Can An AI Paint An Icon?

The Severed Head of St. John the Forerunner, c. 1870s. Egg tempera on silvered and gessoed wood, 31 x 26 cm. Private collection.

There’s a timely reflection by Seung Heon Sheen over at Transpositions on the relationship between AI-generated art and iconography, with implications for how we might consider the relationship between an artist and their work more generally. It draws on relevant texts from the iconoclast controversies of the eighth and ninth centuries. Here’s a snippet of the argument in nuce:

… any ‘icon’ generated by a ML algorithm would be inherently idolatrous since the relationship between the image and the archetype would be severed. That is, although the works produced by a human iconographer and an AI ‘iconographer’ may be outwardly similar, inwardly they would be radically different due to the disparity in the process of their creation. A human iconographer faithfully contemplates and depicts the archetype; an AI abandons the archetype and merely replicates its images. And if this is so in the case of iconography, it implies a danger of idolatry in involving AI in religious art or employing it for religious purposes.

You can read the full piece here.

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