Technology has advanced our civilization in ways we once could only dream of. Most recently, the topic of AI-generated art has become a hot topic in the art community with creatives landing on both sides of the fence on the issue. Many are arguing that this technology is stealing from artists and attempting to replace jobs that would normally be done by an actual person.
I wanted to explore some thoughts and concerns on this topic because from what I have experienced with it so far, I don’t think it’s a cut-and-dry situation. While my personal feelings lay more towards the side of it not being in favor of it, I have seen arguments for it that have some merit as well.
As with most things, I try to see both perspectives in an attempt to form my own opinion and I would encourage you as you read on to also do the same. This article is based on my thoughts on the subject but is certainly not the only perspective that should be considered.
Why do Artists Find AI Art So Threatening?
I shouldn’t really have to explain this, but for the sake of argument, I will. As a general statement, many artists already struggle with feeling like what they do is devalued. From having to justify why they are charging a certain amount for custom artwork, to explaining why “exposure” is often not a viable form of payment, it already feels like we are constantly battling those who expect to get original art for the price of a mass-produced print from IKEA.
When you spend multiple hours every day and years improving your craft, it shouldn’t be surprising that it can feel deflating when something comes along that potentially aims to replace you at the click of a button. AI doesn’t need vacation time, a lunch break, or benefits, it won’t ask for a raise, and isn’t going to have a personal conflict with Sara in accounts that makes for an awkward work relationship.
Related: 10 Effective Ways for Artists to Make Money
Now to make this matter more complicated, many AI-generating programs draw from existing artists’ work that is available on the internet to inform their algorithm and generate the artwork. This is where the stealing comes in. On some of the apps available, you could explicitly give it directions to create a portrait of you in the style of your favorite artist.
Depending on how good the app is, it could create a convincing render. So apparently now artists not only have to be worried about watermarking their images on the web in hopes they aren’t stolen but there are apps that can essentially impersonate their style as well. Someone could even potentially pretend to be you going as far as creating fake works under your name.
An argument here can be made that all artists are influenced by other artists’ work and borrow from each other’s styles all the time. This is definitely true. However, where this becomes a problem is if the apps are profiting off of this and enough business is significantly taken away from the artists whose style it is copying.
You could argue back that most people who really want a James Jean piece, for example, won’t go in that direction anyway. Since AI art currently only exists digitally it’s not like you could sell a painting falsely under their name right? I suppose if you were to hire a good enough copyist you probably could but that’s a rabbit hole for another time.
What if for example, someone created a digital artwork that looked a lot like a famous artist’s style and then tried to sell it as prints or an NFT? There are already issues with accounts on social media that at a glance convincingly pretend to be other people. What’s to stop them from tricking people into thinking they are purchasing from and supporting an artist they love when instead they are giving their money to a fraudulent person? Not only have they been stolen from as well but the purchased artwork would not have the value that they thought it did.
AI-generated Art For Fun
Many people in my social media feeds have been trying out an Ai avatar generator in a way that I would call the latest version of a fun filter. If you’ve ever wanted to know what you would look like in a bunch of different creative art styles you can do it without having to pay even a single artist the hundreds or thousands of dollars that it would cost you to do it. You won’t even wait a fraction of the time it would take to create it. For our instant-gratification-wants-everything-for-nothing-based society why wouldn’t this be appealing, right?
Those using this tech to make a fun portrait are doing it with the intention of having a fun new portrait for their social profiles. In that sense, it’s not all that different than using whatever the latest filter is that makes you look like an anthropomorphized bunny or like you’re a long-lost Kardashian relative.
The thing that I struggle with when I see convincingly created digital artworks is what happens when someone comes to you and says “who is the artist? I would love a portrait like that” and the response is “Oh I did it through an app and paid next to nothing for it” and meanwhile that style is directly stolen or based off of an artist who could have used the income from that portrait commission to make their student loan payment that month or pay their rent. But I mean…who cares about them, you’ve got a fun new profile pic now, right?
I understand that commissioned art is not affordable for everyone, but at some point, we also have to have some respect for people’s talents and craft and value it enough to not promote or accept cheap knockoffs, especially those created with stolen IP. There will always be people who care about supporting artists and have no issue doing it. Unfortunately, there will also be those who do not feel any emotional consequences or sense of moral duty to not participate in things that steal opportunities away from them.
AI-generated Art For Inspiration
Many artists who are in favor of this technology are using it as a tool to create references or renderings to use for the artwork that they will later create traditionally. While in some ways I can see how this is helpful and even a time saver, I would also argue that by relying on this technology too heavily to generate the creative aspect of your work, you are losing some of the fundamental skills that are important to being an artist.
What happens if you are hired for a job to create custom work for someone and you aren’t able to make the requested revisions your client has asked for? There may be limitations in the way the AI tech you are using can generate something you can work from. If you don’t have the creative or technical skills to make adjustments yourself that AI cannot, you may find yourself in an awkward situation with your client.
Another aspect to consider on this is whether you as a consumer would be comfortable hiring a digital artist to create say a portrait of your pet, only to find out that they are selling you an AI-generated artwork that they used an app to create that you could have paid much less for and done yourself. Artists can be the ones taking advantage of this technology too in a way that deceives their clients.
My Own Experiment
In my research to write this, I tried out one of the popular apps that create avatars for you using different creative styles. I’m not going to name it here because, to be honest, I don’t particularly want to give it any free advertising. I wanted to see for myself though, how convincingly or unconvincingly it could create artwork based on photos of me.
The result of my own test with one of these apps was nothing I was overly threatened by and honestly, the majority of them didn’t even look like me. While the app was certainly able to generate a great diversity in styles of portraits there were aspects of many of them that were just weird or off. One eye usually always looked weird or was askew and there were iterations that just looked like bad Photoshop.
Am I worried that someone may go to this instead of me for a custom portrait? At the moment no. But people selling this tech want their apps to be successful and have teams of people dedicated to improving them. (Those people are probably being paid well to do their jobs by the way. Ironic.) If demand continues, the incentive to make them better and more convincing is there and it’s only a matter of time before it does.
There are digital artists out there like Eric Wayne, who very brilliantly explains in his blog post the ways in which AI is still lacking in comparison to what a human artist can create with years of experience and skill. The fact of the matter is that AI-generated art is already selling for thousands of dollars and there’s nothing at the moment stopping that from continuing to happen.
So What’s the Solution?
Trying to stop technology from advancing so that “the robots don’t take our jobs” is virtually impossible. Innovations to make things easier or more accessible are happening all the time. When website templates became readily available, I imagine there was an outcry among web designers. Canva to some graphic designers is still a dirty word. The key behind any of these “helper” technologies is that the results from them are typically only as good as the human being using them.
It can be argued that ai-generated art technology had been created to suit a specific person’s need or niche and shouldn’t ideally affect the greater population of artists. The person who doesn’t want to pay for custom artwork was probably never going to anyway because they often don’t see the value in it or can’t afford it. Your friend who wants a new fun social profile pic was never going to justify spending a large amount of money to have you draw them if they’re just going to change it a couple of months when the latest trending filter arrives.
Designs created with consumer-friendly templates, however, are only great if you can stick to the format. Without a natural eye for design, it can start to look pretty bad as soon as you start changing fonts and want a slightly different layout. AI-generated art is similar to this in that often the first result isn’t always ideal and tweaks need to be made to arrive at an ideal or perfect design.
Where this technology becomes questionable and damaging to artists is when their intellectual property is infringed upon and income is taken away from them because of fraud or they are simply not being hired for work in favor of AI instead. It’s important for laws and legislation that aren’t already in place to protect artists and their intellectual property when it comes to ai-generated artwork.
Technology created with noble intentions often becomes Pandora’s box when it falls into the hands of people with bad intentions. We blame the AI but it’s really the person using it who determines whether it functions with malintent. The AI is just doing the job it’s asked to do.
What are your thoughts on AI-generated art? Share with me in the comments.