Part 1 of a three-part series.
March 13, 2023
Artificial intelligence (AI) and how it affects the art world have recently captured the attention of the news media. AI has revolutionized many industries, and art is no exception. This relatively new technology has the potential to enhance and augment traditional art-making processes, but it also raises important ethical and philosophical questions about the role of the artist and the value of human creativity. This article explores the pros and cons of AI in art, the shifting nature of artistic authorship, the ethical considerations surrounding the use of AI-generated content, and the history of appropriation in art. Because the article is lengthy, it is split into two parts.
One advantage of AI is it can help artists explore new possibilities and techniques that are difficult or impossible for a human to achieve. For example, AI algorithms can generate unique and complex patterns and compositions beyond the capabilities of most artists. AI can also create digital artworks that are interactive and responsive to their environment, providing new opportunities for audience engagement.
Yet the use of AI in art also raises questions about authorship, copyright laws, fair-use laws, the role of the artist, and the value of human creativity. The idea that AI algorithms use art created by others to generate amalgamation images has led to a debate about the authenticity and value of AI-generated art. For example, how much of the image is truly unique? Are AI artwork and designs able to be copied and used without permission? Who owns the copyright? Some even argue that AI-generated art is fundamentally different from traditional art, as it is created by a machine rather than a human being. Questions, therefore, remain as to whether it is comparable to art created by humans, as well as concerns over the protection of intellectual property and the ability of artists to control and profit from their work.
It is important to recognize that the use of technology in art is not a new phenomenon. Artists have been using technology to augment and enhance their work for centuries, from the printing press to Photoshop. The question of whether AI-generated art can be considered “real” art is not a new one either, as it is similar to debates about the role of the artist and the value of artistic expression that has been happening for centuries.
The Technology Involved in AI Artwork
It is important to first have a simple understanding of the technology used by artificial intelligence to create the images that have been causing controversy. Diffusion, also known as “style transfer”, is a technique at the heart of many modern image-generating AI algorithms, via platforms such as DALL-E 2 and Stable Diffusion. Diffusion is a process that allows AI algorithms to “transfer” the style of an original image to a second reference image, resulting in a new, combined image.
Diffusion creates AI art by allowing an algorithm to learn the style of a particular artist, style, or artwork through the use of photographs or other visual representations and then applying that style to a new image. For example, an AI algorithm might be trained on a collection of paintings by Vincent van Gogh, and then be used to create new paintings in the style of van Gogh. This is possible when an AI algorithm is provided with photographs or other images as input and the algorithm generates a new image combining the inputted image with the style of the reference artwork. A new artwork is created that looks similar to what van Gogh might have painted.
This is a powerful tool because it allows artists to explore various styles and techniques that may be difficult or impossible for them to achieve using more traditional art-making processes and to create unique and complex compositions that may go beyond their capabilities. Yet, questions remain about how this new technology affects the role of the artist and the value of human creativity. One important ethical consideration is the question of compensation for artists and photographers whose work has been used to train AI algorithms to recognize patterns, generate new content, and apply artistic styles. This training process can involve the use of copy-written images and artwork, which raises questions about the rights of the original artists and photographers.
There are numerous cases where artists and photographers argue they have not been fairly compensated for the use of their images as AI training datasets. Some have called for more transparency in the way these datasets are compiled and for the development of policies and procedures to ensure accountability and compensation. While there is no easy solution to this problem, it is important for art and technology communities to consider the ethical implications of the use of AI in art and to work toward fair and equitable compensation for artists and photographers. This could involve the development of new licensing models or the creation of artist-controlled databases, or other approaches that ensure that artists and photographers are fairly compensated for the use of their work in AI training datasets.
The Art World
The general population’s comprehension of art is about 100 years behind where the current art world actually is. To put this into context, most people’s impression of art is largely shaped by artists like Vincent van Gogh, Amedeo Modigliani, or Pablo Picasso. The view is of an artistic genius, sometimes a tortured soul, that works away in their studio creating masterpieces.
Additionally, artists have often had workshops and apprentices to help them create art. During the Renaissance period, artists were famous for having their assistants. Around the early to mid-1900s, this model drastically shifted even further, and artwork became more about the ideas and the thoughts behind the art. As early as 1917, artwork created in factories found its place in major art fairs.
These misconceptions about art and what it entails are central to the arguments and understanding of how AI is used within art. To go further, one has to look at the idea of art versus craftsmanship. Art has followed in the footsteps of business in the sense that it has become knowledge-based: As far as business is concerned, one of the earliest well-known adapters of this knowledge-based model was the inventor of the light bulb, Thomas Edison. His company had thousands of patents and copyrights in order to take advantage of people’s ideas and make a profit from them. They hand a bank of ideas that create money, not just products.
The art world has gone in the same direction. It is not who creates the artwork, it is the ideas and thoughts behind it that create the ownership of the artwork. Andy Warhol’s art studio, “The Factory”, had others constantly creating images of his ideas to sell for a profit. I also love to give this riddle to my students: How can Sol LeWitt be a painter if he never paints? Invariably, one of my students will answer that other people painted for him! He is known for creating geometric designs that others would apply on walls or canvases to be sold or displayed. There are many world-famous artists who do not in fact create their physical artwork. This really showcases the art world’s move away from the creation of art objects—the craftsmanship—to whose ideas and thoughts are behind the art object and, thus, provoke the viewers’ thoughts and ideas.
AI as a Tool for Artists
AI is, therefore, another tool artists can use to create artwork. This results in the value of art being determined by the ideas and concepts it conveys rather than the physical creator.
Since its invention in 1816, the camera has become more popular and commercially available, thereby shifting the role of the artist. People no longer needed to rely on a painter to create a likeness of themselves or a portrait. Instead, they could get a perfect copy through the use of new technology, a photograph. Painters had to therefore adapt and change, which resulted in impressionism and the ideas behind artwork. This evolution continued, and today, there are artists who never even touch their artwork as it is being built.
One famous example of this is Sol LeWitt, the aforementioned artist known for his conceptual artwork consisting of simple geometric shapes and patterns. LeWitt used assistants to execute his ideas, and his artworks are generally considered to be the result of his concepts and instructions rather than his physical labor.
Artists from left to right: Warhol, Campbell’s Soup Can
Another example is Andy Warhol, known for his Pop Art paintings that depict everyday objects and celebrities in a highly stylized and commercialized manner. Warhol often used assistants to create his paintings and prints, and his artworks are generally seen as a reflection of his ideas and vision rather than his physical labor. His studio was named “The Factory” in reference to this assembly-line type of art creation. He was also known to have taken images from pop culture, similar to Jeff Koons.
Jeff Koons is known for his sculptures and paintings that appropriate imagery from popular culture and mass media. Koons often uses assistants to create his artwork, and his artworks are generally seen as a reflection of his ideas and concepts rather than his physical labor.
These examples demonstrate that art is generally about the ideas behind a work of art, as opposed to who created it. AI is simply another tool artists can use to explore and express their ideas and it is likely to play an increasingly important role in the coming years.
Part 2 of this article will be published on March 21, 2023.
You may also be interested in reading more articles written by Jude Ross for Intrepid Ed News.