Will AI Replace Artists?

Will AI Replace Artists

As artificial intelligence advances, artists are becoming fearful of losing their artistic integrity. 

When you think about art, what crosses your mind? Be it Van Gogh’s Starry Night or Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, when most people look at art, they try to think about what was going on in the artist’s mind when they created it. But what if the art you were looking at was not created by a person at all?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) art refers to artwork created with the assistance of AI. Works made either in collaboration with AI or autonomously by AI both fall under the category of AI art. Let’s understand whether we should fear a surge of AI in the art industry and what AI art means for artists.

History of AI art

 “ Edmond de Belamy, from La Famille de Belamy”, Image courtesy of Christie’s

AI has been used to create art for much longer than we think. For over 50 years now, artists have been writing code to create art. In 2018, the painting “Edmond de Belamy, from La Famille de Belamy” made by AI was sold for US$400,000. According to the auction house Christie’s, who sold the piece pictured above, this was the first portrait generated by an algorithm to be put up for auction.

The painting was made by a group of French students who go by the name Obvious. The painting was not really as special as we might think. In fact, the entertainment magazine Vulture calls it 100% generic.

Vulture’s art critic mentions how the painting is “Visually, surface- and scale-wise, it is like every other image/painting/print,” that he has ever seen. What makes this painting seem so generic is that AI art is made by programs that have been trained to recognize patterns in art styles and structures. These programs create paintings with the patterns they learned. Since they are copying patterns, the final art piece is never unique or meaningful like a real artist’s work. However, that is not to say that AI art can never be unique. Combined with human artistic sense, AI can create masterpieces like Turkish artist Refik Anadol’s “Machine Hallucination”  (pictured below). The 30-minute long movie is made from millions of photos of New York City which have been processed to create unique visuals. 

Machine Hallucinations, Image courtesy of Refik Anadol’s website

What does the future hold for art?

Art critics do not look favorably upon AI-generated art. In 2016, Microsoft collaborated with Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, the Mauritshuis in The Hague and the Rembrandt House Museum in Amsterdam to create “the Next Rembrandt”. British art critic Jonathan Jones called this 3-D printed painting “horrible, tasteless, insensitive and soulless travesty of all that is creative in human nature”. His main argument was that the painting lacked the soul of Rembrandt’s art, which, he believes, can only be achieved through lived experience.

Another point of critique for using AI is that it will lead to the corporatization of art in creative fields. Neuroscientist Erik Hoel believes that as AI art starts looking more and more human, it will be controlled by big tech companies, like Facebook, Google and Microsoft. In fact, the AI program GPT-3 was licensed by Microsoft in 2020, and the program was released in the same year.

Mathematician Marcus Du Sautoy is hopeful about the future of AI. He suggests that we should consider AI as a collaborator and not competitor in the art field. He believes that AI is not necessarily copying patterns, but rather responding to human creativity.” So even though you might feel cheated when you realize something was made by AI, you’re responding to something that ultimately had its source in the human,” he says. Ultimately, what we can see from these developments is that AI art isn’t going away anytime soon and, thus, is something artists and society as a whole need to adapt to.

Header image courtesy of Freepik

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