Now Might Be the Time for Art to Embrace AI

Art is a reflection of its environment, and as AI inevitably expands into every professional space, it will find its way into the art industry.

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ChatGPT is flooding educational spaces. “Deep fakes” are being exploited for political gain. And AI is facilitating the creation of smart cities. The art world is no stranger to the effects of this increasingly digitized world. Just this past year, a flurry of criticism followed the Colorado State Fair’s annual art competition when an art piece created with Midjourney, an AI program, won a blue ribbon. This year, the Grammys have set out new guidelines for award consideration with only two categories under which AI creativity might qualify. But unlike political or security sectors in which the integration of AI could pose very real and even deadly threats, the art world has a unique opportunity to embrace AI creatively and practically.

Throughout history, innovation has often been met with great resistance, especially in relentless debates over “real art,” a concept the public of each time period has often tied to techniques of centuries past. In 1800, the use of discord in the first few performances of Beethoven’s First Symphony greatly dissatisfied leading critics at the time. Yet today, Beethoven’s work is considered the start of the Romantic era in music, when composers savored moments of dissonance and used discord to mark emotional turns in a piece. A more recent invention, photography, left 19th-century artists fearful of competition with new, relatively unknown technology. It was only after a group of photographers—now called Photo-Secessionists—organized gallery showings and photography societies that exemplified the creative control photographers held over their images that photography was established as an art. 

There is a clear cycle of rejection of artistic innovation. Focus on the “correct” or “most valuable” art medium shifts public perception of art away from the basic idea that artwork requires genuine feeling and originality is of utmost importance. This evaluation sufficed until the rise of AI-generated art forms, which have been criticized for the use of other artists’ work and images in their products.

The issue of copyright has always been central to discussions on AI in art. Earlier this year, Getty Images filed a suit against the creators of Stable Diffusion, an AI art program, for “scraping its content.” Three artists recently joined a class-action lawsuit against Midjourney, Stability AI, and DeviantArt, all of which utilize LAION-5B, a publicly available database that makes use of five billion images, many of which come from artists. As evidenced by the many cases of supposed copyright infringement that are active right now, artists are increasingly worried about their decreasing artistic value as they begin to recognize their artistic style and even their own work in AI-generated art without compensation or recognition. The founders of these AI programs justify their generators through the fair use doctrine, a legal doctrine that promotes freedom of expression through limited but unlicensed use of copyrighted materials. No major legislative proposals on AI and copyright have been introduced in Congress, and as such, neither viewpoint is supported by law. To me, however, it seems clear that the success of AI-art-generating programs is built off of artists who are not seeing the fruits of their labor even though programs like Midjourney charge for use. And with companies like “The Stack” creating models for databases throughout the industry where material is properly licensed and artists are fairly compensated, the immorality of some of the most used AI programs is becoming increasingly clear.

Art is a reflection of its environment, and as AI inevitably expands into every professional space, it will find its way into the art industry. It is time to welcome AI in art forms without pushing back. Artists should be fighting against exploitation by AI companies and platforms. However, it is important to understand the value of AI today and for generations to come. Art is about emotional expression and individual experience. AI is simply unable to create art by itself. AI may be able to simulate human neurological processes, but technology is only able to mimic emotion, not feel it. And the originality that is so important to a “real” art piece can only be gained through personal and unique life experiences. AI may be able to create an artistic-looking product, but that product is void. However, just as photography was accepted once artists were able to demonstrate real human creativity in their images, by embracing AI, artists will be able to utilize it in a way that simply enhances their art.

Peter Blake, a veteran pop artist, described AI as “a kind of magic,” and I agree. When has the art world ever rejected magic?