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  • Writer's pictureJay Abel

AI vs the GATEKEEPERS - A cranky old fart yells at those new kids next door...

Updated: Feb 16, 2023

The trending debate right now is between analog vs art generated by artificial intelligence. It's actually the end of another debate, begun 60 years ago, between artists who thought what they did mattered and those who didn’t, Abstract Expressionism vs “Pop Art”.


2001 Illustration for a computer magazine, the birth of AI illustration....


Western art was unique in all the world because it never quit redefining itself. Ever since the renaissance, its tradition has been a cold war between generational opposites, high baroque vs low baroque, neoclassicist vs romantic, regionalist vs expressionist, and so on.

Now the AI kids are banging on the firewalls of a toothless establishment to get in. The old-school analog cats, be they neo-realists or abstract expressionists are suddenly “Gatekeepers”. It’s the last thing they ever thought they'd be, and they’re getting slammed for willfully obstructing the new, progressive buzz. Predictably, some of the old geezers are returning fire. They slam the AI kids for being tasteless, trashy, soulless, lazy and derivative.


Defenders of god and tradition are often intolerant and prejudicial, but this time I’d say the rips are true. To even the most fair-minded critic A lot of AI art is remarkably awful. The ideas are empty, preadolescent bromides, jacked up and airbrushed on generic digital programs that just make it worse, from people who are not troubled by intellect or discipline. Lots of smeary portraits of Darth Vader holding a scull, Manga kittens with eyes like billiard balls, brutalized travesties of old master painting, and screechy, smeary, eye-bruising color.

As if that were not enough, all of these visual atrocities are ripped off from some other place, generally just as bad, Manga graphics, clip files, or old Hana-Barbara cartoons that were dog shit to begin with.

Is analog art, sometimes, just as miserable? Certainly, but computer programs don’t make stupid ideas any better, just glossier.


Like they say in computer programming, garbage in, garbage out.

So, what would happen if a good artist got hold of AI? I doubt a good artist would have any use for it. Besides, genuine aesthetic mastery is acquired rather than merely desired. Only the hard labor of pounding away at a stubborn manual discipline confers anything memorable in art, if you ask me.

That being said, the ultimate triumph of AI is certain, and the deed is all but done.


I’ve heard it alleged, by some of the AI kids, that they can’t land a gig because traditionalist art directors are grumpy old gatekeepers. I find that hard to believe. I was a commercial illustrator for 20 years, (old school), and I worked for dozens of them. With one or two notable exceptions, none could tell the difference between an original da Vinci and Dr Suess. . “That guy’s chin looks funny” was about as stylistically critical as they got. If it addressed the topic and you could tell what it was, they didn’t care how you did it.


I doubt if the gallery scene is any more sophisticated, just more pretentious.


The issue isn’t mean gatekeepers standing in front of big jobs, the issue is no jobs.

A few of the old guys with big names, like Brad Holland, or Joe Ciardiello can still find a gig here and there, and they earned nothing less, but the rest of us are dead in the water.

Somebody asked an old friend of mine, one of the most worthy and hardworking analog illustrators I’ve ever met, what he did for inspiration. He said “fuck inspiration, I need a job”. The last 30 years, in America anyway, have been the Great depression for most serious artists, and AI people have actually cornered what is left of the market. Manga and Superhero comics are already getting cranked out, by the running yard, with AI, or AI assist. Animation has been AI for 20 years. The huge, (and entirely idiotic) gaming industry has been AI from day one.


Movies? I won’t get into that here.

All of the old markets for original, analog art are collapsing. Publications fold, galleries go broke and museums do nothing but promote dead artists along with mostly boring, ephemeral, university clap-trap. Online media won’t pay an artist for anything because crappy, cheap visuals for any occasion are universal. Illustration mills in Hong Kong jam out indifferent graphics, by genre, starting at 10 bucks. I'll bet most of them lean on AI to some degree if not entirely.

About all that’s left are T-shirts and interior decoration. Neither is likely to be the crucible for great visual thinkers.

The truth is that drawing, painting, graphics, and so on, as vehicles for profound ideas, simply do not matter any more . Our 21st century Xanadu is drowning in its own trash, (both cultural and otherwise), and skirting the edge of collapse. In this context, any kind of art, from any origin, worthless as it may be, is good as any other kind. JDA

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