The Problem with Habitual Behaviors

Sunday, 24. September 2023 21:50 | Author:

One of the truisms about humans is that we—most of us, anyway—are creatures of habit. The other thing about habits is that they can govern large chunks of our time, or are just perhaps the way some little things get done. Sometimes these habits are purposeful; other times, they sort of sneak up on us.

Purposeful habits occur when we make conscious behavioral decisions about how we spend our time. For example, an artist may decide that they will work only on art in the mornings from 9:00am until 1:00 pm, five days a week, and use the rest of their time for other things. After following this pattern for a while, it becomes ingrained, habitual. It’s something that the artist does without thinking about it. And so, without thinking, the artist works on art at least four hours a day, 20 hours a week, every week without fail. Occasionally the artist may work longer, but never less. Probably this is a good habit, particularly when compared to the artist who works on art whenever the mood strikes, regardless of the time of day. The artist with the habit is likely to be far more productive.

As noted, habits may govern little things as well. Perhaps our artist begins each work session with morning pages. This, according to many, is also a good practice to have, and therefore a good habit to cultivate. It is likely that such an artist will have an off-day, or at least an off-session should they one day neglect to do their morning pages.

And so it goes. Artists develop all sorts of behaviors consciously, behaviors that often turn into habits. All sorts of things become habits whether the artist intends it or not. For example, the first thing the artist does in the morning is have a cup of coffee. It’s a small thing with very few consequences, unless that the artist feels that they need that cup of coffee, and without it, the day isn’t right.

And, of course, there are habits that are considered bad, often associated with the intake of substances that are not healthy. Having a habit is quite different from occasional use. If the artist again needs to intake a substance at the end of each work session, there is likely a problem that will have to be dealt with sooner or later. Also worth mentioning in this category are procrastination and scrolling social media, both of which can become unhealthy habits.

Occasionally, we are forced to change our habits, which is very disconcerting, to say the least. This happened to a number of artists during the pandemic, when a number of us had to completely alter the way that we worked. This was more than unsettling for many of us; it was the equivalent of having our worlds turned upside down. Some of us adapted quickly; others took more time. Before it was over, most of us had replaced our old habits with new behaviors that were well on their way to becoming our new habits.

Then about the time those habits really took hold, the pandemic was over and the world tried to go back to the way things were before. And here we were stuck with pandemic-era habits that really had no place in the post-pandemic world. And a number of us are still trying to make the transition back to a face-to-face world and possibly return to our old habits, even though considerable time has passed.

There are probably many lessons to be learned from this series of events. The ones that seem important to me are that we need to periodically evaluate our habits to determine whether they are indeed helpful or just the way we have come to do things. If we find them lacking, then we certainly should make an effort to change them to behaviors that are more positive. It’s not something that we can’t do. We know that because when it was forced on us, we, all of us, modified our habits to accommodate the situation. So now what we might consider is exercising more control over our daily behaviors—particularly those that we gained unconsciously and especially those that have impact on our art.

Category:Creativity, Productivity | Comment (0)

The Benefits of Reading Fiction

Sunday, 10. September 2023 22:51 | Author:

A lot of my time is spent reading (and for purposes of this post, I am including listening to audio books as “reading” since the mental functions are much the same). Fiction, non-fiction, news, politics, various theoretical things make up most of the material I consume, but I find that my favorite material is fiction, usually novels, but sometimes short story collections. The other day I began to wonder what it was about fiction that drew me so strongly. The quick answer was escape. When I enter the fictional world of a book, I completely disappear from the real world and its stresses. Then, of course, there is the pleasure of reading fiction; it just makes the day better.

I began to wonder if there were other benefits to be derived from reading fiction, so I did a bit of research. I found that there are a number of benefits to reading fiction. Here they are in no particular order, beginning with the two I have already mentioned:

And this list is not exhaustive; there are other benefits. These, however, are the primary ones. What is obvious is that there are a great number of benefits to reading fiction, so, perhaps, if you are not currently a regular fiction reader, you might consider it.


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Then We Decided to Try to Monetize Our Art

Sunday, 27. August 2023 22:21 | Author:

We got into the arts for various reasons: we were good at it; we enjoyed it; we had something to say and our art gave us a means for expression; it gave a place to feel safe; and so on. There are probably as many reasons as there are artists. However, very few, if any, of us got into the arts to make money. And so we dipped our toes in and began to experience the joys and frustrations of the art world. We took classes; we read; we practiced; we experimented; we tried various aspects of our art; we tried other arts; we finally found our artistic homes. Still the idea of money never entered the picture. So we entered some shows; we auditioned for more professional work; we experimented with styles; we took more courses; we studied more on our own; we talked to other artists; we began to try to balance work with art, sometimes neglecting the rest of our lives.

Then we decided to try to monetize our art. Things suddenly changed. We didn’t audition unless the pay was sufficient; we didn’t enter shows that did not have some sort of significant award; we began to set up online stores; we investigated how to promote our art on social media; we discovered that sales and promotion were work—and time-consuming. So perhaps we compromised. Now our whole world was our work—but we were still trying to balance. This time it was the business of art and the creation of art.

Some of us began teaching as a way to be paid for our art. We got to talk about aspects of our art most of the day and at the same time got to make art one way or another. And we got a check at the end of the month. Some of us found that our entire lives were spent on our art—teaching and practicing took all the time there was. And for some of us that was okay.

Then some of us began to try to develop an audience for our work. Some of us began to tailor our work to what we perceived to be the wants of our audience. We started worrying about our “type” and wondering if we could somehow change it. Perhaps we compromised. We started trying to find our niche. We began to worry about what shows would play to our audience. We became concerned what music the audience expected of us. Naturally, some of us began to create for the market.

Then one day we woke up and realized that we were no longer in the business of making art; rather, we were in the business of producing commodities. No longer did we make art; now we created product, the whole purpose of which was to satisfy the needs of the marketplace. And some of us were okay with that; we still got to be creative and we got to make things, and that was enough—for some more than enough.

Others of decided that the commercial aspect of monetizing our art was strangling us; we still had all the frustration of making art, but little of the joy we had experienced early on. So the problem became what to do about it. Some dropped out of the commercial world and found other ways to make a living, while still enjoying making art. Some found ways to modify the creation/marketing balance, and thus created a better situation. Still others found ways to make the marketing aspects of the job creative and enjoyable, and achieved the best of all possible worlds.

Unfortunately, one solution does not fit all; each artist is different and must find their own way. And each will. The pull that art has on us is too great to ignore. We always have and always will find ways to live and continue to produce art.

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The 2023 WGA/SAG-AFTRA Strike—Simplified

Sunday, 13. August 2023 22:17 | Author:

The Writers Guild of America’s (WGA) strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) has now gone on for over 100 days. SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) joined the walkout in July. There is a lot in the news and on social media about this or that aspect of the combined strike, but it may be that not everyone is sure what is at stake. Here then is a summary of the issues involved in this entertainment industry strike.

What the WGA Wants

  • Increase pay across the board: nearly half of WGA members are paid the minimum rate. Along with this proposed rate hike, the WGA wants increases in their pension plan and health fund.
  • Better residuals: Currently, films and series are put into streaming services, which do not pay nearly the same as traditional syndication or overseas sales. Writers are particularly interested in higher residual pay based on popularity of streaming series.
  • Staffing requirements: basically, the WGA “wants TV shows to staff a certain number of writers for a period of time. Current practice does not allow for protections from being overworked and understaffed.”
  • Shorter exclusivity deals: current TV series have much shorter seasons, which reduces per-episode pay and can limit writers from working on other programs.
  • Assurance on AI: WGA is demanding that “AI cannot produce original material, rewrites, and source material.” Writers are also demanding that union-covered material cannot be used to train AI systems.

What SAG-AFTRA Wants

What the AMPTP Wants

There are other points, but these are the main ones. It is interesting to note that the major sticking points, other than base pay, AI use, and profit-sharing for streaming are issues that have arisen during the last 20 years with the advent of those new technologies. Thus it does seem appropriate for adjustments to be made. Exactly what those adjustments will look like remains to be seen.

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“Protecting the Children”

Sunday, 30. July 2023 21:46 | Author:

Book ban attempts hit a record high in 2022. What used to be individual book complaints have morphed now into movements for multiple removals and are organized by national groups. A number of librarians have been harassed and threated. A large majority of complaints about books come from conservatives and are directed toward works with LGBTQ+ or racial themes. Conservative states have passed or proposed laws restricting books, and there has been a push to make book bans and challenges easier in red states. An Arkansas law that allows librarians and booksellers to be criminally charged over providing “harmful” materials to minors has been temporarily blocked by a federal judge.

Aside from the fact that practice of book-banning is simply censorship, there are several problems with the current conservative rage to ban books in both schools and public libraries.  First, it is done under the guise of “protecting the children.” What it’s really about is protecting the comfort of parents. This has been true historically and is true now. (“In the 1950s, adults in Alabama crusaded against The Rabbit’s Wedding, which told the story of a black and white rabbit getting married.”) Today the topics are primarily race, ethnicity, and gender identity. The exact reasons for the push to ban vary, but the targeted books have one thing in common: “they empower the people those groups [who want to ban them] would rather see weakened.

Book-banning often ignores the lives of the very kids they purport to protect. For example, many want books that refer to characters having two parents of the same gender banned, when that may be a fact of life for some of the students involved or their classmates. Students often experience bias and prejudice based on skin color or hair style at very early ages; a fact which the book-banners are quick to ignore.

What began as a movement ostensibly about parents’ rights in their child’s education has become something else; it has become a movement to eliminate access—for all students—to books with which certain parents disagree. Theresa Vargas, writing in The Washington Post, says, “I can respect that some people will want to put down the books I want to pick up. What I can’t respect is their belief that they have the right to snatch from my hands, and the hands of other parents, books that we want to read to our children. That picture books are coming under attack shows that the objectors fight never was about supporting parental choice. It’s always been about eliminating choice.

So what this book banning is really about is parents or groups trying to prevent children—any children— from encountering any ideas of which they don’t fully approve. It’s a matter of attempting to brain-wash children into believing exactly what their parents want them to believe. However, it won’t work. Even with all this effort, kids will discover ideas in the most unlikely places (they have access to the internet after all) and they will be who they are, regardless of parental indoctrination. As Rob Sanders, author of Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag says, “Look at me. I’m almost 65, I grew up reading only books that featured parents who were heterosexual and characters who experienced the world in gender-normative ways. Those books did not make me straight.

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The Mystery of Making Art

Sunday, 16. July 2023 22:44 | Author:

Entire books have been devoted to the subject, yet in his book The Creative Act: A Way of Being, Rick Rubin says that nobody really knows how or why a work of art is created. “We are dealing in a magic realm. Nobody knows why or how it works,” he writes. We do know, however, some of the steps involved, even though we understand very little about how those steps work.

First comes the idea—but from where? It seems that ideas for art works can come from virtually anywhere: a snatch of conversation overheard in a restaurant, observation of a couple crossing the street, a phrase or snippet of prose, a riff of music, a glance at a picture, a memory, a fragment of a dream. The story goes that the idea the culture-shattering play A Doll’s House came from a brief news article that Henrik Ibsen read. Anywhere. Why one particular idea of the many that an artist encounters in the course of a day intrigues the artist is the mystery here—especially an idea that strikes others as uninteresting or mundane.

Once the artist has the idea, they play with it, which is to say they examine it, look at it from all angles, study the implications, trying to determine if the idea has potential as a work of art. Perhaps they make some scribbles and doodles or perhaps jot some notes or make some sketches, again trying to establish the potential of the idea. The result of this play is the determination that the idea has traction or not. If not, it is discarded, its place taken by another idea and the process begins again. If the idea has traction, the artist will move to the next part of the process. The criteria for this decision are unknown, and probably vary from artist to artist.

Shaping and crafting come next. This stage, at least, has some rules and principles. There are aesthetics to consider, and there are notions about which colors go together and which arrangements of words are acceptable. There are principles of design to consider—or disregard. There are elements of style which may or may not be adhered to. There are key signatures and tempos. This is the stage where parts are added to the idea to make it into a fully-realized work of art. And this is also the stage where pieces are taken away. And there are very few rules about what to add and what to take away. Within the guidelines of the craft of the discipline in which the artist is working, the work is done primarily by instinct and experience, and again no one really knows how the artist does that, only that they do it and shape the work of art before them. During the latter part of this stage, the artist may discover areas of the art work that just do not work; this will demand a reworking of that section and re-integration of that part into the whole. Again this is done by instinct.

Once the shape of the work of art is determined and most pieces incorporated and others removed, comes the polishing of the piece, when the artist examines the work in detail, adding tiny bits here and there, and trimming tiny bits away as well. This is the time when artist effectively finishes the work. Here again, the artist’s own instinct and sensibilities are at work, inexplicably.

Next comes publication of the work. This can mean any number of things, but whichever form it takes, this is the stage where the artist releases the work into the world either by formal publication, or showing the work, or simply making others aware of its existence. The artist may have a predetermined method of showing their work, or may choose a different avenue for each piece.

Not all artists will adhere to the steps outlined here, but most will, although each artist will approach the problem in their own way using their own working methods. What doesn’t change is the mystery of how or why a work of art is created.

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Artistic Chemistry

Sunday, 2. July 2023 21:17 | Author:

In the “Classical Albums” documentary Cream: Disraeli Gears about the blues/rock band Cream, one of the band members talks about the immediate artistic chemistry that the members of the band experienced when they first got together. That chemistry is a thing that all great bands have. In interviews band members talk about how they “click,” then go on to talk about how they feed off of each other when they are creating. It occurs to me that this is true of any artist who is involved in a collaborative art—and some who are not considered traditionally collaborative.

Actors, for example, will often talk about working with other actors and the on-set/on-stage chemistry they experience with those others. They tend to feed off of each other, which ups both of their games. If we look at the body of work of film directors, we find that they tend to do their best work when directing a small number of actors repeatedly. Again the artistic chemistry is what makes that happen.

The same is true of stage directors as well. In my own experience, some of the best work I have done occurred with actors with whom I had worked before. It’s the chemistry—the almost mystical clarity of communication that is experienced between director and actor. It is as if we are all thinking on the same wavelength, so the work becomes unified, and very, very strong. One supposes that it is the fact that we have worked together previously, but that’s not all of it, because it is not true with all actors with whom I have worked before. I think it must have to do with a shared sense of what we are trying to accomplish. This, of course, is not to say that I have not done good work with actors with whom I did not share a mental connection—just that it is more likely that better work will result from working with those with whom I “click.” Other directors report similar experiences.

The same experience is to be had when, as a photographer, I work with models with whom I share chemistry. These turn out to be my favorite models, whom I repeatedly consider for shoots, because, even though others do good work, it is much better, much easier with those who have chemistry, and seem to anticipate direction rather than waiting for it or taking off on some unrelated track. Painters of models probably experience much the same thing.

Even artists traditionally considered non-collaborative, such as novelists, will talk about the rapport they have with their editors or first-readers. It turns out that writing, at least the final stages, in not quite so isolated an art as we may have thought.

And of what use is this information? For one thing, we can come to recognize that we will do better work if we can find partners with whom we share artistic chemistry. Perhaps we can cultivate a small groupof collaborators (or a large one) with whom we naturally connect in order to our best work. Or perhaps, more the more ambitious of us could find ways to develop that connection and establish chemistry with new artists, so that we effectively develop a pool of potential collaborators.

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Creativity and Technology

Sunday, 18. June 2023 21:46 | Author:

A week or so ago, I was discussing AI with a professor of art; his outlook was very pessimistic. When the topic turned to creativity, he went into a small tirade about the potential impact of AI on creativity. He said:

I also wonder what it will do for creativity. Will it help or hinder? Already my students look to social media and the web to find inspiration for problem solving. They don’t look into themselves for ideas and possibilities. They want to see what someone else did and mimic that. It’s easier, and, of course, there is no baseline for quality in that research.

And he went on to elaborate.

Of course, he’s right—some people will always take the easy way. For example, I know of a small graphics department at a nearby company that, since the advent of the World Wide Web, has not created a single piece of creatively original work. They spend their time “researching”—which really means finding something to mimic, if not copy outright. In their defense, however, I must note that they are terribly understaffed, and are often faced with unrealistic deadlines, so copying and rearranging is simply a method for survival.     Not everyone, however, is interested in taking the easy way.

We know that students do spend enormous amounts of time on their phones, as do we all. But are we all looking at TikTok or Twitter or playing video games? Or are we rather doing legitimate research by using the tool that is most easily available? My guess is that there is a mix, and I have discovered that it is a fool’s game to try to guess what someone else is looking at on their phone at any particular time. Just yesterday, I was having lunch with a friend and we were discussing a movie, the name of which neither of us could remember, although we remembered the actors and the plot quite well. The answer was right there on the phone once we asked the right question. That was not exactly creativity, but it was legitimate research, albeit for conversational purposes.

And when one is working creatively, who is to say that looking one place is superior to looking another? Artists might well look into themselves for inspiration, but that self-search might well trigger the need to do some outside research, and there is no tool handier than the phone. Of course, one might prefer a desktop or laptop or a physical library or museum. The point is that in finding creative solutions to problems, one might use whatever technology is at hand for research. And that research can then trigger ideas and original solutions to whatever problem is being considered.

Certainly, we all know that it is really easy to waste time using technology. Whether one does that or not has nothing to with technology itself, but rather to do with personal discipline. We can fritter time away on various web sites, or we can utilize the same tools on different web sites to find that piece of information that we need to continue the project at hand.

To not use technology to aid creativity seems to be crippling ourselves for no good reason. If the tools exist to aid our creative work, we should learn to use them, and then pick the best tool to do the job.

Category:Creativity, Technology | Comment (0)

It Only Takes One

Sunday, 4. June 2023 20:37 | Author:

The current state of affairs in American school districts, some libraries, and arts organization is that it only takes one complaint to cancel what the majority might benefit from if these organizations weren’t so easily intimidated. Two recent cases illustrate this trend, one in Florida and one in Utah.

In Florida, one parent complained to the Miami-Dade School District about Amanda Gorman’s Inauguration poem, “The Hill We Climb” along with several other books. The complaint was promptly referred to a committee, where it was determined that one of the books was “balanced and age appropriate and would remain available for all students.” The others, including Gorman’s poem, were restricted to middle-school students only.

A not dissimilar situation recently unfolded in Utah. Again one parent was the complainant. The complaint was that the King James Bible was unsuitable for children due to “vulgarity and violence.” The parent did provide eight pages of passages to show that the Bible is inappropriate. The Davis School District committee concluded that the Bible “does not contain sensitive material” according to Utah’s criminal code, which defines pornographic and harmful materials. Thus, the book was allowed to remain on high school library shelves. It was, however, removed from elementary and junior high schools. This complaint and result was quickly followed by a second complaint by an individual demanding that the  Book of the Mormon be removed from the Davis School District school libraries due to violent content.” The same committee will review the book.

In both of these cases, the books were not banned outright, but restricted because they were “age inappropriate.” One has to think that all the books in an elementary or middle-school library have been vetted by educators and librarians, only to have their judgment “corrected” by an individual parent.

And the threat of a single complaint is spilling over into public libraries and the arts as well. The complaint of a one parent caused a Texas elementary school trip to James and the Giant Peach to be canceled, thus depriving an entire class the opportunity to experience a children’s theatre production rather than keeping one girl home. A theatre director I know is, because of the touchiness of her administration, very concerned about receiving any complaints at all about any production. Needless to say, this has a chilling effect on the choice of plays and the manner of production.

One wonders whether the schools and libraries who cave to the demand of a single complaint have it right. It is, after all, a single complaint, not a majority clamoring for the removal of a certain title. Wouldn’t it be more responsible to say to that individual, “don’t read it,” or “don’t let your child read it,” rather than penalize all who use the library? Perhaps the library in question could keep a list of restricted patrons rather than a list of restricted titles. That way, the vast majority of those who don’t object to the material being available could be better served than by removing the book from availability because of single complaint.

And all of that goes double for those books that are not just “restricted,” but entirely banned. It is obvious that most of the book-banning and book-restricting demands are politically motivated—and do not represent a majority of library patrons. And let’s not forget that the majority of books being banned are by minority authors, many of whom, as Gorman says, “have struggled for generations to get on the bookshelves.” Perhaps author Stephen King has put it most succinctly: “Book-banners, after all, insist that the entire community should see things their way, and only their way. When a book is banned, a whole set of thoughts is locked behind the assertion that there is only one valid set of values, one valid set of beliefs, one valid perception of the world. It’s a scary idea, especially in a society which has been built on the idea of free choice and free thought.” And it only takes one.

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More AI

Sunday, 21. May 2023 21:37 | Author:

In a discussion of the last post, “Artist and Artisan—the Differences,” a friend of mine wondered how different the answer would be if posed to a different AI. So I did exactly that. I queried Google’s Bard using the same prompt: “In an essay of approximately 500 words, explain the essential difference(s) between an artist and an artisan. Document all quotations.”

This is Bard’s answer:

The terms “artist” and “artisan” are often used interchangeably, but there are some key differences between the two. An artist is a person who creates art, while an artisan is a person who creates objects using traditional methods and materials.

One of the main differences between artists and artisans is their motivation. Artists are motivated by a desire to express themselves creatively, while artisans are motivated by a desire to create functional objects. This difference in motivation is reflected in the different types of objects that artists and artisans create. Artists typically create objects that are meant to be appreciated for their aesthetic qualities, while artisans typically create objects that are meant to be used.

Another difference between artists and artisans is their level of skill. Artists typically have a high level of skill in their chosen medium, while artisans may have a more specialized skill set. For example, a painter may be skilled in using a variety of brushes and paints, while a carpenter may be skilled in using a variety of saws and hammers.

Finally, artists and artisans often have different audiences. Artists typically create art for a broad audience, while artisans typically create objects for a more specialized audience. For example, a painter may create paintings that are meant to be hung in galleries, while a carpenter may create furniture that is meant to be used in homes.

In conclusion, there are some key differences between artists and artisans. Artists are motivated by a desire to express themselves creatively, while artisans are motivated by a desire to create functional objects. Artists typically have a high level of skill in their chosen medium, while artisans may have a more specialized skill set. Finally, artists typically create art for a broad audience, while artisans typically create objects for a more specialized audience.


  • “An artist is a person who creates art, while an artisan is a person who creates objects using traditional methods and materials.” – Merriam-Webster
  • “One of the main differences between artists and artisans is their motivation. Artists are motivated by a desire to express themselves creatively, while artisans are motivated by a desire to create functional objects.” – The Difference Between an Artist and an Artisan
  • “Another difference between artists and artisans is their level of skill. Artists typically have a high level of skill in their chosen medium, while artisans may have a more specialized skill set.” – The Difference Between an Artist and an Artisan
  • “Finally, artists and artisans often have different audiences. Artists typically create art for a broad audience, while artisans typically create objects for a more specialized audience.” – The Difference Between an Artist and an Artisan

In all fairness to Bard, I must confess that this is the response to the second time I posed the prompt; I failed to properly save its first response. I also learned that Bard prepares three drafts of its responses, which is also useful. While Bard does remember what and when you queried, it does not itself save the responses. I do remember that in the first response, the quotes were from individuals, not quotes from the response itself; it’s curious that Bard interpreted the term “quotations” differently on the second pass.

In any case, while this information is much the same as that provided by ChatGPT, the presentation is markedly different. Bard’s answer is more conversational and less academically structured. And, although ChatGPT’s quotations are less relevant, they were better integrated into the body of the response. It is difficult to say which is actually better; I tend to like the ChatGPT response better in this instance because it seems more sophisticated, but everyone will have to judge for themselves.

Both of these entities were reported to have been updated this week, so improvements will continue. And new programs come on line almost daily. AI extensions for web browsers have recently been announced. ChatGPT is now connected to the internet in real time. It’s rather remindful of the advent of digital photography, except the technology is moving exponentially faster. Already, academics I know are using AI to create reading lists and course outlines. They report that they are not perfect, but only need to be tweaked to be useful. And it was also reported this week that publisher Bloomsbury unknowingly used an AI-generated image for the cover of a newly-published book; novellas are already being written using AI. And most of us are already using the most rudimentary forms of AI—the spellchecker and grammar checker.

So it becomes a matter not of whether we will use AI, but more a matter of when and how much. Tom Comitta, writing in Wired, contends that one can detect the human hand in every aspect of creativity using AI. As in digital photography, there will always be those who eschew AI, but most of us will begin to employ it at least a little. The real question is how we can use these new tools to enhance our art and help us better communicate our messages.

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