art and emotions

This is an unusual topic for me to post about, but as I came across this video on my social media timeline several times this week, I eventually relented and watched it. And it profoundly affected me. It was worth exploring why.

As a musician and a writer, I suppose I’ve always considered myself more on the artistic side. I ride the line between being creative vs. being someone who creates, and so sometimes I feel like an imposter if I call myself an “artist.” But I do consider myself someone who considers beauty and art an important art of our lives, which I believe is one of the reasons this video has struck a chord in me. (FYI, this video is from several years ago, it has just now come into my orbit.)

I don’t know anything about Hayao Miyazaki, but I’m thinking he and I have a type of soul connection based on his response to this AI technology. Aside from the grotesque movement that occur in movies I don’t watch, he seems to innately understand where art comes from.

And it comes from pain.

Perhaps this makes you uncomfortable. In my experience, usually the things that makes us uncomfortable are worth contemplating. That’s how we learn. Other than be afraid of the uncomfortable, we are much better coming o our uncomfortableness with curiosity.

If art comes from pain, that means pain is a reality of this world that has a type of power over us. Anything that has power over us threatens our desire to be in control of our lives.

If art comes from pain, that means pain is a reality of this world that has a type of power over us. Anything that has power over us threatens our desire to be in control of our lives.

We can spend a great deal of time trying to control our universe, but if you’ve lived any life at all you know and understand that this broken world doesn’t allow us to control everything. Even if we did live in a perfect world, we would still live in the Kingdom of God, which is controlled by Him and not us.

This, of course, doesn’t mean our decisions don’t matter, they just don’t determine the future (a paraphrase from this Tim Keller sermon). But the fact that our decisions matter is exactly why Miyazaki is responded the way he is to this AI technology.

As a writer, my most powerful and profound work has come from places of pain. See this piece or this piece I wrote for Fathom Magazine. These are pieces I’m very proud of. But creating them was painful. Living them was also painful.

I also came out of the other side a different and dare I say, better, person.

Not all pain does this, but I do believe God desires to create beauty out of the mess of this sinful world. Whether it’s how I’ve been treated as a female pastor or how someone criticized the way I laugh 20 years ago, I’m a different person because of the pain they caused me. By God’s grace, I’m not only different but more like Him.

“Everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial.” (1 Corinthians 10:23) With everything that is created, spoken, “put out into the world” if you will, we should perhaps be asking “What are the implications of this when lived out? When we put this created thing out into the world?”

This is what, I believe, Miyazaki is willing to consider in this moment of movement forward in the industry. He may not be sure, especially so soon after the initial presentation, of being able to fully understand why he feels the way he does about this technology. But the implication is clear: the art without pain isn’t art he is willing to be part of. And that lived out is “art” without human emotions is an affront to life itself for him.

“What are the lived out implications of creating a machine that creates art like a human being would?”

This poses an important question: what is life without emotions? In a tangible sense, for a person, it looks like a sociopath, who does not feel guilt for the destruction they cause. There are other psychological personality disorders that do not experience emotion the way most people do, but this is the mostly widely used label I can put on a lived-out scenario of what I’m talking about. When one manipulates, controls, and destroys without concerns for the other, the reason it’s harmful is because it assaults the humanity of the person. For a Christian, you could say that it assaults the Imago Dei in them.

When I volunteered at a local elementary school, one of the roles I had was teaching character lessons to the kids in partnership with the school counselor. After my first year of teaching the kids about honesty, responsibility, kindness and the like, I realized something important. The reason why we don’t treat others well is because we don’t think they matter as much as we do. We spent a lot time talking to kids about not bullying because “it’s not nice.”

But it’s so much more than that. Kids need to understand why it’s not nice. Not just that it’s mean. Once I realized this, I started ending each of my lessons with the phrase, “We’re teaching you this because you matter. And it’s important you understand that every other person in the room matters, too.

Which is why it’s so important to ask, “What are the lived out implications of creating a machine that creates art like a human being would?” If we are going to start replacing humans with machines, and those machines create things (such as movie animation, art, etc) intended to make us feel… then what can it make us feel if the created itself has no emotions? Will we come to a place of not seeing value in others, because we’ve removed emotions from what we create?

It’s far too easy to separate the humanity from the person when emotions are not involved.

Which is why I cannot help but ask myself, as technology moves forward with the goal of replacing what humans functionally do, the following question:

How long will it be, if art isn’t born from emotions, before we ourselves forget how to feel?

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