After half a century of topping charts and filling stadiums with screaming fans, there was to be a full stop. Instead, during the last concert of their farewell tour, the American rock band Kiss unveiled their new “immortal” selves, extending their life as a touring band that would continue to enthrall younger generations of the “KissArmy”, thanks to the power of technology. “We can be forever young and forever iconic,” founding member Gene Simmons exulted in a promotional video for Kiss’s digital avatars, his euphoria over the potential of technology overriding an important question: Just because the possibility now exists, should this band — or any artist, for that matter — be made “immortal”?
Art, of course, never dies. Whether it’s a couplet by Kabir, a symphony by Beethoven or a painting by Amrita Sher-Gil, the power of art to move those who encounter it transcends space and time. And while much of this power is intrinsic to these works, emanating from the beauty and perfection that may be experienced in them, some of it also comes from the fact that the lives of their creators were limited — which also limited their ability to continue creating such works. There will never be another M F Husain, Billie Holiday or Ravi Shankar, which is what makes the art they produced so precious.
Ever since a painting produced by the AI programme Midjourney won an art competition last year, anxieties over the rapid development of technology have been focused on the question of whether AI will eventually replace humans in all endeavours, including the creative. Even as that debate rages on, Kiss’s digital avatars point to another direction that technological interventions in art might take. It may not yet be possible for the machine to make anything truly original and soulful — but if it can extend the life of the artist, surely that is no less disconcerting.