questions serve as guardrails for assessing the usefulness of new technologies that either support or distract us from our artistic intentions, practice, focus, and priorities. 

1. Are you swept away by “The Wowee Factor”?

Are you dazzled, amazed, and entertained by what the technology can do? Are you mesmerized by its spinning wonder? It’s perfectly normal to get caught up in The Wowee Factor. There’s nothing wrong with being dazzled by a technology’s abilities. It’s just good to know when we’re reacting to something in an enchanted and non-critical state. Ground yourself by asking how the technology serves your art practice and ideas. Consider how the tool might distract you from your priorities. 

2. Is the machine using you, or are you using the machine?

How does the tool respect your time and your artistic intentions? What does it take from you? Is the tool homogenizing your work or making it more distinctive and expressive? When you use the tool, are you part of its training? Does this matter to you?

3. Is there a difference between image-making and artmaking? Imitation and creation?

What, if anything, distinguishes an artwork from an image? Imitation from creation? If these distinctions are important, ask yourself: Is the tool deepening your art practice? Is it helping you create something new or imitate something that already exists? What are you learning from it? What are the meaningful outcomes? 

4. How does the machine’s automation serve your artistic intentions and practice?

What is the potential downside of the machine’s automation? What are the benefits of its automation?

5. Regarding A.I. tools, was the A.I.  trained on artist images without consent? Do you have easy access to its training material and data?

Are you the kind of person who likes to know the source of information and news? If so, you may find similar value in understanding the sources behind an A.I. artmaking tool. Suppose this information is challenging to locate. Why isn’t this information being shared?

Would it be okay if this tool consumes your art and uses your content to make art for others and money for its owners? Are you training the machine when you spend time with it? Is this a good use of your time?

Jenn Karson

Center for Machine Arts
Peekskill, NY
July 2023