What is AI art?
By now you’ve probably heard of image-generating AI, or AI art, in one form or another. From stories of AI winning a local art competition, to convincing depictions of John Oliver marrying a cabbage, to gracing the cover of Vogue – the speed, skill and popularity of AI generated art has exploded over the past few months. DALL.E 2, Midjourney and Stable Diffusion are quickly becoming serious contenders in the digital art space.
And the AI creative take-over doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
Seemingly every week there is a new demonstration of AI encroaching on a previously high-skilled, human-only endeavour. Want a compelling and unique music theme for your holiday video Facebook post? There’s an AI for that. Need an interior designer to help you restyle your living room? AI can do that too. Video, 3D models, image generation, copywriting and music – these are all falling swiftly under the AI tool belt as it picks up hard-won human skills like a child grabbing fistfuls of candy. The potential to shake up every single creative industry is obvious.
So what does this mean for artists? Are we all out of a job?
Well, no. Actually, I believe this is good news for every creative person.
“There is no such thing as art. There are only artists” E.H Gombrich
Spectacular, but superficial
AI art by itself will only ever be a hollow imitation of an expression of human emotion. A surface-level veneer, with no substance underneath. Sure the images AI can produce look fantastic at first glance, but you can’t dwell on them for more than a few seconds, because there’s nothing deeper to discover. There’s no compelling reason why the AI chose that colour there, or this brush stroke here. There’s no human connection, no relatable struggle, no conflicting emotions battling across every mark made, no love. As Van Gogh once said:
“I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people”.
The only value AI art can have is what we, as humans, give it.
So what’s the good news?
Already people are using AI not just as “art for art’s sake”, but more as a jumping-off point to help get the creative juices flowing and generate new ideas faster. This is where the real strength of AI art lies, in enabling humans to be more creative.
Just like the digital camera made photography accessible to everyone, and digital music production made it possible for teenagers working from their bedroom to create global-phenomenon, award-winning music albums, AI tools will enable even more people to express their creativity in an entirely new way. Creating visually appealing art will be accessible in a way never seen before.
The other side of this coin is much darker and deserves its own discussion. The way the AI learns how to create these artworks is essentially ‘copying’ existing artists’ styles and replicating them perfectly, in a way no human could. The ethical questions here are far-reaching and will take years to work their way into laws and legislation. But for artists who have already had their work appropriated into the AI database, it might already be too late.
A new beginning?
As ethical questions rage online, and new open-source AI models pop up it’s clear there’s no stopping this train. The AI toothpaste is out of the tube, and there’s no putting it back in. As with every technological revolution there will be some casualties along the way, but I’m hopeful that this is just the beginning of new creative revolution, not the end.