On AI “Art”

AI has been difficult to avoid talking about, especially as an artist. While I don’t think the technology inherently is flawed- certain aspects of it are already an irreplaceable component of how we live, I think it’s critical to discuss the ethics of using it for generative art, and what it means for copyright and artists.

I am a fierce advocate of human art. I think art is intrinsic to life, and one of the things that defines humanity itself. AI “art” is an affront to that. Entering prompts to describe a scene and waiting for the output is not art, and should never be considered as such. It is already replacing jobs of concept artists, and in some extreme cases these real artists are being used to “fix” the flaws inherent in generative art for pennies on the dollar. When you consider that the components of these flawed outputs were already assembled from plagiarized work, it becomes even more insulting. As it relates to landscape photography, I see it as entirely absurd. The places a user might prompt exist, and the conditions and weather can be checked. You can’t change the orientation of the sunset in the real world, sculpt a mountain to a different shape… Why these amalgamations are considered legitimate is genuinely beyond my comprehension.

Some arguments in favor of AI art compare it to the evolution of photography in lieu of drawing and painting, but I disagree with that assessment. Photography is a different form of creation, independent of the other artform. It doesn’t require drawing or painting to exist. I can go out and take a photo of a hill, and I’m not plagiarizing a drawing of the same location. AI, on the other hand, does. It is entirely reliant on the creations of existing art. The fact it isn’t considered plagiarism is a legal oversight- a consequence of a technology existing before any laws can catch up. These same people also tend to argue that AI is just another tool for artists, and should be embraced as such. I think there is a world in which it could be true, but the way our society works prevents that outcome. The reality is that AI is being developed to replace all artists as quickly as possible. To dilute the very idea of “art”, such that it loses all intrinsic value to be replaced by a commercialized commodity for sale at the cheapest price it can be sold.

The developers and its fiercest proponents see the pursuit of making art as wasted time. In all honesty it should never replace “true” artists, and I do believe some day the general public will realize it too, but it will be a difficult fight. And a lot, lot of people will be worse off for it.

It’s not always about first-order impacts: “Walmart sure is cheap and efficient!”, they say, “Surely there will still be support for local stores, even if they’re more expensive, people still want quality sometimes!” When in reality, Walmart guts local stores in every small town they’re in. When it’s no longer “profitable” they leave, having leeched all the businesses out of a 100-mile radius, leaving a dried husk of a town. Starbucks moves in across the street to a local place, sucks business dry and moves on when employees try to unionize. Meanwhile, rent has gone up, both places are now closed, and the neighborhood is left without a coffee shop and two new empty storefronts. It is especially predatory when these corporations can distribute and sell their products cheaper, at cost or even taking a loss, to drive out competition.

I’ve dreamed of working for National Geographic since elementary school. If they now decide to pivot to all AI-generated imagery because “why would we pay a photographer to go on assignment for us when we could just generate new images from our library”, imagine the impacts on journalism. On the livelihoods of everyone about to be replaced. UBI does not exist (yet) and I don’t know how likely it is in my lifetime. Meanwhile, we’re letting people who don’t appreciate art tell everyone that the crafts we’re dedicating our lives to is not worthy of existence. Like we’re letting McDonalds CFO’s tell us that Michelin stars are superfluous. Or people who haven’t finished a book since high school inform us that reading is a waste of time. And we’re, on a whole, listening. Cost goes down so profit goes up. And capitalism rewards profit over everything. My dream jobs are disappearing at the hands of oblivious, greedy, neo-capitalist tech-bros.

And if that happens, I will not forgive them.

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