If you have any interest in diving deep into AI “artwork” and want easy access to articles and posts from the many people writing on it. You should check out LONER’s Deep Dive: Artificial Intelligence”.
There are a lot of articles talking about the ethics, legality and even data security aspects of Artificial intelligence - I won't be talking about most of that, but that's very real and relevant. I’d like to speak about it from an artist’s perspective.
Art, not “good” art or “bad” art - just art, is a culmination of human effort, bias and culture. It is how we as humans, attempt to make our own extremely personal life experiences into something tangible - and share that experience with the people around us.
Art, and nearly all creative work, is full of opinion, bias, lived experience and, if you know how to look for it - storytelling. For many, the biggest problem about AI imagery is that it lacks in all of those areas.
To be clear, I'm not some “art fundementalist” who can’t see any uses for AI. There is value to being able to quickly test an idea or concept and generate “informed” design choices. For example; We can probably use AI to test designs for new ways to mitigate say - flooding in urban areas by testing new anti-flood designs against literally every other design that’s ever been used… anywhere.
Or, we can mockup the best ways to design solar system grids based on historical weather data in a rainy region. Who knows! This critique is solely centered on the application’s role in the creative industry and people using artificial intelligence software to pass off generated work as their own.
Why is Ai "Art" making creators so uncomfortable?
If you’re like me, and you’ve also dedicated large portions of your life to being an “artist” (whatever that looks like for you) Artificial intelligence probably feels strange for a few reasons - those reasons, to me are:
1) Its fast adoption by so many consumers shows a discouraging apathy towards the livelihoods of creative people and creative work.
2) The low cost and easy access to Ai generators creates concerns about the odds of building a livable career in art and the future stability of the visual arts industry.
3) Ai “artwork” lacks love, passion and effort. Aspects nearly all artists understand to be the first step of creating meaningful work.
Love, passion and effort. The intangible?
When we talk about the “soul” of creative work - sure we can be talking about the “muse” or the drive that inspires a person to create whatever it is they do - but, the “soul” of creative work does have a more concrete meaning.
In this piece when we refer to the "soul", we speak about the culture, bias, personal storytelling, effort, technique, and individuality of the artwork in relation to the artist that made it.
Up until this recently, those things were intrinsic about creative work. Every piece of media, whether painted or sculpted, produced or composed, holds the bias of its creator. Creative work has history and if you know how to look for it - it tells an engaging story about its maker.
The unsettling part about Ai work is that it doesn't have that. There is no meaningful story being told.
The “technique” being seen in the images (think brushstrokes, ink lines, color and composition) lack a “reason”. So while the images may look detailed or extremely well rendered, they don’t communicate anything, even on a amateur's level. It takes from too many places and fails to make any important decisions.
The user calls for an image and the program produces it, end of story.
Lack of empathy towards creative work.
One of the more disheartening parts of being an artist as Ai grows in popularity, especially among our friends and families, is how apathetic it’s user base seems to be about how art is created and where it comes from. It's fun to play with new technology and see ourselves in cool crazy images, but we need to be critical about how this communicates our values.
Artist’s spend years honing their craft and publishing - and it’s tough work. To suddenly see timelines flooded with generated, soulless images, speaks to deeper realization;
Most people don’t care about the people that make the work they consume. Like many other industries under capitalism, creative work is commodified and taken for granted, the very same way other facets of labor have been around the world.
Tumblr user “Super-Mellow-Blog” said something that really stuck with me on this:
“It makes me feel like people just want to shove their faces full of mindless generic content and don’t care about the ethics of where that content comes from…And while that’s not new to AI, I can’t believe that no one…cares? No one cares? Outside of professional artists it feels like everyone has mindlessly cheerfully embraced AI as a replacement without recognizing the horrible implications this has for art? It’s so frightening and awful and disheartening. It’s like people simultaneously want art that captures something about the experience of being human but also don’t want human beings involved in its creation. They want to care about beautiful painted fake people but don’t want to care about the real people who created them. They want the illusion of life, but not the actuality.”
find more posts and thoughts from real people like this in LONER’s deep dive: Artificial Intelligence
On creative careers and industry
Lastly, the accessibility and cost effectiveness of Ai programs provokes concerns about the feasibility and stability of a visual art career. Whether or not Ai art will actually change the creative industry on a practical level - it is shifting the culture around creative careers. A shift that is actively discouraging generations of new creators who are already unsure about their likelihood of building a stable career.
Recently, with huge shifts in the animation and comic industries, it’s been harder and harder for visual artists not already selling at a high level to lock in work. Ai image generators feel like another hurdle that young creators now have to overcome - flooding the market with low cost supply to meet the demand of visual art.
So, What can you and I do about it?
This is the big question! I have a few very simple solutions and I would love to hear more from all of you. My thoughts as an artist, curator, publisher and founder are:
Become fucking obsessed with curating what you consume. Finished are the days where we as consumers can be relaxed about our visual consumption. If you care about creative work and you really give a shit about the people behind that work then you need to actively cut off means of production that undermine that. I block accounts that post Ai generations, cut off companies that exploit creators where i can and, try to really engage with the artists, singers, bands, photographers etc. that I enjoy. Figure out what sense of sustainability looks like for you and do it.
Consume less. As enjoyers of creative work this may be a difficult one - but AI generators are here to fill a need for content. Companies need to flood you with new and “exciting” brain fodder to keep you on their apps and engaged. YOU can fight back against the endless stream of content by consuming less of it. Slow down to enjoy the things you REALLY love. Don’t lose hours, days and weeks, mindlessly scrolling through creative work just for the hell of it. Be purposeful, slow down, curate your online experience.
Boycott companies that start using AI generated visual images over the next few months / years. If you really care about creative work and people like you say you do - it’s up to us the consumers to tell companies that they need to pay people and do things the right way. Like in many other industries, if we don't act in each others best interest, we open new avenues for everyone to be exploited. The "profit over people" model isn't sustainable - especially not when it comes to creative work.
Creative work is still just as valuable as it was last month or even last century ago. Don’t let the changes in the visual arts industry fool you about this. Just because there is a flood of supply does not make your creative output any less valuable.
Humanity is driven by creative work across industries. Now more than ever, it’s important that artists like me and you don’t lose sight of that.