There is a new wave of art being generated quickly and in large quantities. It's A.I. assisted computer generated art and it has been creating a lot of talk lately on what this means for artists. I like to call myself an artist and I have been looking at this new way of creating art and what it means to me and my career as an artist.
I have been creating various types of art for a long time. I started as a youth falling in love with comic books and role-playing games, marveling at the fantastic art found in those pages. Made my way into the art of typography by way of graffiti and eventually went to art school to get some formal training back in the early nineties.
One of the most valuable things I learned at art school was the difference between fine art and commercial art. The way I see it fine art is a personal journey. The artist is their own client. The artist expresses what they feel is important at the time and makes it available for the world to see (sometimes). On the flip side, commercial art is an artist expressing the thoughts and feelings of someone else, a "client". The artist is working for a client and this client has a vision they cannot render themselves. There is a lot of value in both but the value is shifted based on who the artwork is for.
We now have computers that can do art for us. Some have asked if this artwork created by computers isn't just art stolen from other artists. If you don't understand why some may feel that way let me give you a quick breakdown of how A.I. generated art is created.
BTW, I'm not a programmer and I'm just giving the super condensed cliff notes here. You can find more online if you're interested. So, there are algorithms created by smart people and they have been able to give the algorithms specific rules to follow. With these rules the algorithms are fed thousands of images to analyze. Then based on what the algorithm has "learned" from the rules and images it tries to generate new images.
From this simple breakdown it might be easy to say that these algorithms are just stealing from art that has been generated to make new art. In a sense they are but let's look at what a human artist would do.
To make art one needs to have a foundation to work from. To create that foundation arts students study the work of masters, the artist from our past that have made significant impressions on art and what it can be. From this foundation new artist learns how to make art like those they are studying. They copy the style and technique to learn how the tools are used. Eventually the artist will find their own voice and be able to create artwork they can proudly call their own. One could easily say that these artists are stealing from past artist to make new art.
So the learning process of an art student and a computer sounds very similar. One cannot create something from nothing. We have to have some kind of foundation in order to create something new.
Recently someone has submitted A.I. generated art to an art contest and won. Here is an article if you are interested. Did they deserve the award? If I tell the computer to create me a piece of art using only words did I create the art?
A.I. art generators are fed "Prompts" to create the art. For example, I can log into the MidJourney Discord server and type a prompt like "Fractal skull forest" and it will create some images based on that bit of text. So. Did I create the art or did the computer. Without my prompt the computer wouldn't have done anything. At the same time I didn't imagine anything or record my imaginations visually.
From my point of view we have now crossed the bridge from fine art to commercial art. What do I mean by this? As a commercial artist, art is generated by an artist for a client. The client has a need, art that tells a specific story. It probably will require cetrain elements and colors, blah, blah, blah. The the artist takes that information and creates something. In simpler terms and client gives the artist a prompt and the artist executes.
Now let's make it personal. This client now takes that art created by the artist and enters it into an art contest stating that the client made the art. The client wins and takes all of the credit for it. If someone has a problem with it the client can say that if it wasn't for his prompt the art wouldn't exist.
Is the client correct? Did the client make the art? What if the client paid for the art? What if the client added small details to the art afterwards?
As an artist myself working as a commercial artist I see this a lot. Clients come in and prompt me for some art. I could be a staff artist at some creative agency and get prompts from the art director or creative director. The artwork is created and the people who gave me the prompts can easily take the credit. Could the art director have made the art themselves. Yes, maybe, but it wouldn't look the same because it would have been made using their unique style and voice. But without the prompt from the AD or CD the art wouldn't exist.
So where is the line drawn?