Visitors at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. (Photo by Allison Wei.)

AI in an art museum? Could be closer than you think

With the rise in AI-generated art, museum-goers indicate overwhelming interest in seeing AI in art museu

Van Gogh. Da Vinci. Monet.

These names have long drawn crowds to the National Gallery of Art. But with the rise of AI generated art, less than a century after the National Gallery of Art first opened its doors in 1937, a new name could soon share space with such hallowed artists: ChatGPT. 

The rise of generative AI has created many new possibilities for art. With Designer, Bing’s AI art generator, you can create a Van-Gogh style painting from the comfort of your living room. OpenAI’s Sora can generate realistic-looking videos of anything from in seconds. 

At the same time, generative AI raises many concerns with debates about if , its , and its potential to displace traditional artists. In the midst of so many lingering questions, art museums worldwide have had to wrestle with how to respond. While some have shied away, others have embraced AI as the new frontier. 

In 2022, visitors to the . In 2023, the opened in Amsterdam. Months ago, the Smithsonian released a that it was “exploring” generative AI and experimenting with how it might help them “engage the public in new, innovative ways.” 

The National Gallery of Art has not yet said anything about AI. On Memorial Day, visitors were overwhelmingly open to seeing more of AI incorporated into art museums. 

Chen Gao, a frequent museum-goer, said she goes to museums to see works by famous artists. “Seeing the work of people like Van Gogh or Picasso makes a good museum visit for me,” she says. 

Originally from China, she first heard of such artists when studying for the English TOEFL test and now loves learning more about their work. 

At the same time, Gao is also excited by what AI could bring to the table: “I want to see the pictures they draw, I think AI can create a lot of new things.” 

Gao said she sees the use of AI art generators as a way to “extend the thinking of famous artists” in combination with someone’s own thinking and emotions.

But Mary, a tourist from New York, maintains that AI generated art can’t compare to art created by a real person. Mary requested ҹֱ not use her surname for privacy reasons.

“I’ll always prefer traditional art,” she said. “With AI-generated art, there’s a lot of errors and discrepancies you notice…having an actual artist is so different, there’s just that attention to detail,” she says.

Carl Yengwia, echoed Mary’s sentiments. As a security guard at the National Gallery, he spends a lot of time wandering the exhibits and has a particular soft spot for French impressionists and Dutch masters. “You want the painting strokes. the texture. The style that is used by an actual person.” 

Landscape Paintings at the National Gallery of Art. (Photo by Allison Wei.)

However, Yengwia said he also recognizes the changing times. 

“I guess everyone will eventually move to AI,” he said. “As times change, I think AI will be a new form of art that people will eventually accept.” 

Although the National Gallery doesn’t have any AI-generated pieces in its collection, Yengwia has ideas for how it could innovate. 

“I’d like to see a section in the museum dedicated to AI,” he said. Just like the different wings in a museum show the transition from Renaissance to modern art, he said they should also portray the transition to AI. 

But while AI-generated pieces seem to have the interest factor to draw visitors, the question still remains: Would AI generated art be meaningful, let alone, ethical? 

Tomoe Nakano, who lives in D.C. and frequents the National Gallery, believes so. “A lot of people see AI as a threat,” she said, but after having completed multiple trainings on AI in her job, she sees the positive side of things. 

While the current datasets that AI models train on have come under fire for being biased and perpetuating discrimination, Nakano thinks that will work itself out. 

“We can get better datasets, we can train the AI right,” she said. Looking to the future, she said  that “there’s a possibility AI can actually show us the minority and help us see what we haven’t seen.” 

As to whether or not she finds AI-generated work as meaningful as traditional art, Nakano said yes — but for an unexpected reason. While traditional art helps viewers understand themselves and their world better, she says we can use art to actually understand AI more and how it works. 

But while experienced museum-goers and office workers may be interested in seeing AI art, museums also must consider the range of their audience, including children.

For parents bringing their kid to the art museum, would they want their kid’s first introduction to art be one created by AI? 

“I think it’s not that bad,” said Jihee Choi, a mother who brought her 9-year old daughter with her to the National Gallery. Choi said art is an important part of her life that she wants her daughter to also experience. 

She said her goal for bringing her daughter to the art museum isn’t to police what is or isn’t art but to simply expose her to all that there is: “I want her to see the many ways that art is being created. She can filter for herself what she likes or not.”

Allison Wei

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