Generative AI is ALLLLLL the Rage!

Yesterday you had not even heard of the term “ChatGPT” – today you are using it… daily! (Hmm… maybe not quite daily 🙂 .) I asked a friend and colleague, Joseph Mercadante, an amateur photographer who has a BFA in graphic design (that he doesn’t use 🙂 ), what he thought about this new “fad” of generative AI. In particular, as he is in the visual arts world, what impact does he see that DALL-E and the like will have on the creation of visual art? I so enjoyed Joseph’s comments, I asked if I could post his comments on the UMich.CDC blog. He agreed; I hope you enjoy his comments as much as I have! Give Joseph’s post a thoughtful read!
(Reading is STILL a human activity… but for how long?)
Thank you!
Elliot Soloway
Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, Dept of EECS, College of Engineering, University of Michigan


Joseph Mercadante’s response to Elliot’s question about the impact of generative AI: To your question, I think [Generative AI] will be disruptive and I’m back and forth on its impact on our cultural creativity.

The history of the creatives has always had leaps in the media with which they created whether from the spoken word or visually. Visual art has, up until the late 20th century, evolved form cave paintings using red ochre clay and charcoal to oils, graphite, and such. Tradition oil painters in the 19th century were in an uproar when premixed oil paints came out. They claimed that one had to know how to grind certain semiprecious stones and minerals and what lacquers and oils to mix in to achieve “real” art. The new technology has always done something further the visual arts that would be culturally accepted in the long run in spite of the purists.

However, our societies have passed down a knowledge of the arts from parent to child even though encouragement in pursuing the arts was not always encourage since artists tended to literally be starving artists. Rich patrons supported artists with housing and support for the creation of art to decorate their homes or towns.

To me, AI and art is in bitcoin/NFT infancy. The kinks and “what do we do with this” phase so to speak. In the visual arts (I’m including print and movie industries) the visual media always had a place for creatives. Whether it was set design, costumes, or advertising those industries hired en masse and encouraged our education system from elementary to university that include the arts. The arts had heavy historical references and influence in what was produced since all involved had at the common education to reference.

Movies for example, in the early days someone figured out how do do double exposure on film so one could talk to ones’ double or we could fly to the moon in George Méliés “A Trip to the Moon” in 1902. That was cutting edge for the time. As movies got more popular and studios found they could make money, you find Matte painters that would paint glass of mountains that one could film through to make the audience believe the illusion of a scene taking place in the mountains. Saved the studios money filming in a building instead of traveling to locations. (It’s always about money, remember that). In 1968 Stanley Kubrick released “2001: A Space Odyssey” using nothing but sets designed and built on sound stages.

Many craftsman and artists drew created a movie that no one had ever seen the likes of before. It is still incredible that no special effects or CGI was used. You move up 1982 to Disney’s cutting edge use of a technology that was just starting to come into the public, computers, to create “Tron”. If I remember correctly, this was the most expensive movie at that time for Disney. The only real sets in the movie was the sets at the beginning and the end. Everything between was computer generated with the exception of the actors. Imagine how much the computer time they bought when a megabyte was probably thousands of dollars each and Disney had to build those computers to make the movie. No set designers needed.

Still needed graphics people for the movies posters though. Digital use didn’t really catch industry wide until the early 2000’s as the technology got cheaper. Now almost every movie with explosions or super heroes or car crashes are computer generated. For the new Star Wars series on Disney, they invented StageCraft with ILM I think ( for all the futuristic sets. A short example, with apologies for any ads at the beginning: No need for any stage hands so to speak or set builders. Only code monkeys. And look at the Avatar movies. The Navi are all computer generated with motion capture as is the planet (

There has been concern with actors that fully digital “actors” might come along someday. They never age and can “act” in anything or be transformed into anything. Will an audience accept a fully digital “star”? Yes. In Japan, Hatsune Miku is a popular “pop star” for 14 years. And she’s a hologram ( So now we don’t need acting skills or understanding the history of acting to be a star. More code monkeys with writers, for now. On to print media. Print media has always been about allusion and illusion. Photographers have been able to manipulate photos to whatever is asked for. Best examples are the photos of the old USSR ( You have a group picture of Stalin or Khrushchev and a year later one of the members in the pictures is gone. And the leaders never had a wrinkle for mole. Reality changed and we don’t notice. Move up to the 1990’s and Adobe comes out with a photographers wet dream, Photoshop. Now one can pinch pull stretch a model to be an ideal form for all to emulate! You can google models without make up and you won’t recognize not only their faces or bodies. A tuck her or a stretch there improves on what was good before. And we accept it as real. (Don’t forget the Scorcese film on Netflix where they de-aged DeNiro, Pesci, et al). And with my experience, the latest Photoshop 2022 has incorporated some AI in the cloud that is incredible on fixing images. What once took hours is now done in seconds.

Ok, back to your question (it has been a long rambling journey, thank you for coming along for the ride. You kept your hands in the car so you wouldn’t lose them.) I think an upheaval in the arts will be a slow trickle like all of the above. I know some art professors at the local university and they sang the blues on the art students from the past decade or so. They don’t have any skills for the most part but want to get better at the digital arts. They use YouTube for lessons and would rather not use traditional media. I think it’s a part of the cultural shift. Their post boomer parents weren’t dragged to the symphony, theatre, opera, etc. to expose them to a wider world of visual inputs that one tends appreciate from the exposure. They are immersed in the digital world. That evolution of their take on art is only growing to grow in this country. I think Europe will be slower or not as taken by the new arts due to the fact their culture has an art museum in almost every city of size. Their parents and grandparents passed the on a day at the museum down thru the generations. You see artists on the streets in Europe as a normal part of everyday life as opposed to not seeing it in the USA and when you do, it is either near the museums by Central Park or Santa Fe. But America is a driving cultural force in such matters as the trends in art.

So, AI art takes over. I think it will be a majority art form in the next 20 or less years. In movies the biggest expense is the CGI followed by actors, producers, grips, etc. but if all you need is a code monkey on a computer making digital movies you only need the director and producer since AI can already write the story. And since it is all about money, you save money by not giving points to actors since you don’t have them or the rest of the people on the set. The digital actors would become intellectually trademarked property of the studios or producers. No strikes-no points.

There will still be a very small portion of our US population that will still appreciate the traditional fine arts though. We still have operas being written, symphonies composed, and fine artists. But I haven’t read about any new “it” artist coming up like a Rothko, Warhol, and such. Of course this shrinking of the people that like the fine arts will discourage those art students that want to pursue art for a career if no one will buy their creations and push more to go into the easier software driven AI arts. You don’t have to know how to shade with a stick of charcoal to do that. All you need is an iPad.