A.I. Can Expand the Borders of Art. So What?

What does this tell us about our future relationship with technology?

Colin Horgan
5 min readJul 5, 2023

In May, someone prompted Adobe’s generative AI Firefly system to ‘imagine’ what would lie beyond the boundaries of some the world’s most famous works of art, including the Mona Lisa, Starry Night (above), Nighthawks, and A Saturday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (below). The results, posted in a thread on Twitter, were okay insofar as the program was sometimes (but certainly not always) able to mimic an artistic style. But the exercise was pretty vapid, overall. One of the examples was Michelangelo’s The Creation of Man (below), which the Firefly system expanded logically, but — as one popular reply noted — what’s actually beyond the boundaries of The Creation of Man is infinitely more beautiful and interesting: It’s the rest of the ceiling of Sistine Chapel.

At The Atlantic last week, Charlie Warzel referenced this thread in passing, on his way to describing a phenomenon he calls “Scale Brain,” a frame of mind that reveres the idea of big data and of never-ending… everything. This mindset has been both driven and exacerbated by AI, which can now, with little human input, create infinite content. Scale Brain is “a worldview that the looks upon restraint with confusion and sees self-imposed limitations as weakness,”…