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1983.821 Georgia Okeeffe Sky Above Clouds

Art and the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence



Sam Anderson-Ramos
March 6, 2019

Would you be inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe’s Sky above Clouds IV if you knew it had been designed and crafted by a program?

Last year the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics reached out to our team in Learning and Public Engagement (LPE) about a partnership that would explore the intersections between art, medicine, and ethics through writing. This struck us as a fantastic opportunity to share the work LPE has been doing with medical communities for years and to demonstrate some of the profound ways that artwork can be used to reflect on crucial concepts across fields, professions, cultures, and lifestyles.

Our first article considered the ethical complexities of artificial intelligence (AI) and the ways that advances in technology have forced practitioners in fields like medicine to rethink what it means to be human. As with medicine, questions about the role of technology are not new to the art world. As early as the 17th century, Dutch artists were using tools like the camera obscura, which manipulated light in order to create traceable images of landscapes and architecture.

Drawing of Camera Obscura Box from the 18th century

The camera obscura projected an upside-down image that could be traced by the artist.

In the 20th century, Andy Warhol embraced screen printing to make images like Big Electric Chair (1967–68), which not only commented on art as a technological, repeatable process, but also emphasized the execution chamber itself as a use of technology.

Andy Warhol

It’s one thing to consider technology as a tool for doctors and artists, but with AI we begin to talk about machines beyond tools: machines that think. Would you let a sophisticated computer diagnose a serious illness? Or perform complicated surgery on a loved one? And what about making art?

Read all about it: “What do Warhol, Pollock, and Murakami Teach Us About AI in Health Care?

—Sam Anderson-Ramos, assistant director for college and professional learning in the Department of Learning and Public Engagement

Artist unknown. The Terrace, about 1660.      Robert A. Waller Memorial Fund

Unknown. The Terrace, about 1660. Robert A. Waller Memorial Fund

Would you think less of this painting if you knew that the artist used technology to help get the architecture and perspective right?


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