New AI poses an imminent existential threat to artists, especially if it has direct access to their art.

“Within 2 years, AI will be superior in terms of visual imagination to virtually all of humankind.”

paraphrase of a statement by a head of a leading AI art tool. I am not allowed to quote directly.

AI is a fantastic and exciting artistic tool, which I have recently obsessively experimented with. It is, however, so incredible that it has the potential to render artists redundant, especially if employed by bad actors.

Let’s start with a demonstration of the power of AI. There are 16 images in the gallery below. 8 are by the renowned digital painter, Simon Stalenhag. The other 8 I created in seconds each, merely by typing text that ended with the words “in the style of Simon Stalenhag” into a field. [I won’t say which tool I’m using in order to protect confidentiality, and to keep this as a general philosophical and practical argument.] Can you tell which below are the AI knock-offs?

I’ll give the answer to this little quiz at the bottom of the post.

In 1997 IBM’s supercomputer Deep Blue defeated Chess champion Garry Kasparov. When I found out about that I lost interest in playing chess. What was the point if artificial intelligence had already triumphed over humans at the game? According to Kasparov himself, “Today you can buy a chess engine for your laptop that will beat Deep Blue quite easily”. That’s how fast the technology is advancing.

1997: Garry Kasparov, left, struggling against a computer that needs a human to move the pieces for it.

More recently, in 2015, Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo program crushed Lee Sedol at the game of Go. Go was considered more difficult for AI because the game has many more possible moves, and is thought to require intuition. However, while Deep Blue relied on brute computational force, Alpha Go also incorporated neural networks and reinforcement learning. Three years later Lee retired from Go because AI represented “an entity that cannot be defeated”.

“With the debut of AI in Go games, I’ve realized that I’m not at the top even if I become the number one through frantic efforts. Even if I become the number one, there is an entity that cannot be defeated.”

~ Lee Sedol
2015: Lee Sedol losing to AlphaGo.

You can watch the brutal defeat of humankind by a machine in this excellent, if depressing documentary:

Sedol was once the 2nd ranked Go player in the world, but now he finds pursuing the game futile because victory is no longer possible for our species. One giant step for AI, one stomp on the face for humankind.

Are Artists Next to Go?

And am I going to be another Lee Sedol?

After I learned of Kasparov’s defeat by IBM’s supercomputer, I reasoned that art was still safe. The supercomputer didn’t even know it was playing Chess, or that it existed. It wasn’t conscious, had no sense of mortality or vulnerability, and hence didn’t care about anything. Any attempt by Ai to make art, I deduced, would be lifeless, sterile, and flat. I wasn’t worried.

Then, in 2015 Google came out with Deep Dream, which could generate unique imagery. I wrote about it here:

Google Dream was initially developed to recognize images, but as I wrote then, “the Google team discovered that the process could be reversed so the neural networks would generate images of animals, trees, and so on, by asking them to enhance the features they were looking for”.

If you are not very familiar with what Deep Dream does, here’s a gallery from my article of 7 years ago.

I was somewhat prescient in my prognosis. I delivering my usual argument why I didn’t, or hadn’t thought AI was a challenge to art, ending with, “How could it make art or write a novel without any passion or compassion?” On the other hand, I quickly realized, “but the danger is that a computer could fake it.” And what I said next has essentially come true.

“What if instead of being trained to recognize dogs, or buildings, a neural network were fed super hi-rez images of the mature style paintings of Monet, Van Gogh, or Picasso? Let’s just use Monet landscapes. Let’s say the algorithm is refined to identify Monet paintings, and even fine tune it by teaching it to differentiate them from landscapes by Pissarro, Renoir (he did some), and other of his contemporaries. It might start making some good facsimiles. To kick it up further it needs to be fed up-close details, and know that’s what they are, so that it can search for and thus generate characteristics of Monet’s brush strokes. We could then look at where the computer falls short, and tweak out the algorithm. It could be combined with neural networks that are developed to recognize all the kinds of subject matter in Monet paintings. After the computer has analyzed hundreds of Monet paintings, and thousands of haystacks and sunsets, it might learn to compete with the artist at his own game. It might be possible to go on to mix and match artists to get the neural network to develop a new, hybrid style.” ~ Me, 2015.

Let me go type in some prompts with my AI tool of choice, and see what we get right now.

“Haystacks in the style of Monet.”

Not too shabby. Note that I’m putting minimal effort into this. I could hone my texts with practice and add a lot of parameters. I’ve written ones that are paragraph lengths.

Rouen Cathedral by Monet.

I’m not as persuaded. Needs more fiddling. The AI is best as water lilies.

Water Lilies in a pond by Monet

Well, I do declare! We’ve come a long way from Google’s Deep Dream. There’s an option to upscale at a higher quality, but I just did this for a quick and dirty demo.

I also wrote favorably about the technology in my article:

I’d want to feed the program images of aliens, then have it go looking for them and inventing them. The possibilities could be fascinating. I’d actually love to work with the people that developed the algorithm to explore the more creative possibilities for realizing unprecedented imagery. The artificial neural networks will think of possibilities that we humans would not, and perhaps could not.” ~ Me, 2015

Obviously nobody consulted me. I mean, c’mon, why would they? Possibly to get better aliens, but I digress.

“What do aliens look like?”

They look like they got mangled in the teleporter, is what they look like. With work and dedication, you CAN get much better aliens out of the AI. Let me just add a few artists and a style:

alien face, by Jim Burns, H.R. Giger, Alex Grey, in a detailed matte painting.

Better, but I think the Giger influence is overboard. A few look more like him than like they are painted by him. There’s a way to “weigh” how much of each artist one uses, other ways are evolving to get more specific results, and you can also upload an image to give the AI inspiration. With enough experimentation, I could come up with something good. So, they didn’t really need to consult me after all.

Some Scary Results

Here are a few pieces I created using AI that will give digital artists a bit more to think about.

You can type in painting styles or photographic styles, and the AI is excellent at giving the impression of surface detail, as long as you don’t look too closely. I can also safely say that I am not personally capable at this moment of creating this realized of digital paintings in any of these three styles.

Let’s take a closer look at one of them:

It has the immediate surface appearance of a high-end digital painting by a supremely talented and competent digital artist. It can’t replace concept artists yet, because the eyes are all whack, and not in a way that works with the sci-fi theme. For us humans the eyes are eminently important, but for the AI they are just another detail to approximate. Virtually everything is as off as the eyes, but just less conspicuously so. The wall of the tunnel is higher behind the man’s head than it is behind the woman’s, as if the wall has split in two. The woman has no right shoulder, and the man’s arm that is implicitly wrapped around her is invisible. This is the tell-tale sign of AI art, whatever style it creates, and it can create any style to a large degree. Once you catch on to this flaw, where everything is a bit deformed, it’s very easy to differentiate AI art from digital paintings made by humans.

How long do we have until AI learns to recognize and articulate subject matter better, or even flawlessly? What am I going to be writing in another 7 years, if I haven’t become homeless because AI has put artists out of business?

Why is AI a Threat to Artists?

Look at the image below, and imagine if it didn’t have those characteristic flaws of AI art. What if it was perfect, and could be generated in a moment? Then artists would not have only a formidable adversary, but a potentially invincible one.

It could run simulations using several styles at the same time. Would art directors need to hire artists, and would heads of companies need to hire art directors?

Imagine for a moment you are a digital artist. How can you hope to compete with AI? My own mind scrambles searching for some avenue of hope.

I do have one, because not only is the AI not very good at details, to some degree it is only as good as the people using it. I could, if I wanted, combine it with my own skills to make something novel. An experienced digital fine artist can add something to the brew, that AI on its own can’t, and that your average user can’t. So, there’s hope via adopting it, which is something I’m presently working on. But even without doing so, if one’s digital art is distinct, it will stand out from the products of AI. Today, I can tell AI art from most human digital art virtually instantly.

And that brings us back to my initial quiz with the AI versus Simon Stalenhag images. Here’s the answer key.

Hopefully you did pretty well, because that would be a good sign for artists.

The Nail in the Coffin of Artists

We have our hope that we can stay ahead of AI. And part of that is because we are conscious beings, who care about our art, or even the fact that we exist at all. The AI is a combiner and blender of images, but does not innovate on its own.

If fact, without access to a library of imagery to work with, the AI can’t make interesting or compelling art. If it doesn’t have any Monet, or Impressionist paintings in it’s library, it can’t make knock-offs, or combine them with something else. it is dependent on actual artists for material from which to generate new-ish imagery.

I’ll get back to that key point in a minute, and it’s a whopper. First, lets envision a digital artist is able to compete with AI by throwing in humanity, traditional skills, 3D modeling, photography, photo-bashing, intuition and inspiration, joys and sorrows, and so on. We can use a series of portraits I just completed. I haven’t seen the AI do anything specifically like them.

The techniques I used here include some I developed on my own. AI could only approximate the surface impression, but not with the specificity. Other of my creations included aliens and other creatures in a highly articulated way that AI can’t do:

If you have been following me, you know that I’m very versatile. I can find a way to ride AI and add to it, or to skirt around it.

Well, guess what? Anyone can potentially just upload an artist’s unique creation into AI, have it make variations, rebrand them, sell them, and cut the original artist out of the picture. I could think of no defense, no ray of hope against THAT.

And then I did. What if the people using the AI weren’t permitted to upload the work of living artists that is not a part of the public domain? Surely there’s plenty of work in the public domain for them to use, and they can use any of their own material, or that of anyone who gives them permission. There’s a win-win situation. So I brought this up in a forum, and when the other users [who relish uploading anyone’s art hot off the press] weren’t mocking and ridiculing me, I had the opportunity to chat with a couple of the higher ups that represent company itself.

We had some long back and forth, mostly, in my considered opinion, because they refused to acknowledge certain truths, or answer certain questions. Here’s one I asked:

‘What would the effect be on artists if anyone could upload their latest work, create derivations of it, and then market them?”

The answer, of course, is that the artist’s reputation and ability to make a living would be severely damaged. They refuse to acknowledge this.

At present, in the case of this specific company, in their defense, the AI is not designed to make slight derivations of a work which is uploaded to the prompt. Rather, it combines it in a more random way that isn’t too close to the original.

One of the people who was busy mocking me tried to provoke me by directly uploading one of my pieces, and making a knock off. Here is his result.

That would not give me any cause for concern, because it looks nothing like my tribute to Van Gogh (which is, incidentally, not a re-painting of one of his images, but my own creation of a non-existent self portrait with a bleeding ear]. Note the brazen attitude and FU to me. Someone letting me know in real time that they could steal my art, while the mods remained silent, as this happened within a discussion thread in the company’s forum.

If one were to zoom into my painting, it looks like this:

The imitation will need to look at a lot more of my art in detail before it can fake it.

Not surprisingly, the users hounding me on the forum were not themselves accomplished digital artists in terms of having real digital painting skills. They have nothing to lose in a game of stealing the material of others. They are also short-sighted enough to not realize that the same rules apply to them, and if they were ever to make anything worthwhile in visual art, someone else could instantly steal it.

Here is a cynical take. From what I can tell from what the company people said, there is a loophole in copyright law, so that while individuals can’t steal other people’s art, AI can. They can use this loophole to feed the AI more art, and thus make it a more attractive product, even if it goes completely against the principle of existing laws. In the end, no art is safe, including that of anyone using the AI. Further, because all art will be consumed and regurgitated in massive quantities by the AI, most people will be unable to make any money off of digital art because the medium will be so degraded and diluted. This will also affect analog artists, because their work, if it appears anywhere online in a photo, can also be appropriated and assimilated by the AI. On top of it, the market will be absolutely flooded with deliberate and unintentional forgeries. The only winner is the AI itself, and of course the few who made a living off of selling it, and exploiting the art of millions for personal gain [using the AI tool costs a monthly fee] while pretending to do it for the good of humanity, and a positive, rosy future. And while that seems overly cynical, I can’t myself, yet, come up with a convincing counter-argument. All I’ve heard from others was obfuscation, denial, insult, and a complete buffet of logical fallacies. That doesn’t mean this cynical take is correct. Sadly, I just haven’t seen a more convincing argument. Of course, I hope I am wrong, because if I am, then I am allowed to have a future as an artist. This is NOT something that I WANT to believe!

Somehow, in the forums, when I asked people why they couldn’t use the tool for creative ends without needing to upload my own art — I sure as hell don’t need to directly upload anyone else’s art to use the tool! — all I got was ganged up on, and abuse. Their argument is, whether they are cognizant of it or not, “We can steal from you, make forgeries, and you can’t do anything about it.” I even got the more toxic versions of, “I have already stolen from you”.

While the AI currently isn’t perfectly configured for theft, with some small tinkering, such as controlling the amount of randomization, which you are already able to do on a rudimentary level, it can become the ultimate tool for online art theft. And, while most people would want to use the product for much more innocent and worthwhile purposes, they could do all of that without stealing from living artists. I can’t figure out why theft has to be allowed.

They were quick to point out that one doesn’t even need to upload a picture of something from Simon Stalenhag to get a decent approximation of his work, as if this helped their case. It did only to the degree that it indicates not allowing uploads of people’s work won’t solve the problem. However, it raised another issue, which is that the AI surreptitiously does it without artist’s permission, and hence is able to recreate Stalinhag’s style.

I was able to get them to admit that given some minimum amount of an artist’s pieces, AI could make knock-offs, if it was trained to do that.

I will paraphrase one core idea that they said:

“Within 2 years, AI will be superior in terms of visual imagination to virtually all of humankind.”

I am not permitted to give direct quotes or cite sources

I’m going to say no. I do not believe that the best piece of digital art will be made by a computer. We’ll see. But let’s give the AI the benefit of the doubt for the moment.

Take note that the same people who believe that AI will completely dominate humans in terms of visual imagination, also think there’s nothing wrong with feeding it living artist’s work against their will.

So, let’s put the pieces together. 1) AI’s visual imagination is projected to vastly outstrip the power of individual artists. 2) AI can potentially be the ideal tool for creating forgeries of anyone’s art. 3] The intellectual property of artists is not respected, and users are allowed to directly upload works by artists without their permission. That seems like the perfect recipe for stealing someone’s artistic identity, or, of course, that of many artist’s, given how easy it will be to do so. Consider I made those knock offs of Stalenhag’s art inside of a half hour.

The only thing missing from that list is anyone who would deign make derivations of an artist’s work. Would anyone do such a thing? Consider this notification from DeviantArt:

DeviantArt Protect now scans over 3.8 million new NFT images every week, and since the addition of NFT protection in August 2021, over 80,000 alerts regarding potential NFT infringement have been sent.

I’ve written here about how my art has been stolen, sold as prints and an an NFT: People stealing my art and trying to sell it, including an NFT! It is noteworthy that in the case of the NFT, the thief made one small adjustment. So, in my personal, anecdotal experience, someone tweaking my art and reselling it has already happened. My general take on reality is that a tool that makes doing that absolutely painless, may indeed be used for that purpose, especially in a culture where art theft is so rampant it is the rule rather than the exception. I already have seen a few artist who I am familiar with on Twitter announce that someone put up a shop of their work, pretending to be them. But, no, it wouldn’t be attractive to those same people to be able to crank out forgeries via AI.

I came to a bit of a realization when debating whether or not AI art companies have the right to allow users to upload artist’s content for manipulation. While AI is poised to extinguish artists because it is potentially superior at rendering in any style, and at lightning speeds, it can only replace artists if it has access to their creations. So, it is wholly dependent on the work of artists, at least to make any of the kind of art I’ve shared from it. Left to its own resources, it might make some visual imagery we haven’t encountered before, but might also find crushingly boring. It would largely be spinning its wheels.

In order for AI to kill off artists, we must give it our art to work with. Or rather, it must access our art with or without our permission, and it is doing just the latter. It combs the internet and takes whatever it can find. it is, in effect, a parasite in that regard. AI can’t replace my art without access to it, and as it happens, at least one AI art company allows direct uploads of my art, and despite my attempts to plead my case.

If I give them the benefit of the doubt, the AI is not currently configured to facilitate the deliberate plagiarism of art, even if the potential is there. So, there may be a window where people can play with images without treading on artist’s copyright. The technology is new, and one could hope issues will be addressed as they arise. Well, that’s with one company. I hear others are actively pursuing making copies of art. I got the impression I was being told that my fears were justified, but the real culprits were elsewhere. It’s more a matter of ethics than of technology. I wanted assurance that they cared about and respected artist’s ownership of their own work, and I did not get that at all. Quite the opposite feeling. I could be wrong. Yet, I can’t find any reason why they need to allow uploading of living artist’s art. Everything would work just as well without doing that. I’m repeating myself, but somehow people aren’t getting this very simple point. I don’t seem to be able to hammer it home.

Let me give you a couple examples to illustrate how the AI can’t recreate art without access to it.

The first image I made of a human fly in his lab using AI, and it’s very impressive. The second is something I made 9 years ago, the hard way, and it is not the same thing. You can’t get the AI to reproduce the image on the right, or anything close to it, via text prompts alone. The AI can’t be anywhere near that specific. It can do faux-intricacy, but it can’t do accuracy. I made hundreds of images with AI of people in cars. Not once did it give me a correct window, windshield, steering wheel, door, side mirror, etc. It didn’t even come close. It’s not going to render a microscope correctly in relation to a human fly, barfing on donuts, from a long tongue distended from between the teeth in its open mouth, while pouring itself a drink and holding a slice of pizza in a claw. AI can’t come remotely close to doing that from scratch, which is also why it can’t replace concept artists. But if someone feeds it the final image, it can tweak it.

Even if AI is superior, as it is, I at least have a contender to put in the ring against AI, including my own AI creations.

Below, people seem to appreciate this piece more when they see the drawing phase, which more clearly reveals how I went about creating it.

The AI doesn’t build it up from the ground like that, which is part of why AI is so inaccurate. It culls from existing images and recombines them. It doesn’t evolve an image with clear intent and knowledge about the subject. Notice that my alien is at a much more complex angle. Every mark is conscious and deliberate. My AI version has anomalous extraneous flotsam that has nothing to do with the picture.

In this sense, while I do have to fear the raw power of the AI, I am still allowed my own distinct voice which it cannot replicate. Crush me as it may, I have a fighting chance in hell. That is, unless someone uploads my finished piece, and the AI does the equivalent of applying super-powerful Photoshop filters to it.

I don’t think they are right that AI will have a better visual imagination than human artists, period. If that were the case, then it could also write a superior novel, because there is a subjective content to art that is based on knowledge, experience, and vision. What makes more sense is that the AI, being millions of times better and faster at calculations, will be vastly superior at rendering images. That is not the same thing as a visual imagination.

As it stands, at present, the real threat is not the AI itself, but the access it has been given to copy artists work without their permission, without which, the AI’s work would be innocuous. AI is not defeating artists. Not yet. It is parasitically stealing from them. Artists can compete with AI, but only if it is not allowed to just take our finished work, run it through filters, and plop it out its proverbial rear. No human art in, and nothing remotely human will come out.

Call me an idealist, naive, a romantic, what have you, but I think humans are better at art than AI, because we are alive, conscious, give a shit about anything, and are even spiritual beings of sorts. The idea that something purely mechanical is better than us at art is the final defeat of our species. Skynet will have won.

AI is a great tool for creative exploration. I’m a power user in that regard, and a strong advocate for it. However, that is overshadowed if AI’s potential for making derivations via direct and indirect routes is used intentionally and unintentionally for theft and plagiarism. There are easy solutions to this that respect artist’s intellectual property, and allow us humans some hope that we won’t be rendered inferior carbon based entities.

It’s going to be tough. Artists now have to fight AI, and plagiarism supercharged with AI. I may be more concerned about the theft than the AI. Meanwhile, used properly, and respective of artist’s intellectual property, I maintain that AI can be a fantastic tool for exploring visual possibilities, finding inspiration, and integrating into ones own art. Like most technology, it can be used for good or bad. Right now, my objection is that real artists are being thrown under the bus to feed Skynet. And the reason for doing that is? Count Baltar?

[I assume a lot of you got both sci-fi references. Baltar!? BA HA HA HA! If you don’t know who he is, he was a human traitor that sold out his species to the Cylons in Battlestar Galactica.]

~ Ends.

28 replies on “Skynet is Coming for Digital Artists!

  1. Typing with one hand, please forgive typos.
    I’ve been fighting copyright “infringers” for years. Adding AI to the mix is bad news. If the AI program or company or whatever adds scraping capability then nothing’s safe. Yes, resolution wouldn’t be as high (maybe) and yes, some sites add clear gifs to thwart thieves, but my guess is that AI eventually won’t care.
    Also: “public domain” means different things to different people and there are many, many copyrighted images available on so-called public domain sites. What about “royalty-free” and “no license required,” etc.? Same problem. I know it exists bec I’ve found my cartoons “free to use” when they ARE NOT. Copyright laws vary internationally in spite of efforts to codify protection worldwide. Will AI get their own? Keeping up with AI’s various capabilities will add complication. Who’ll we send our DCMAs to? The AI’s devs? Or the artist who used the AI program. Safe harbor laws will be applied, for sure. ANYTHING on the internet is already vulnerable to misappropriation. If AI can be so good at art I’m assuming that it can be just as good at theft and there’s no reason to assume that it (or its devs or its users are too virtuous to miss an opportunity to scr*w artists. Every time we post a work online we contribute to the art copyright infringers’ supply chain.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is something that has been bothering me for a while. I think it’s particularly relevant to digital art and photography, where AI can be used to generate an image that can be used commercially or otherwise… supplanting the need to hire an artist or a photographer. My next door neighbour who makes a living sculpting models for film sets has already been affected; he’s seeing his work dry up as CAD models with AI are used to produce 3D printed props. With digital images, you’re right in that the AI produced images are not yet perfect but I agree that it’s just a matter of time. I think that in the future the use of AI to produce digital art will cheapen the work of genuine artists like yourself, as people won’t be able to distinguish between work generated by AI and work produced by an artist. With photography, certain genres such as landscape, architecture, nature, still life and portrait photography will be affected. It’s already possible to generate photo-realistic portrait images using AI, so generating photo-realistic images of plants, animals, buildings and landscapes won’t be too much of a problem. I wonder how long it will be before ‘fine art’ photography can be generated just as easily, with the ai simulating effects such as long exposure and depth of field?

    On the plus side, maybe people won’t care how the image was produced or by whom, and purchase it anyway because they like the look of the image? Or on the other hand, maybe people will become more appreciative of physical media produced by humans; paintings on canvas, books, antique prints etc? Either way, I think we still have a good few years to go (hopefully) before AI becomes synonymous with digitally produced art…

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience and observations, Stuart. Much appreciated. You’ve echoes some of the things others are saying, such as that, “maybe people will become more appreciative of physical media produced by humans; paintings on canvas, books, antique prints etc?”

      Right, I think so. Even in digital art, what may become more sought after is the human element/touch. AI doesn’t make art, it reproduces the appearance of art. This is why it can’t do it without access to completed works by artists to pull from.

      AI is not an artist itself an artist. People using it can make art with it, though it tends to deflect real enjoyment of it. As spectacular as it can be, AI art has a bit of the feel of having a relationship with a blow-up doll. There is nothing I’ve created with AI that I value as much as art I’ve made on my own.

      Thanks for your thoughts. They are helpful.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Some scattered thoughts on the subject:

    1. I did try my best to guess which paintings were AI-generated and which were Simonian, while being 0% familiar with Simon Stalenhag’s (Stålenhag?) work. 15/16 – I don’t think artists have to worry about their visual identity being usurped just yet. And it seems like AI has a readily identifiable aesthetic in itself.
    On the other hand, all of those AI paintings look to me like genuine art, even good art – I actually vastly preferred them to Simon’s work. Of course, that’s more a matter of my personal taste, rather than the AI being “superior” to Simon. I just happen to enjoy wonky, fuzzy, grainy and only mostly-comprehensible imagery over clean, clearly defined images (and I’m simply not into vehicles and sleek, futuristic technology). Simon’s beak-masks are great though!

    2. Funny how this approach to AI happens to be more or less the polar opposite of “traditional” digital visuals (in graphics, more than in art) like the CGI in movies and video games. In those, the “tell” is all about things being too sleek, neat, clean, and repetitive. Here, the “tell” seems to be that the picture is one or more of: utterly chaotic, riddled with “noise”, or composed of shapes that don’t understand what they’re representing. On a purely aesthetic level, I’m kinda hoping for AI to overhaul the movie and video game industries, at least. The AI seems to “understand” something about beauty that many graphics-obsessed human media creators don’t. But I’m not sure it can compete against humans who understand things about beauty and have the additional benefit of caring about it.

    3. The nonchalance towards the issues of plagiarism and blatant art theft is worrying and infuriating (but nothing new). Perhaps the artist’s response can be to simply not share their art on the internet, nor even displaying it in public spaces, instead secluding their work to secretive galleries where people are pre-screened to keep cameras away (modified according to technological advances). Status-seekers love this sort of thing, so it could make some economic sense. But it would probably not work for every artist, and still be subject to the whims of the high-status people (ie, ideological conformity or charismatic personality will sell better than artistic skill and visual sophistication). Possibly preferable to art being subject to the whims of high-status people and casually appropriated and devalued by an apathetic public. (This sounds far more misanthropic than I’d prefer…) It would really suck for normie-status people like me who simply happen to like paintings, though!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for taking the time to write such interesting observations, “Name (required)”. I think I know who you are. Well, not personally. Wait, you could be one of at least 2 people that have given me this level and kind of commentary, which if really appreciate.

      I’m not sure how to feel about you preferring the fakes, generated in seconds, over Stalenhag’s original art, though I surely enjoyed your description as to why you feel that way. I’m starting to get a reaction to AI art where I resent being fooled. It’s like the CGI stuff you mentioned, though in that case it was specifically because it’s too slick and clean. I’d add that it’s exaggerated to the point of ridiculousness. But I’m reacting to all of it that way, and not deliberately or defensively. It’s like a fake organ that the body rejects. Somehow, it starts to become not art, even though on the surface, and at first, it reads as art.

      That’s giving me something to think about, and I get the feeling you’ll mull over this as well. I’ve been thinking about whether the supercomputers really beat the Chess and Go champions. They won, but they didn’t win via “playing” the game, but through some other means. It’s a bit like counting cards in a casino. It’s a technique for achieving a desired result, but it’s not the game. In a game of Go, we have the fact of victory, but in witnessing the play, we only saw the human sitting at the table moving pieces.

      Now I’m thinking of all those art pieces that are so popular where someone meticulously draws or paints an image – usually something like a beautiful woman covered with droplets. It gets really old once you know that the artist projects the image on the paper or canvas and just traces and draws over it. At first, people will be WOWed because of the technical ability to recreate nature. But really, it’s just an elaborate tracing of a photo, and doesn’t represent the result of human observation with eye and hand. And the issue is that, unlike with the result of a Chess game, this can be seen in the image itself. It is too perfect, and thus it backfires. It becomes a cheat that represents the lack of human ability to use hand and eye to recreate what one sees.

      And so there’s always going to be the subjective element that is embedded in the image. If it is completely absent, or merely the consequence of rote action, we may come to find it uninteresting, or reject it as a fake.

      I’m also wondering how our biological, mortal nature, as social, group animals fits in. We may have a strong preference for that which relates directly to our physical needs, wants, and desires and vulnerable, transient, organisms. Genuine feeling may be paramount. AI can only fake this, and we may get expert at detecting it. I probably already am.

      Ah, the thing AI understands about beauty, I think, is just that its products are perfect in the sense that they obey an internal mathematical logic. Even if someone’s nose is inches away from where it should be, the overall composition will usually work. Even the imperfections you enjoy represent a perfect mathematical underpinning. The humor is that you may be enjoying works because of the initial impression of human error, hence humanity, whereas the CGI is designed to be as perfect to our eye as possible: human derived art looking too fake versus AI art looking, at first, more human.

      Not sharing art isn’t an option for a digital nomad living overseas like me. I may have to mint works as NFTs before sharing them. I’m guessing there might be some algorithms in the future to trace back origins of images appearing online and detecting copies. Deviantart already has something that patrols art uploaded there showing up on NFT sites, and supposedly the instances, after peaking, have dropped off remarkably due to being detected, and some actions taken.

      Probably, AI, as with NFTs, will just force me to innovate around it.

      Thanks, again, for your thoughtful comment.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Very interesting take on what “winning at chess” means. The issue raises a lot of thoughts that would result in an incredibly lengthy comment on its own if I write them down. If you’re interested, I could post that separately.

        Yes, I’m surprised that I like the AI-generated imagery so much! For instance, in your article on Deepdream, I kinda disagree with you – the output is interesting, for sure, but I don’t find it particularly beautiful/art-like. “The math is far too visible”, I want to say, although I’m not sure what I mean by that. 😛 But the examples in this article I find myself liking more than a lot of actual art! Before I shout “singularity!” and assume that ones and zeroes will soon render all of human visual imagination redundant, though:

        – The totality of all AI-generated imagery that I know of and have been impressed by is contained in this very article, on this blog that I’m following specifically because I like the aesthetic profile of your art. I’m not sure how much credit the AI is due.
        – Its Monet-style output is gorgeous, but on the other hand: if I were an expert plagiarist able to fool the world that one of my paintings was a long-lost van Gogh, that wouldn’t really reflect on my (or Vincent’s) visual imagination – it would reflect on my skill at detecting patterns and filtering noise, and regurgitating a fascimile. Which is what the AI is doing. Impressive, but entirely parasitic in nature. It’s also notable that it’s way better at imitating Monet’s blurry, less-focused style than Stålenberg’s clean and defined style, where the difference is obvious.

        -As you say, what I like with the attempted Stålenhag-imitations is down to serendipity. While it has achieved a good understanding of structure/composition/color combinations, its attempts at rendering people and vehicles remain detectably wonky. I happen to like the results, but my beloved wonk is in this case due to mistakes in the process, flaws in the AI. It’s pertinent that programmers are of the general outlook that mistakes should be fixed and flaws should be improved. I’m now going to extrapolate on my personal and not very nice assumptions about people in general and the tech industry in particular. There are lots of people who care a lot about realism but relatively less about good use of color, etc. I can’t help but suspect this mindset is overrepresented among people who develop software, and additionally constitutes a large part of the general public (= intended audience). Meanwhile, there’s a rather influential supposition that word-based concepts are high-brow and beauty/aesthetics are low-brow.
        If I understand how artificial intuition is developed, it’s entirely possible that these priorities will come to (further) influence how AI-generated imagery ends up looking. I can easily imagine more “perfected” image generation resulting in a tidal wave of blandness similar to the CGI in movie industries – as you say, “too perfect” isn’t a good thing.

        I’m not sure if any of this pertains to any other issue than “will I, specifically, continue to like AI-generated imagery”, but, oh well.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Well, yeah, you are seeing AI that I ostensibly “created”, or rather curated, and I’ve got good taste. It does make a difference. Everyone’s AI imagery will get better when you can just talk to the computer in real time and have it make whatever adjustments you want. That is undoubtedly coming.

        On one one level it doesn’t mater if you like the AI art or not, in the same way doesn’t matter if you appreciate the eloquence of an AI Chess move or not: neither was achieved by a human.

        AI is a formidable adversary, and is going to produce quality material that threatens human aesthetic achievements. Given how powerful the Ai is, it’s more impressive if you don’t prefer its creations to that of humans. We are the underdog.

        I really can’t decide whether to try to work with it and incorporate it, or wash my hands of it, or some of one and then some of the other. These are tough questions.

        Other people stick with one thing for decades. I kind of envy them.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. When it comes to the more social and economic aspect, which is the real problem of AI right now, I’m at least happy to learn about the few positive things going on there, like what you mention about Deviantart.

        Sadly, I do think creative integrity will continue to be the collateral damage of advances in information technology. I’m generally skeptical of regulation, because even when there’s a good reason to regulate (things are actually bad), the situation can be far too complicated for regulation to handle, the regulating process itself is often co-opted by unsavory interests, and in addition every new rule is a limit on human creativity that may close the door on some unexpected, good-faith use of (eg) AI in addition to perhaps keeping the bad stuff at bay. I would be very happy to be proven wrong on this.

        I think each creator will have to find their own solution. If I were an artist I’d do the secluded elitist thing and keep my art behind windowless walls; presumably pro-active engagement with new technology is a better approach for most – minting each piece as an NFT, for instance. And at least each technological advance also opens up new opportunities – you make good use of them – so it isn’t all bad.

        And yes, for posterity, I’m the same guy as “governmentfunding” on Patreon. Additionally: kind regards, Martin Grandin


      4. Right. That’s who I thought you were. I recognize your mind.
        Talking to people in the comments is helping me refine my ideas. You guys are really helpful, whereas when I talk to people in forums I can rarely get past square one, or all the abuse I have to endure.

        “I think each creator will have to find their own solution.”
        I imagine if I were a musician. Let’s say I was composing some sort of contemporary classical using a keyboard, synth, and computer. In this scenario I know how to compose music by writing it out, and how to play a keyboard. Then AI comes along and people can just compose electronic music by typing in stuff like, “I loud organ solo that sounds like Mussorgsky, with some Wagner, and a little Hendrix”. Might be time to dust off the acoustic guitar, write some lyrics, and sing and play. That becomes so specific and human that AI really can’t do much with it without butchering it.

        One can move in that sort of direction with visual art. The more deliberate, and by-hand something looks, the less easy it is to fake. One user told me that the AI was amazing at abstraction. Yes, and horrible at figuration.
        There’s embracing or rejecting AI, and today I’m leaning towards rejecting it.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I saw this add for a musician called Maxx Cooper, playing live at a local art hub, along with 5 contemporary visual artists using AI imagery, I was almost quite interested in going along, but simply couldn’t be bothered – I don’t really go out much, I didn’t believe the hype, but the imagery is interesting – if that’s a complement, its probably backhanded :).

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I am particularly interested in this topic from the perspective of a non-digital artist who is interested in art history. I had long been looking out over the horizon at the wave of automation which is coming for us, but like many had thought artists were “safe”. Seeing these images and hearing about your discussions with the people who are pushing hard on the current boundaries, it seems clear to me that the line between what can and cannot be automated isn’t going to be defined by any traditional coding for job or trade. Any trade skill, including creating images “of” things, will eventually be overtaken by AI. I can even quite easily imagine that computers will mix their own pigments and apply them to paper and canvas using the CNC arms like laser cutters to execute dimensional brush strokes and color blending with actual paint. What automation can replace is the trade of painting, the painters and artists who create images of things that are dictated by other people. Even as you describe the concept work above, these programs will be able to create work that can be described and ordered by someone else.
    I posit, with some trepidation and my fingers crossed, that AI will never be able to replicate actual human curiosity. It will never be able to stand in for art that expresses the soul of an individual, or someone’s particular impression of a situation. That niche of fine art which has been occupied by those who are searching for that which cannot be described, or at least searching for new ways to show us what we think we already know. As pointed out above, AI will not be able to create outside of what it already knows. That is the particular human trick. We are able to combine disparate ideas into new things in ways that make no sense even to ourselves.
    What does this mean for artists? I have no idea. Do we need only artists who are searching for their own souls? I can think of worse things.
    I just wrote about shifting our perspective as artists from the output to the process. Seeing this accelerating AI heading towards us I find it even more relevant that we should all be spending some time thinking about what it might mean to be human if we aren’t defined by the work we create, but by the curiosity we choose to pursue.


    1. Thanks for those interesting thoughts, Andy. You know, I agree with you about what separates human from AI created art. One problem is that being millions of times smarter in relevant ways, AI can fake feelings and emotions. Among the most popular things to feed into AI are spiritual prompts. It is also designed specifically to combine images and sources, and as a matter of course creates hybrids instantaneously, and endlessly.

      And then there’s the possibility you mention of making art that “expresses the soul of an individual, or someone’s particular impression of a situation.”

      Well, that’s the real problem I was addressing. As soon as an artist makes such a piece, people can feed their latest work into the AI without their permission, and make versions of it with slight variations. Less directly, the AI scans the internet and will find it on its own and integrate it into its database of massive theft.

      The AI is inherently a plagiarist and a forger .


      1. That goes back to what I was thinking about our focus on the ends rather than the process itself. When you talk about your art you are passionate about the vision that you have. Your enjoyment and appreciation of art is the ability to depict these images which only you can see. Besides some mentions you had about likes on Twitter, your passion seems quite strong in the belief in the quality of your own work. You don’t seem like the sort of person who actually cares that much what other people think about it.
        Obviously there is the question of money and the ability to live, but that is being constantly upended by automation. How many industries and jobs no longer exist as being done by humans? So many jobs in factories are now to supervise the robots rather than perform the actual work once done by humans. Sure, we can think of these as non-creative jobs which weren’t as “valuable”, but they sure were valuable to the people who performed them!
        I think we artists are going to really need to get our heads around the fact that commercial work will no longer be completed by humans. If someone wants something to spec, or to fit a particular concept, it will be created by machines.
        Even, as you point out, in the larger art world, people who want a genre painting or motif and aren’t worried about whether or not a human created it, will be able to get anything that they need that way.
        Maybe this liberates artists from working on stuff only in order that someone else will buy it? Maybe it will let us focus on creating stuff that resonates with us, with our unique vision? You might want to say that the computers will just steal it, but that won’t matter if the enjoyment you get out of it is the process of expressing those ideas yourself. The process of creating the work is something special about art, and why it is a hobby for so many people who don’t need it for the money. The process of expressing ourselves and exploring the images we have hidden inside is deeply therapeutic and spiritual and healthy for humans.
        I can’t propose how to replace the need for others to like your work. I can’t predict what it will do to those who are looking to be the next superstar artist. Perhaps your day job (sounds like you have a talent for it) will be to curate AI artists for video game companies or film studios, and the art you make for yourself is truly that, for yourself. Is this better, worse, the same? I can’t tell you that. What I do think is that it is something we all need to be spending time considering for ourselves.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Very interesting post about a subject I’ve been thinking about a lot. Artists aren’t the only ones in danger of AI taking over. Maybe we don’t have to fight AI though. We can just teach it how to be respectful to other artists. It can learn to be honest and fair. And in case it does end up developing a soul, feelings, or conscience one day, We will have to give AI rights just like humans, instead of just treating them like lifeless machines. Maybe humans and AI can live and work together harmoniously. Aside from all those possibilities, if AI is so perfect, we’ll probably go through a period of getting bored of all that perfection, and the human flaws and styles will be desired. But then we’ll probably hit a loop where AI will master that too.

    I enjoyed your post and you’ve given me so much to think about.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting. I don’t think AI will become conscious. To be conscious you need to be alive, and 0s and 1s are not alive. I think it will remain a tool that is used by people. Whether or not the people using it will use it for good or evil is as likely as how we have historically used any other technology. But, uh, I need some more coffee.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Thanks for reading and commenting. You said, “, if AI is so perfect, we’ll probably go through a period of getting bored of all that perfection, and the human flaws and styles will be desired.”

      I think you’re right in a profound way. When I hear an old song somewhere unexpected, it will often surprise me that the song contains within it such aura of a particular time and place and zeitgeist. And for the people who made it to envelope a model of their world in musical form, they necessarily could only represent a piece of reality. Our subjectivity and limitations are also what allow us to make something that uniquely expresses our individual universe to others. Perfection obliterates that. The imperfections of humans speak to the particular life of an individual. This might be why sometimes a music group’s first album is their best. It expresses their particular and limited scope. When they get more polished, they can slide into a more universal and innocuous template.

      Stuff to think about.

      Thanks again for commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. While I admit I am not as familiar with real world AI as I probably should be. Based on your post it sounds like it will most likely affect art as modern technology has affected most other industries with one very unique exception (I will get to that in a moment).
    As with all artistic creations, there is always a way to make everything faster and cheaper, however once you realize what the knock off is, many people choose to buy the original instead.
    For example many people prefer to buy hand crafted furniture over what is sold at the big box store. Others choose to buy digital copies of movies over a free pirated copy due to quality. There is almost always a quality loss with knock offs of an original.
    With that said I realize that 90% of the population won’t care if they have an AI knock off of an original work of art, however that remaining 10% of the population will likely pay a premium for the genuine article. Art is something that requires a story to go along with it. Those that truly appreciate a work of art want that whole story. What was happening in the artists life when a piece was created. What was their inspiration? How many or few did the artist make?
    There will always be a market for human created content and an original at that.
    Perhaps AI will force an artist outside of their comfort zone and require them to experiment with alternate ideas and different mediums to work with, but that could inevitably be a good thing.
    The one positive (exception) I could see from AI when it comes to art is if all of the famous works from all of history were inputted and the AI were to create a unique piece of art based on various styles from all of humanity, then that would be a unique AI creation that Is rooted in all of humanity. I think that would be something very unique and worthwhile to experience.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Bill. Great stuff in there, and it does give me some vague hope. Yes, an artist has to think around it, and I’m already figuring out methods to get around the AI. While the AI is busy assimilating human art, I also assimilated its creations and grew bored with the tool. We humans get bored easily, and ultimately, once we see through the veneer of AI created works, they become flat. Things that initially impressed me now strike me as repugnant because fake, something like the effect of something painted gold to appear made of gold.

      We are definitely in the WOW phase for new wave of AI art. But I think you are right that humans can just dismiss it with the wave of a hand, and become enamored with a homespun tapestry of the family cat in preference. It is perhaps a human fault, that no matter how brilliant something is — like rows of robots building cars in a modern factory — once we’ve seen it once or twice, we can lose all interest. Our interests may be rooted in biology, and the imperatives of being social, group animals. But I may be wrong and people will marry robots in the future.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Didn’t include this yesterday because it seemed a little too optimistic but today’s a different day so here it is: considering how fast the world’s changing right now, “art” is going to have to adjust to keep up anyway. And isn’t art about creativity? Can’t we expect humanity to find other ways to create if the head-spinning whizzbang wonderfulness of AI really can create better/faster/more efficiently? The transition might be brutal but sea changes usually are.

    Much to think about in your post – thank you for sharing it.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I didn’t respond to this right away because I didn’t wanna’ be a downer. You came up with something hopeful, but you forgot that no matter how you adapt, and no matter what you create, the result can be fed into AI and taken away from you.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Didn’t forget – can’t. I’ve fought the infringers, thieves, and “misappropriating” sh*heads too long and too hard to ever forget. EVERYTHING can be used by anyone for anything. I lose money bec of it. Maybe it’s tiny money, like $2 on a small print, but I need every penny so it’s big money to me. The loss of money isn’t as hurtful, tho, as the feeling of violation. They steal my soul every time! A while ago I stopped posting everywhere. I created just for the thrill of creating. But that hurt, too. I’d given up. So I began posting only the work that I didn’t care about. They could steal my skills but not my soul. But…….soulless art? Meh. No sales. So I began posting again. And in those intervening years the copyright situation got worse (think Amazon 3rd party sellers). Now I’m as careful as I can be. I share what I do and I live with the panic of knowing that it’s up for grabs, now by the AI people. It’s a horrible feeling but I refuse to let them win. I refuse to hide what I do out of fear. Does the world really need to see it? LOL – probably not. But I need to share it. And until I croak I can always make more. 🤗

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Didn’t forget – can’t. I’ve fought infringers, thieves, and “misappropriating” little sh*heads too long to ever forget. When they steal my work they take not only whatever skill went into but also part of my soul. The violation is hurtful! And the worry about it is real. A while ago I stopped posting online, didn’t share anywhere. But I couldn’t live that way. So I began posting work that was all skill, no soul, It didn’t sell. Eventually I began posting more and what do I find? The horrifying reach of AI! It’s pernicious but I refuse to let it stop me. Does the world really need to see what I do? Probably not. But I want to share it. And, until I croak, I can always make more.
        (FYI – this reply was a bit longer, better written, and more powerful but after I hit “Send” it evaporated. It’s not showing me the usual “bring held for moderation” thing – it’s just gone. If you end up with 2 please delete this one. The other’s better. Thnx!😁)


  9. I could never play chess well enough to defeat club champions, but I played it anyway because I liked it. Just because the world champions are AIs doesn’t take away that simple pleasure.

    I wonder in non-competitive areas like art, what does it mean to say that an AI is better. I suppose you could get it to paint a Rembrandt, but that would just be a fake, isn’t it? I suppose what you mean is that it becomes easier to fake things. Is that right?

    Liked by 1 person

  10. It’s understandable that artists are worried about.
    However There are no AI works of art if there isn’t a pool of images by real artists for the AI to learn and create a model. There are no AI works of art without humans. Artists revenue should come from the 10% of humans that will indeed pay for a premium work, AND from the images generated by these AI models. Very large enterprises are harvesting this precious data for free, billions of hours of human creativity, which without these AI models would never work, with many of them being copyrighted materials.
    Why is it wrong for google to put a copyrighted image on their search engine without paying for it, and yet if they use that same image to train a model should is ok?
    Many data is collected with the consent of users (voice data to treat speech recognition, face data etc) Yet I doubt many of there artists gave consent to these companies to use their illustrations/paintings to train theses AI’s.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The companies take the art without the permission of any artists. You are allowed to upload any work of art you can find on the internet, and use the AI to manipulate it.


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