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Essay by Skye Nicolas 

Post-conceptual artist Skye Nicolas utilizes a variety of mediums, including large-format paintings, filmmaking, photography, public space interventions, sculpture, and digital artworks, to combine elegantly composed amalgamations of vivid imagery with familiarity and the skewing of timelines. His methodical reassignment of pop culture references demonstrates the intricate interweaving of important elements in his work, emphasizing concept and composition as the two most important basics. 

The artist reflects on the intellectual idea of conceptual art in the age of AI.

"In conceptual art the idea of concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art… It is usually free from the dependence on the skill of the artist as a craftsman. It is the objective of the artist who is concerned with conceptual art to make his work mentally interesting to the spectator."

– Sol LeWitt, Paragraphs on Conceptual Art by Sol LeWitt, Artforum, 5:10, Summer 1967

Conceptual art, when done well, is demanding intellectually, stimulating, nourishing, and fulfilling. Brain food in contrast to the insipidly obvious fast food type of optic art that is immediate and cheaply flirting with our tastebuds for an instant dopamine hit of novelty. Emerging in the mid-1960s and confronting conventional views of art making, this movement has always captivated me since my formative years in art school. Rather than emphasizing the physical craftsmanship and aesthetic qualities of the work, conceptual art prioritizes the idea as the most important component of the work, with execution often taking the passenger seat as a peripheral copilot. I often revisit the writings of conceptual art pioneer Sol LeWitt (considered the father of the movement), specifically "Paragraphs on Conceptual Art by Sol LeWitt" (Artforum, 5:10, Summer 1967), wherein LeWitt succinctly outlines the fundamental scaffolding of conceptual art, which I personally regard as close to gospel when producing new work.

Skye Nicolas, AWAKEN, CARNAL, DESIRE, digital projection, installation view, Dallas Contemporary, Self Service Twenty Five Years of Fashion, People and Ideas Reconsidered, 2019.

As articulated by the research of behavioral psychologists Yousri Marzouki and Olivier Oullier, the intertwining of ideas and behavioral activities on social media platforms is known as a Virtual Collective Consciousness. I use this method for developing studies for each work that blends instinctive remixing of images, as suggested by Instagram's Explore feed, with emphatic-styled typography. Syllables can produce carefully chosen words as assertions to reveal tropes, clichés, and abstract ideas through such word permutations. The result is a free-flowing stream of visual and cognitive expression. Instagram's trademark layout of photos in threes automatically arranges each triptych set—whether encountered as a beautifully ordered feed to browse through, or digitally projected onto the walls of an exhibition space.

"What the work of art looks like isn’t too important. It has to look like something if it has physical form. No matter what form it may finally have it must begin with an idea. It is the process of conception and realization with which the artist is concerned. Once given physical reality by the artist the work is open to the perception of all, including the artist. (I use the word "perception" to mean the apprehension of the sense data, the objective understanding of the idea and simultaneously a subjective interpretation of both.) The work of art can only be perceived after it is completed."

– Sol LeWitt

I intended to expand my exploration of work that is predominantly text-based (first exhibited at the Dallas Contemporary Art Museum in 2019) and develop a conceptual exercise in authorship by using AI primarily as a tool to examine this particular notion inherent in the production process of my newest series. META PROSE utilizes ChatGPT to formulate artworks culled from cumulative text-based datasets, tapping into the ebb and flow of online collective consciousness.

"To work with a plan that is pre-set is one way of avoiding subjectivity…The plan would design the work. Some plans would require millions ofvariations, and some a limited number, but both are finite. Other plansimply infinity. In each case, however, the artist would select the basic formand rules that would govern the solution of the problem."

– Sol LeWitt


Inspired by Sol LeWitt's iconic conceptual works, which provide clear instructions for creating the artwork, ChatGPT generates seemingly infinite varieties of artwork (complete with title, instructions, and concept description) derived from the prompt I prepared, which cheekily challenges ChatGPT to construct a case for why AI-created art would be intellectually superior to that developed by humans while implying the significance of NFT as an integral component of the chosen medium. The prompt is as follows:

"Provide a digital minimalist conceptual art piece making the argument why AI-created art is intellectually superior and why it should be minted as an NFT."

The first piece ChatGPT outlined, or dare we say "created," is entitled THE INTELLECTUAL SUPERIORITY OF AI-CREATED ART, after which the series is aptly named.

"The ideas need not be complex. Most ideas that are successful are ludicrously simple. Successful ideas generally have the appearance of simplicity because they seem inevitable. In terms of idea, the artist is free to even surprise himself. Ideas are discovered by intuition."

– Sol LeWitt

Out of technical considerations, I emphasize the artist's capacity to maintain authorship of the work in perpetuity by creating the genesis prompt, from which all subsequent varieties of the artwork emerge. This reflection on authorship takes into account the novelty of our first encounters with pervasive AI technology in its early phases of development. A purely minimalist approach to composition is not only critical for maximum impact but also gives way for natural aesthetic equilibrium to occur while remaining faithful to the instructions given. The schema, wherein all vital components of each piece are carefully considered and assembled, paying close attention to minute details such as text spacing, the distribution of visual elements, and how they relate to one another within negative space. The artificial VHS playback textures of each digital video piece directly self-references and mirrors conversational subtext, which is further accented ironically, as if mocking an exclusively analog ecosystem when displayed on CRT screens.


"If the artist carries through his idea and makes it into visible form, then all the steps in the process are of importance. The idea itself, even if not made visual, is as much a work of art as any finished product."

– Sol LeWitt

The starkly minimalist approach to the work, while suggesting various ways of presenting its individual pieces as a whole in a physical space, honors and celebrates LeWitt’s fundamental approach to creating good conceptual work.

The greatest challenge I often ruminate over when faced with the task of creating new work is how to approach or frame conditions of need. To achieve anything that succeeds as art, something that is both compelling and articulate, one must have found a means to eliminate arbitrary decision-making. A primary characteristic of my artistic practice often involves experimentation using a combination of ubiquitous (and at times rudimentary) tools in ways for which they were not intended, and through experimentation, a new environment or situation emerges. This permissive approach to art-making with some degree of limited constraint allows me to create pieces that are a record of the production process, a somewhat accurate log of the time it was made, and an indication of the ideas I may have been examining at any given time. And as LeWitt so eloquently pronounces in his writings, the idea itself, even if not made visible, is as much a work of art as any finished product.