How AI is Changing (and Challenging) the Art World

AI-generated art has transcended its status as a mere experimental novelty and has firmly established itself as an essential part of the intersection of the cultural, technological, and business landscapes. In this article, we will explore how AI is changing art and what conventions are being challenged in this rapid evolution.

AI Is a New Creative Tool and It’s Here to Stay

AI has been integrated into creative processes for several years. Our smartphone camera is equipped with image processing algorithms. Professional DSLR cameras can use AI for some tasks, such as image recognition and analysis. A number of editing apps utilized algorithms to streamline routine tasks in image editing and graphic design.

But until recently, creators have not been able to incorporate AI into the creative process on such a large scale. By 2022, things have changed radically, as AI models have surprisingly increased in their ability to create high-quality visual content from scratch – and that content can be surprisingly brilliant.

It’s not just something to play around with, it’s a tool that’s becoming more integrated into the creative process, with major industry leaders like Shutterstock and Adobe embracing its capabilities on their platforms.

One of the oldest and most prominent graphic design software, Adobe Photoshop, offers its users the ability to use generative AI alongside traditional tools such as brushes, erasers, blurs, and gradients. For the average Photoshop user, seamlessly adding any object to an image with a text prompt is now as easy as removing red eyes from a portrait. It’s a true revolution in the way the creative process has been viewed for decades. In fact, the emergence of generative AI has been compared to such great inventions of all time as the printing press, electricity, or the computer. This is where the real challenge to progress comes in — the human fear of the unknown.

The Challenge Of Overcoming the Fear of AI Replacing Humans

In one of our previous articles, How People Reacted to History’s Greatest Inventions, we explored the human tendency to resist technological progress. With Generative AI, the public is both amazed and frightened by its fantastic ability to create content indistinguishable from that created by humans. Many people now expect that algorithms to take over artists’ jobs and replace humans, which seems quite unfair given the fact that these algorithms were trained on the content created by human artists.

These concerns have sparked much debate among stakeholders and evoked a backlash from art communities. Thousands of posts with hashtags such as #humanart, #artbyhumans, #NoAI, and #notoaigeneratedimages have appeared on Instagram as an act of rebellion against the abundance of content created by algorithms. Some artists and content agencies have filed lawsuits against AI companies and art portfolio platforms, accusing them of violating copyrights by training algorithms on images scraped from the web without authors’ consent. Others have protested the inclusion of AI content on art platforms. Some of them, however, have provided a way for artists to opt their content out of training algorithms by tagging it with the hashtag #noai.

AI’s Role in the Art World Is Recognized by Experts

Despite all these protests, AI is becoming more integrated into our cultural context on multiple fronts. The acceptance of AI-generated artworks by prestigious auction houses is an important testament to their cultural significance. The landmark sale of Portrait of Edmond de Belamy for $432,500 at Christie’s in 2018 was a moment of recognition for AI art as a legitimate art form.

This watershed event has paved the way for the inclusion of AI-generated pieces alongside traditional artwork, and AI art has been evolving ever since.

Art critics have come to accept the value of art that is generated by AI algorithms. NFT marketplaces have opened up a new market for AI-generated art alongside traditional auction houses, representing the growth of AI-generated artwork as a valuable and collectible form of artistic expression.

AI-generated artwork is winning awards here and there. Last year, Cosmopolitan unveiled the world’s first AI-generated magazine cover. Museums, galleries, art fairs, and conferences from New York to Dubai have begun to feature AI art exhibitions, demonstrating the technology’s creative potential and recognizing its artistic merit.

But the integration of a new art form into the established cultural fabric hasn’t been smooth whatsoever. The process raises a number of fundamental questions and concerns as it changes the way people view art and authorship, sparking discussions about whether AI art is art or not, and who is the author of AI artwork. 

The Challenge of Redefining Art and the Artist

To answer these questions, we must first define what art is. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, art is 1) the making of objects, images, music, etc. that are beautiful or that express feelings; 2) an activity through which people express particular ideas.

Technically, AI-created paintings aren’t painted by a human, nor is a human placing decoration and pressing a camera button to create AI photos. But it’s a human’s job to create and type prompts for a machine. And the machine’s job is to translate those prompts into visual output that expresses human feelings or ideas. What’s important, those feelings and ideas are born in the human brain.

For some people, AI may make art seem like something that is easy to create, which could potentially lead to the devaluation of art and the downgrading of artists as a class, according to Ron Cheng, a board member of the Yale Visual Arts Collective. Some skeptics insist that AI art offers no authenticity or criticism of the world, despite its ability to create sophisticated concepts and impressive illustrations.

Others, however, suggest that AI should be considered as a tool rather than art. But that tool, in the hands of skilled artists, is capable of creating art.

“Art is the act of communication between an artist and a viewer through the use of visual language. The process of creating AI images is not art. If there is no human, then there is no art.

But if we are talking about a human who wrote a prompt and created an image based on it, then yes, it can be considered art. The human chose what they wanted to show, what form would best convey their feelings, mood, and ideas in a visual language. And they wrote the prompt and got an artwork created with the help of AI. This is where the technology acts as a tool.”

Denis Sorokin, Art Director at Everypixel.

In fact, artwork created with AI can be both good and bad, just like artwork created with any other art tool. The question of whether a piece of AI art is good or bad comes down to the ideas it expresses, and whether the way an author communicates them is unique and worthy of art.

“Never think that it is or isn’t art. It’s a tool like a pencil, a camera. Don’t forget in the 19th century, the most brilliant minds alive said the camera is going to end art. Of course, it didn’t end art, it extended human beings. 

… The truth is when you show the art, so called, I want you to ask is it good art or bad art? I would say that what you’ve shown me so far like this an otter based on an old otter illustration, Vermeer’s Girl a pearl earing etc., — this is pretty crapola illustration. It has no imagination or creativity. If they could program something like Marcel Proust walks through a delicatessen in New York or the end of civilization and have it come out not looking like a typical kind of steampunk thing or NFT art, that what I would like to see.

Jerry Saltz, a senior art critic at New York Magazine, an interview for CNN.

AI as a Catalyst for Content Creation

In the past year, with the advent of advanced text-to-image algorithms, dozens of communities dedicated to AI art have accelerated across the Internet, from Reddit to Twitter to Discord, with thousands of AI artists practicing their skills to create precise prompts and share the results with others.

The amount of content created during this time is hard to measure, but whatever it is, it’s big. Our rough estimate is that since the boom in algorithms in 2022, more than 1.228 billion AI images have been created using DALLE-2, Adobe Firefly, Midjourney, and Stable Diffusion.

AI technology has revolutionized content creation by significantly improving the quality of content and democratizing access to content creation. AI is enabling more people to get involved in the creation, lowering barriers to entry, and fostering a more inclusive cultural environment. And this is clearly changing the way dozens of industries related to content creation will operate in the future – from illustration, photography, and art to graphic design and marketing.

When it comes to photography, for example, experts say that the future of basic microstock images will be primarily AI-based, with the share of real images declining as AI replaces the most menial tasks. But when it comes to artistic and premium commercial photography, human control will still be critical to the production process.

“For advertising campaigns or premium stock images, it is important to have control over every detail of the production process. Human-created premium photos with interesting storylines, professional models, good lighting and fancy props, clothing and interiors are more likely to stand the test of time. The creation of such work will remain on the human side, but the use of AI to streamline and optimize the workflow will become mainstream.”

Denis Sorokin, art director of Everypixel.

The Challenge for Critical Thinking

Ubiquitous access to tools that can produce any content in seconds makes it harder for people to navigate through tons of content and deal with fraud and misinformation. Faced with an influx of content, they’re more likely to make decisions about whether it’s real or generated.

Some perceptive individuals, confident in their ability to tell deepfakes from the real thing, were surprisingly easily fooled by AI-created images of the Pope in a puffer jacket. Meanwhile, human artists have been banned from posting their artwork on Reddit because their content was deemed AI-generated and accused of violating a subreddit’s No-AI rule.

While Leonardo da Vinci spent years painting the Mona Lisa, artists may use AI to extend the edges of the painting and let the algorithm present what was literally behind the scenes within seconds. In most cases, these images don’t even come close to being art, but some pieces appear to be true masterpieces — think of Refik Anadol’s Unsupervised, an artwork presented at MoMa, a never-ending looping video, which was trained on a collection of thousands of artworks from the last 150 years. The truth is that Anadol’s work definitely took more than a few seconds to create.

AI-generated art has firmly established itself as a cultural force, redefining the creative landscape and shaping the new artistic experience. Through its growing integration as a creative tool that enriches our cultural context and influences content creation, AI art continues to challenge conventions and change what seems immutable. With millions of people having access to producing high-quality content, the quantity of that content will increase exponentially. However, it still looks like that one thing seems to remain the same: while there will be an abundance of content produced, it will never be effortless to create a masterpiece.

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