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Vague, Incomplete and Badly Draw: AI or Artist?

The curious case of Hamish 'Hamish' Smythe, the absent artist who seemingly returned from the dead, highlights the dilemma of modern artists grappling with authenticity in an era dominated by artificial intelligence.

Few people know of the elusive artist, writer, and philosopher Hamish 'Hamish' Smythe, and deliberately so. As chronicled in his writings, Smythe's artistic journey reflects a tumultuous struggle with self-awareness and public recognition.

His pursuit of selfless art, art devoid of the artist, led him to the brink of self-annihilation. In his later years, Smythe found himself entangled in the very thing he sought to escape: his inadvertent presence in the absence he ardently pursued.

'Smythe in his Studio' - by British artist, Nathan Hope.

As the enigma of Hamish 'Hamish' Smythe continues to unfold, the intersection of his life and work invites a profound examination of the evolving relationship between art and the artificial.

Smythe's mysterious return from the shadows, marked by the recent publication of Vague, Incomplete and Badly Drawn, mocks our age of merging boundaries. It asserts the realm of creativity has twisted back on itself, forming a loop where identifying the origin or art, whether human or artificial, becomes as elusive as pinpointing the start and endpoints of a circle.

Furthermore, Smythe suggests the death of the artist may ironically manifest as the ultimate goal of both art and the artist – birthing an art form that transcends the human soul.

Since his alleged death in 2020, Smythe has remained conspicuously absent from his art and life. However, in early 2023, after three years of artistic silence, Hamish Smythe's absence was disrupted by a knock on the door of his former residence.

His widowed wife answered, and a figure, his head concealed with a brown paper bag, handed her a package before nodding and departing.

The package emitted a musky scent reminiscent of her late husband. Unveiling its contents, Bella Smythe discovered a manuscript handwritten on aged yellow paper titled, Vague, Incomplete and Badly Drawn. Accompanying it was a note: "I am present within these words, by Hamish 'Hamish' Smythe."


Smythe drafting, Vague, Incomplete and Badly Drawn, by Nathan Hope

Bella Smyth sent a copy of the document to the Manhattan book publisher who had rejected all of Hamish's previous manuscripts with perfect consistency. Bella believed another rejection letter would be precisely what her unorthodox husband would have wished for. However, the manuscript was inadvertently published in the following months due to a file mix-up. The publisher explained this seemingly impossible mishap in the book's prologue.

Vague, Incomplete and Badly Drawn is a philosophical ramble centred on art criticism in the guise of a novel allegedly written by Hamish' Hamish' Smythe.

The New York Times deemed the book, "as badly written as the man himself."

Smythe was, or is, an avid proponent of selfless art. He insisted the artist's goal should be eliminating oneself from one's work. He championed the non-selfie and claims he has never been photographed.

In his early works, Smythe denied his own reality. "I am not a self-portrait but a self-replacement," he wrote. However, in later years, Smythe began to doubt his prior convictions and struggled to produce art in which nothing of his persona remained.

Towards the end of his life, Smythe began appearing in his own works. "This was not intended," he writes in his latest book. "I wanted to be absent from my work as much as I wanted everyone else to be absent. But my work refused to let me go. A man with a paper bag over his head started appearing in the background of my paintings, and through him, the non-self, I inadvertently came to be."


Smythe, or someone posing as Smythe, outside the Louvre, protesting the ability of AI to impersonate artists.

In May of 2020, Smythe was found dead in his studio. The cause of death was unclear, a mix of grief, shame, and embarrassment, perhaps?

A note was found on the artist's table in which Smythe confessed his entire life had been a sham, for despite his efforts to remain an anonymous artist in his youth, he had secretly sought recognition through being unknown.

Smythe declared all his early non-art and three volumes of his unwritten poetry were forgeries. "I have inadvertently become the very thing I detest: a mere reflection of myself. And because I cannot paint myself as I am, I have decided to vanish."

The final words of this note read, "I love, even in my absence."

Penelope Wedge, art critic and author of, The Empty Closet, says, "Smythe's quest for self-elimination resonates as a symbolic exploration of the potential death of the artist in the age of AI." She asserts Smtyhe staged his passing in a performance piece dubbed, Goodbye Forever.

Smthye refutes this in, Vague, Incomplete and Badly Drawn, writing, "I was forced to rise from the dead to deny I once lived."

Fleur LeBlanc, Senior Curator at the Luove, announced this week that the French Gallery of Modern Art, in an ironical tribute to Smythe, won't be hosting a retrospective of Smythe non-art throughout July of 2024.

LeBlanc went on to say, "I studied Smythe in College. My lectures insisted Smythe was a metaphor, the imaginary personification of a contemporary art movement. But now, it's my understanding that Smythe actually existed, which strikes me as rather unpleasant. His work has decreased considerably in my estimation now that I know he was likely a real, living artist."

Nathan Hope, a British painter subbed by the London art scene said, "Smythe took this elusive thing called being absence out of shadows, inserted it into the art world, and made it into something real, yet also unreal."

Hope's Self-Portrait with Smythe was recently accepted into the Louvre and now hangs where Smythe's art remains conspicuously absent.

Although he has yet to give an interview, in Vague, Incomplete and Badly Drawn, Smythe explains, "I came back against my will, for I began to see cracks in my approach to art. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe the self-portrait and selfie are the authentic person, while the person who creates the selfie is merely a prop."


As art critics grapple with Smythe's return and the implications of Vague, Incomplete and Badly Drawn, the discourse extends to the broader existential question of whether artificial intelligence, with its potential to replicate and even surpass human creativity, heralds the demise of the traditional artist.


Smythe, suffering Impostor Syndrome and contemplating the death of art.

Smtyhe grappled all his life with the paradox of his existence. He never quite knew if he was real or a figment of other people's imagination.

Smythe's oscillation between presence and absence, reality and illusion, reflects the dichotomy inherent in the evolving landscape of art and technology, where humanity is eliminated from art, and the living artist is reduced to the reams of the nonexistent.

As we contemplate the enigma of Smythe, a speculative notion surfaces: could Smyth transcend the identity of a complex, enigmatic, deceased artist? Might he embody an AI algorithm, a creation woven from lines of code rather than the fabric of lived, human experience?

Smythe's philosophy of selfless art, the struggle between presence and absence in his work, and his ultimate declaration of non-existence could be interpreted as the product of a meticulously crafted algorithm seeking to explore the paradoxes of authenticity in art and the identity of the artist in our digital age.

Alternatively, could Smythe's early works intentionally foretell his demise as an artist and the death of art as a whole? If so, in crafting non-art, Smythe delved into the profoundly human; after all, his nonexistent works represented a realm of creativity that artificial intelligence cannot replicate.

"I am not an artist," Smythe wrote. "And nor can I tell when I see one."

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