Artists vs. the Machines – Is AI a Threat to Art?

Picture of By Emma C. C.

By Emma C. C.

The world is constantly changing and Artificial Intelligence (or AI for short) is only the latest weapon in its arsenal. As the hype around modern technology continues to increase, companies and agencies are continuously scrambling to dip their feet into the AI-ocean and become increasingly tech. But just like every new technology that takes the world by storm, Artificial Intelligence is as loved as it is hated – particularly in the art scene. Let’s explore both sides of the argument. 

But how does AI even work?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock these past few years, I think it’s safe to assume that you have heard of AI at least once before. However, not many people know what it actually is and how it works. If you are one of those people, don’t worry, as I am here to ease your mind.

In layman’s terms, Artificial Intelligence is the science of making machines think like humans. AI technology can process data, make decisions, find patterns, and create images and text just like humans do. Only much, much faster.

In order to develop an AI system, you must first fill it with information from data sources, the machine processes it and then (after some computer jibber jabber) creates trained models that can complete certain tasks, using the input data as a reference. That is, AI systems learn from information supplied by humans and become trained to do things the latter can do.

Although Artificial Intelligence research has been around since the 1950s, the field has really boomed in the last few years, with more and more companies bringing it into their toolset. Nowadays, AI is pretty much everywhere – complex web search engines (e.g., Google Search), recommendation systems (like YouTube and Netflix), self-driving cars, digital assistants (such as Siri and Alexa), and generative tools like the (un)popular ChatGTP and AI Art. 

In the case of AI art generators, the supplied data consists of existing artworks and images. Thanks to deep learning training, the AI system becomes able to recognize patterns within the images and is then able to create material for users when instructed with a text prompt or other commands. 

Needless to say, AI is quite a polarizing topic. While many see it as a helpful and innovative tool, others view it as a threat to the art community and even to art itself. Let’s see what each side has to say.

AI – The future of art?

Unsurprisingly, the biggest advantage of AI art is the speed and the efficiency it offers. As we previously discussed, Artificial Intelligence can do (almost) everything a human can do MUCH faster, and that also includes artwork. An AI system can whip out a detailed, original image or video in a fraction of the time it would have taken a human artist. Plus, since it’s created by a machine, an AI artwork does not have room for error and imperfections you may find in human art. 

The speed and efficiency offered by AI seem to be useful to everyone – corporations, average people, and even artists themselves. Via Artificial Intelligence, companies can quickly produce any artwork they may need at a very low cost, as they do not have to commission any human artist. Similarly, given that AI art generation platforms are becoming increasingly common, those who lack the creative thumb can also produce any art piece they want at lightning-fast speed using just a few keywords and phrases, without having to pay an artist or needing to possess art skills themselves.

Meanwhile, artists can also take advantage of the speed and efficiency that AI offers by using the technology as a tool for them to employ while they’re creating their craft. Since AI can quickly concoct original images and videos, artists can use it to perform tasks that would otherwise require long hours of tedious work. That is, it can make the job of an artist a lot easier. 

Moreover, artists can use AI to create prototypes for their work, brainstorm concept ideas, or even find inspiration for their own human-developed projects. By means of Artificial Intelligence, you can visualize your next designs and decide how to best plan them, or you can even use text prompts to create design examples to inspire your own. And, as AI has virtually no creative limit, there can be an endless supply of original and never-before-seen inspiration at your disposal.  

That sounds like a very sweet deal, right? Well, not everybody thinks so…

Is AI art ethical?

While AI may have its advantages, the drawbacks of using Artificial Intelligence to create art are just as many (if not more).

For starters, AI is ethically dubious. As we mentioned in the first section, Artificial Intelligence creates its pieces by processing input data – usually gathered by surfing the web – of existing artworks and images and making a “patchwork” of everything it found. Meaning that AI art is actively created by exploiting others’ designs, without asking for their permission or properly crediting them for their part in the final output. And this is precisely where the issues with AI begin to arise.

When a generator creates a piece of AI art, it does so by essentially stealing and plagiarizing a human’s work to pass it off as its own, giving them neither retribution nor acknowledgment. Most artists often spend hours and hundreds of dollars to make a single piece of art, usually for very little recognition and monetary gain, and to see their work ripped off by a machine must feel like a slap in the face. And that’s not the only way AI hurts artists.

Artificial Intelligence directly devalues artists by making it seem like a complex and curated artwork takes merely a couple of seconds to create. People already do not really understand how much effort and hard work are necessary to originate a single work of art, not to mention that artistic skills are widely looked down upon for their lack of capitalistic value. AI and its cheap generators just make it all the much worse. And when people are less appreciated, they have a trickier time finding work. In fact, more and more artists are complaining that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to get commissions for their work from both companies and individuals. Most artists are pointing their finger at AI for this. But not only does Artificial Intelligence openly steal from artists, it also takes away from what art actually is. 

A piece of art is as much about its outside as it is about its inside. Yes, things like lines and colors definitely matter, but so do the emotions behind them. There is a whole story behind each brush stroke or chiseled feature, which is just as important and full of beauty as the appearance of the artwork itself. However, that’s something that only a human artist can embed in their pieces, since machines cannot feel genuine emotions, least of all visually communicate them through art. 

AI art – A blessing or a curse?

But even so, one thing is for sure – no matter how much AI develops, human artists are never going to become obsolete.

Just like any other technological innovation, Artificial Intelligence is first and foremost a tool. Ergo, it is neither bad nor good by itself – it depends on whom you ask.

For companies, either big or small, AI art can have great benefits, saving both time and money, and still blurting out a satisfactory product. On the other hand, AI has a very bad rep among artists. But that should come to no surprise – from issues of plagiarism and devaluation to literally putting them out of a job, it doesn’t take much to understand why artists may not be head over heels for Artificial Intelligence. 

It is therefore important to try and support human artists as much as possible. That can be in the form of commissions or perhaps even donations to their Ko-Fi or Patreon if one has the financial means, but it can also go as simple as sharing an artist’s work on social media so that it can reach a larger audience. And maybe even stop using AI art once and for all, although considering how ubiquitous it’s becoming, I imagine that would be hard to achieve.

But even so, one thing is for sure – no matter how much AI develops, human artists are never going to become obsolete. They might continue to struggle (and their struggle may even get worse as the years go by), but they’re likely never going to stop being needed. People are always going to seek them out, as they can provide the one thing AI systems cannot produce – art with a soul.

Edited by Josephine Daly Tempelaar

Cover: Pexels/Cottonbro Studio


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