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AI Art is Bad, Actually

This article is part of a two-part opinion series on AI-generated artwork published on behalf of the Computer and Technology Club. The companion article is available here.

Many artists are fighting the advancement of AI-generated art, with cries of “AI art is theft” being very common on Twitter and other social media sites. While to the untrained eye this makes little sense, if you take a moment to look into the social and economic forces surrounding art and artists, you start to get an idea on why it’s such a big concern.

One aspect of the issue is intrinsic to how AI works, specifically the models that AI is built off of. Artists of all sorts learn a foundation of principles that allow them to accurately and artistically interpret the world, including anatomy, perspective, color theory, and framing. AI art, on the other hand, is trained off of finished artworks. AI art has none of the background “knowledge” that real artists have, and is instead trained off of the hard work already done by the artists in the AI’s database. Furthermore, many of the artists in the AI database didn’t consent to their artwork being used for machine learning. There are even instances of artists explicitly forbidding their artwork from being used in these databases, only for their art to later be found in the dataset. Some people are calling for a legislative solution: for instance, data scientist Daniela Braga, in regards to an instance where artist Greg Rutkowski’s work was used as AI training without his consent, has said that, “They’re training the AI on his work without his consent? I need to bring that up to the White House office,” she said. “If these models have been trained on the styles of living artists without licensing that work, there are copyright implications. There are rules for that. This requires a legislative solution.”

Because the datasets used to create AI art are human-made, it also means that AI art can exemplify human bigotries. While AI art is new, AI chatbots have a history of racism, sexism, and homophobia that’s extremely important to note. Those who’ve put their faces into the AI art app Lensa have noted that the AI tends to give women larger breasts, make people thinner, oversexualize certain races, and even whitewash dark-skinned users.

This isn’t even taking into account the privacy policies of apps like Lensa: Prima, the company behind Lensa, states that, “perpetual, revocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully paid, transferable, sub-licensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, translate, create derivative works” with images uploaded by users. This is a huge privacy issue, as it's not likely a user is going to change their face. Biometric data is extremely personal and identifiable, and usually unchangeable.

The primary external factor that causes problems for AI art is who it’s competing against: human artists. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, the average wage of an artist or animator in the US is about $48,000 annually, while AI art is much cheaper. Artists are already 3.6 times as likely to be self-employed as the average US employee, and many artists live and die by commissions and freelance positions. AI art puts their livelihoods at risk, as the primary employer of artists are large corporations.In an article by Forbes, artist Carson Grimbaugh says that “Concept artists, character designers, backgrounds, all that stuff is gone. As soon as the creative director realizes they don’t need to pay people to produce that kind of work, it will be like what happened to darkroom techs when Photoshop landed, but on a much larger scale.”

AI Art companies like Prima claim that AI art allows people with little to no artistic ability to still create art, but AI art isn’t creation. AI art is a consolidated mess of real artists' work. There has been a solution for those who can’t draw for a long time: there is a large market of artists who take commissions. I’ve even purchased my own commissions in the past! There’s nothing like watching the process of an artist hear what you want, and show you step by step how your idea is coming to life. It’s absolutely magical. AI art removes the heart, soul, and ethics from this process. AI doesn’t create art. It creates content, no different than content farms like 5-Minute Crafts.

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