Between Art and AI

NFTs, AI, XR, Blockchain, web3, Metaverse. It seems that the art space is constantly overwhelmed with novelties, and it is transforming constantly. So, we decided to talk about all these transformations with Elizabeth Strickler who is an art collector, but also a Director of Media Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Creative Media Industries Institute at Georgia State University. She teaches Media Innovation and works with major labels and cultural icons to build web3, blockchain and innovation strategies.

Elizabeth Strickler organized a series of lectures at the Creative Media Industries Institute with leading voices on topic such as VR, Metaverse, Blockchain, or NFTs. You can watch the series here:

TVA: When I started to know you better, it was during the NFT hype – you had a presentation, and you were positive about NFTs – as I was too at that time. It was something new and we all thought it is a solution for artists. I wanted to ask you, with all that it’s happening right now in the NFT and art space, if something has changed; how do you see it now the NFT space evolving?

Elizabeth Strickler: I got started and first I learned about NFT’s through Crypto Kitties – and it was like a new discovery; it was fun, exciting, and interesting! And then, that actually got me into cryptocurrency, and got to understand blockchain.
Then I invested and I saw the boom and bust in 2017 – 2018, but, when people started really embracing the NFT in 2021, I was incredibly excited. It seems to be a solution to digital art ownership and for artists to keep control of their data and get royalties. So I was very invested in this.
But, then I had Bored Ape stolen. And I am sort of as experienced and expert as one can be – because in this space, we are all learning.
But, then I began to see, that this is a very new and wild space, and one must be cautious. So, this happened to me.
And then, also when you see the over-exuberance going on, when you get started and you are very excited, but then you see the whole world get excited, without fully understanding, you start to get a feeling of “oh my goodness, something, something feels wrong”.
So the crypto winter was something that I understand – we had an over-exuberance and it was a correction. And it felt similar to the internet because my career started with helping create web hosting, I was an engineer during that time, and I saw the boom and the bust. It feels similar. But from what happened recently that I am just completely confused is, of course, the FTX fraud – I still consider that we will recover from it.
But the ability to circumvent royalties was another kind of difficulty in the NFT space. And honestly, the thing that’s got me the most perplexed at the moment, is the simple ease of creating digital art with AI.

April 2021 TEDx talk, considered canonical viewing for those entering the nft/metaverse space

TVA: Indeed, everybody is now enthusiastic, it’s like we are in another boom. And it is also simple, you don’t need to know how to code with Midjourney. But, it is also that as if the art world is split in two: some agree that AI art helps to create artworks very easily, while, others are saying that the way the AI is learning is just copying other artists and art made with AI is not art. And then, there are a lot of discussions related to copyright, while some are arguing that in the same way artists get inspiration from other artists, why not can an AI get inspired? So what is your take on this?

Elizabeth Strickler: One interesting thing is the comparison with photography. At that time, when photography entered the world, painters just thought that painting was overwhelming because now the camera could replicate any image.
We know now that is not what happened and then photography is an art form that is equally impactful as painting and neither of them has gone away. And photography is a whole new art form, it’s completely different from painting.
We could look at AI content creation as being kind of a new art form.
I think it’s going to be much more sophisticated and much more interactive, so I’m excited about that.

Where I get confused is on the ownership and the copyright in the monetizing which is what NFT did so nicely.
NFT was not about art creation, it was about ownership, monetizing, and verifying. AI is upsetting all of that part because you can generate an image every time you want a new image as opposed to owning one. If you can just generate something, why do I need to to buy a really cool generated art that I can maybe even reverse engineer the prompt from your image?
So, AI is creating, constantly creating. So that’s one take on it.

Related to your question who owns it, and how it was created.
The way that I learned about these models, is that when the AI model is created, it scrapes the internet with every image and also it’s conducted metadata. And AI algorithms and model creators and trainers use something called ‘clip’ which goes into each image and says “this is building, this is eye, this is nose” so on. So, the model will scrape data and copyrighted data, but it’s still bringing it into parts.
Creating the model with copyrighted material is a little less problematic to me, compared with a prompt when you say to create an image of Pikachu stopping New York City, in the style of Beeple. Because then you’re directly referencing a living artist who’s trying to make a living off of that. But I’m not sure if it will be possible to regulate this, and it’s proliferating so much that I’m not really sure what’s going to happen…

TVA: yes, completely true, and at the same time, as you said, when photography appeared, painters started to rethink painting, and then Matisse came, with impressionism, and then Picasso with cubism. And lots of artists started to create in that style. So, in a way ‘copied’ or ‘got inspired’. But with AI, you can copy more quickly and more easily. I see also, sometimes, in Midjourney, some are just scaling up my images and then i say, hey wait, that was my prompt….

Elizabeth Strickler: : Well… art is like a conversation, right? I mean, we’re having a conversation, you’re bringing up an idea I’m riffing on the idea that I bring an idea you’ve got on the idea and this is the conversation that we’re having. We’re not really putting too much ownership on each of the things that we’re saying. You’re gonna produce this article and you’re gonna probably say I talked with Elizabeth, but it’s in the form of trying to learn and grow and know more about human existence. The problem is when we try to own and monetize, and I believe that people need to make a living if they spent a lot of time on something. But I just don’t know how that’s going to work…. Maybe, the better world would be if we all share and keep building and growing, right? So even at the beginning, of the whole NFT boom, I always had a question in my mind about why am I trying to own everything, and what it is worth owning, and what is worth just giving away for free. That has always been a question in my mind, and with AI, it’s bringing that question to the front. that question.

TVA: if you put it that way, I also had this question, but maybe it is human nature to want to own something, it feels special…

Elizabeth Strickler: I think there is a human nature of like, I’m a different entity than you are. Right?
If we merge together then that would be very confusing. So, there’s something in that, and it’s beyond like commerce. and beyond economics.
It’s something to do with human nature, but I still don’t understand it…

TVA: Because you teach a lot about immersive environments, and then we have AI, interactivity, and NFTs. And how do you see that this whole thing will evolve?
Elizabeth Strickler: So the next semester, I’m teaching a class called “Self and Community in the Metaverse”, it is sort of technology and ethics class.
While I’m teaching this class, when students create an avatar, they’re reflecting on what is self and what is self-representation. And then when they’re starting to create space, they will reflect on:
What is private space?
What is public space?
What is your space and where do you want your avatar to live?
Does your avatar need a break from being in the community world?

We’re going to talk about what is community and what makes a good community, a good collaboration. And then together we’re going to co-create an ideal learning space, with constitution, laws, and all of that.
I’m planning on learning during this class, this is the class to learn with the students. But we’re going to use AI tools at each of these intersections as the AI tools come about.
So we can kind of figure out what is co-creation and how are we going to co-create with these machines, and how are we going to co-create together and how are we going to create a community and I hope to learn more because at the moment, I have more questions than answers and that might just be the way we live for a while.
…And… I’m teaching the class because I think that a lot of really difficult decisions and rules or regulations are going to arise. The more reflective and thoughtful we can be as we start to basically play God by building all of these worlds, the better it will be. But will we replicate human failure? Yes, because we are flawed beings, and so we’re going to create a flawed world. But look at how we’ve organized the global physical world, we have countries that have laws that function, for the most part, better than terrible. But, as we build these worlds, we’re going to try not to replicate problems. But, we will…

TVA: For me, a lot of worlds in the metaverse are just replicating our physical world. I mean, it’s a little bit crazy that technically you have infinite space and you can do anything that you cannot do in the physical world; but, you are just doing the same and same buildings and the same type of garments. Even the same type of art, you could have art that is moving, but we like the framed ones hanging on walls; and we have the same type of museums.

Elizabeth Strickler: That’s actually one of the inspirations for this. Because people were telling me put the university put on the metaverse and you can have a Metaverse University. And then they were taking a brick building with white columns and green grass and I was like’ oh, no’. But I don’t want to be the only one that makes those decisions.
So with the class and with reflection, we want to create a learning space and I don’t want to call it a school or a campus because it might be something completely random.
Through all of this changes, people need something familiar enough, but enticing and exciting and different enough at the same time.
As such, people will want it to look familiar, to look somehow similar to the real world, but as you said, there’s so much opportunity to be as creative and interesting as possible.
But I think that will happen slowly.

TVA: ChatGPT has entered the world, i guess you have tried it already, what is your experience so far?  
Elizabeth Strickler: After using it for a while, i notice it’s a rather boring writer. It’s good at mashing up ideas well though. It might put very mediocre writers out of a job. It’s a great tool – just like the text-to-image generators for art.
Some people consider this shouldn’t be released to the public because it changes the world too quickly and we aren’t ready for it – one of the biggest concerns is the college essay…

TVA: And how do you see the future of art? Because every time when something new appeared, like NFT, artists asked: what is art; now with the AI, again you have the questions: what is art? And, I see it kind of tension, between traditional art (painting, sculpture, etc) and the digital/immersive/AI art. Will we have a kind of reconciliation or digital artist will found their own spaces? Because also if you look at the art history, you see that like the more classical paintings, they have their own museum and then there is the modern ar, and then the post-war contemporary art came with its places, and maybe digital art will need to have its own space or it can be integrated into the others?

Elizabeth Strickler: I mean it’s great, all kinds of different types of art and different communities that gather around different aesthetics, just like you mentioned Cubism. There were groups of people that gathered around cubism but there were other people who rejected it and were doing other things. And I think that they will continue to be like that. Probably it might also be a huge backlash where people will only do things by hand with raw materials and super-physical art.
This would be great because, too, because to me, art is trying to make sense of the world and understand our world and people are trying to understand different problems or different issues. And, that’s a good thing.
It never sits well with me when somebody wants to be called an artist and not call somebody else an artist.
I think we’re all born to create and self-express, but some people spend a long time creating and really putting into it their thoughts.

You can review NFTs with Twobadour, one of the investor in Beeple’s artworks, HERE

As we have become accustomed at the end of the interview, TECHVANGART asked some Crazy Questions

TVA: Who is your Favorite artist?
Elizabeth Strickler: I really like Lance Weiler, he is also known as a cultural hacker. And I’m fascinated with people and his constant like commentary. I follow also XCopy and many others. I collect art, but I don’t have a specific artist that I follow. It’s more of an aesthetic.

TVA: Let's imagine that the world is ending, but, you have a chance to save yourself to gland you can take with you only three things. What would you take?

Elizabeth Strickler: I have to say a computer, phone, can I take a person? My husband? If I can’t take my husband, can I take my cat? 🙂.

TVA: Three books that inspired you. 
Elizabeth Strickler: I’m going to say recent ones, because it’s just kind of where I am.
I am totally interested and blown away by The Network State: How to Build a country by Balaji Sreenivasan.
And it’s also an evolving book. So he’s updated constantly. So that’s really, really interesting. Virtual Society by Herman Narula . It is really interesting because it’s much more about what is virtual worlds and spirituality and religion and how we tell stories, and he relates building the metaverse more to building the pyramids or building things that don’t really have a real use but have a spiritual kind of use or mental use. Imaginable – Jane McGonigal
It is interesting because it’s all about simply trying to think about the future and simulating the future, and just sort of simulating what ifs scenarios

TVA: And if you would have all the power and you could change something in the immersive world, what would be that?


Elizabeth Strickler: It would be amazing if we could somehow figure out how to recognize truly intentionally bad behavior. But try to figure out how we can build the virtual world without just so much scam, fraud, bots, crime, porn (of course, like there’s porn, which is fine, but then there’s porn that’s harmful to other people, intentionally harmful). But I don’t think that we will, because I think we’re flawed. I feel safe in my city, so would be great to make safe environments that are online so that you’re not going to get scammed every time you enter.

TVA: If you could interview or talk with a person – artist or any other personality – with whom you would talk, and what would you ask her/him?

Elizabeth Strickler: Right now, I’m really fascinated with Emad Mostaque (co-founder of StabilityAI) amd he is the one that chose to make AI free and open to the public, and that’s why we’ve been seeing the proliferation because the other companies were trying to hold back slowly, and only released it because they felt like it was too strong of technology and that they needed to be the keepers on that. But Emad Mostaque sees AI like fire, and no one can control fire, and should be available to everybody to do what with it.
So I would like to continue having conversations about the power of AI, and all the questions that you’ve been asking me, but to ask them Emad Mostaque

All photos are copyrighted by Elizabeth Strickler and may be used by the press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage

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