The Need for Art in the Age of Simulation

There is a new faddish piece of tech nonsense bouncing around social media—maybe you’ve heard of it: AI “art.” I put the word “art” in scare quotes intentionally, because it is, perhaps, the furthest thing from art that one could possibly imagine. AI “art” consists of a highly advanced nodule of machine learning, into which you feed commands: Dog riding a skateboard; man with cat ears; very fast spaceship, etc., etc., etc. The algorithm then slams a bunch of pixels together into a digital object that is vaguely reminiscent of a coherent image, although only if one glaces at it with a minimal amount of attention. The slightest amount of critical vision immediately destroys the illusion. Like a corrupted file, pieces of the subject and background are missing, void, non-existent, in a way that is completely alien to the manual processes involved in creating art of any medium.

As you can probably tell, I am a bit worked up about this. I think that AI “art” is just the latest pointless waste of human talent and time, a stupid joke of art irony that somehow supersedes Duchamp’s Fountain. I also, legitimately, think that it might be analogous to the head in C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength [spoilers], which is why I refuse to post any links to examples and why I physically avert my eyes when shown it in real life. But I digress.

Art is something of a sacred task. Art, conceptually, only makes sense to the rational animal, the human person, that being that has body and soul, imbued by God with the capacity and desire to create in a way that is more limited than but not dissimilar to His own divine creativity. The minute acts of creation involved in art are saturated with meaning and importance: with every word, every brush stroke, every chord, you are choosing to either honor or desecrate the incarnated universe into which we have been placed. No algorithm is capable of bearing the moral weight of creating art, let alone the complex physical and mental activity involved in translating something from the fluid and fickle physical world into the fixed and symbolic world of art.

Photo by Allan Mas on

What is the point of art? Art is a way that we say “Amen, amen” to God’s proclamation of the goodness of His creation (Gen 1:31). Art does not exist as a vehicle of cynicism or corrosive irony—if it were, children would not be brimming with creativity and a love of drawing, painting, sculpting, making. But we grown-ups have grown sick of God’s good world and have grown callous to our need to make and enjoy art. Our lives have become so empty of prayer that we even outsource the prayer of art—those prayers of thanksgiving, of mourning, of intercession, of hope—to the machines.

Luther famously said that “next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise.” I think we could expand this to art, generally, and I think we could say that, next to the Word of God, art—good, true, beautiful art—is what is most lacking from so many people’s lives. We fill our days, whether by choice or by outside compulsion, with ugliness, with kitsch, with visual and aural garbage that is meant (consciously or not) to grind man down, to dehumanize him, to make God’s calling repugnant to him. Whether it’s corporate art, muzak, obscene art, or AI “art”, it all produces the same flattening and undervaluing of human life—and it’s all around us, everywhere, all the time.

What are we to do? Return to real art. Make and enjoy real art. Do not let the faux-arts squash your fragile heart. Affirm the goodness of creation, of life, of being itself by taking out your colored pencils, going to a concert, walking to an art museum, getting back to playing piano. You cannot be replaced by a machine, no matter how advanced and technically complicated. Your being, your body and soul, your thoughts and feelings, your creative pursuits, you are redeemed by and matter to the most holy God. Your existence is a gift to you from God. Remember that by partaking again of art.

Matthias Grünewald, “The Resurrection”

Published by Molly Lackey

Molly Lackey is a wife, author, and church historian. She has a Master of Arts in Early Modern European History from Saint Louis University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Alabama with a triple major in History, German, and Latin. Molly has contributed to Words of Strength and Promise: Devotions for Youth (CPH, 2021), has written for Higher Things Magazine, and has appeared on KFUO. She enjoys reading and talking theology with other laypeople, creating art, and drinking tea with her husband.

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