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Putting the “Art” in “Artificial Intelligence”

By Skylar Dorr


You’ve probably either learned about or heard of the artists who have made history and whose work has spoken to thousands of people: Picasso, Warhol, Da Vinci, DALL-E, Rembrandt; the list goes on and on.











One of these images is a famous piece of history; “Portrait of a Man Riding Horseback” (1740) by George Stubbs. The other is a completely fabricated piece of artwork made using Bing Image Creator. Are you able to tell the difference between a historical piece of art, and something created by AI? If you’re not familiar with art history, this task might be more difficult than you think. (answer at end of article)



If DALL-E doesn’t sound very familiar, it’s not because the history books forgot about him. DALL-E is one of many Artificial Intelligence (AI) platforms that have emerged in recent years. DALL-E specifically is linked to Chat-GPT, another AI platform that is now steadily on the rise. In the aforementioned platform, you input a prompt such as “a vase of roses on a table with a gingham tablecloth in a watercolor art style” and this image generator will give you exactly that. No hard work has to be done, no purchasing of watercolors is required and no canvas is necessary. Just one carefully worded command is all you need to receive exactly what you asked for on a silver platter, or in this case, a gingham tablecloth. Why bother doing it yourself when you can tell a robot to visualize an idea in 10 seconds? Why bother hiring someone else to do it? 


With the steady rise of AI art, it is becoming entirely possible that it can eventually end up putting human artists out of work. However, there is also the possibility that by embracing this new form of technology, it can become a complementary tool to help artists get their ideas in order.


So are these AI image generation platforms a friend or a foe of the art world?


Job Displacement in the Art World

The idea of job displacement specifically being an issue that arises from the introduction of new technology isn’t as much of a foreign concept as one would think. 


“I’d have to go throughout all design history to talk about innovation after innovation that replaced a particular discipline in the design and creative field,” said David Pierce, an assistant professor of Art and Art History and program lead for the graphic design department at Adelphi University. 


Pierce said that for example when the desktop computer was introduced, it replaced typographers because individuals were no longer needed to set type. 


It is likely that the introduction of AI can be just another version of the introduction of the desktop computer; history essentially repeating itself.


 “But to me, this feels a little different,” Pierce said, “I could put in a prompt and it would generate an image, and I think that’s different than some element of the creative process being replaced.” 


With AI image generators, absolutely no physical work on the individual's part is required. It can take an idea and visualize it, mimic art style and include or exclude any elements the user wishes all at the price of a sentence or two. While that can sound like an incredible luxury, the element of accessibility and simplicity is what sets it apart from other technological advancements.


 “I hope that AI doesn’t take away from working artists and designers’ field, particularly in the professional illustration field or the professional design field, which can be threatening,” said Kellyann Monaghan, chair and professor in the Art and Art History Department at Adelphi.


Taking “Art Thief” to the Extreme

As AI image generators are really in their early stages of commercial use, it hasn’t yet stolen any jobs in a noticeable fashion; however these platforms are stealing something much more significant: artists’ work. These images aren't just appearing from thin air as some would like to believe. According to the Center for Art Law, image generators work by taking a prompt and then scanning huge datasets of various images that are labeled into a set of categories in order to become a new unique piece of art. However, these datasets include pieces of copyrighted work by human artists who have not given the platform permission to take elements away from their work and most don’t even have any knowledge that their art is being taken in the first place. 


“The biggest concern by artists now is honestly getting their images used and them getting no credit or anything,” said Justin Kresse, a senior graphic design major at Adelphi. 


While the image that is produced is not identical to the images the AI scans, it is common to find that they have incorporated or even straight-up copied elements of other artists' work.  “I’ve seen a few images where you can actually see the original signature by the former artists,” said Monaghan.


Using AI Responsibly 

It’s not only AI that is taking work from others and passing it off as its own, but the students using these platforms have already begun to follow suit. Monaghan explained that in their department, there have already been a handful of cases where faculty have become concerned that students have been generating their projects with AI. But with AI image generators being on the rise, the department has had to adapt to make sure that the issue of plagiarism is nipped in the bud. 


“A way we have discussed to solve that problem is that students have to show the stages of their work and the process,” said Monaghan, “They can’t just show a final digital art piece.”

Adobe Firefly, DALL-E, Bing Image Creator and Midjourney are AI art platforms that are only continuing to grow and adapt. And it seems like they’re here to stay with the popularity that has begun to surround them in recent years. 


It begs the question: Since AI isn’t going anywhere, is there a way to instead embrace these platforms rather than fear them? Stephen Williamsen, a senior studio art major, believes that AI can be used as a tool to help rather than to hurt. 


“It's like a lightbox. You can use a lightbox as a tool. You can use it to trace your own work, to apply patterns; it’s got good applications,” said Williamsen. He also noted that AI can be used to upscale the quality of a reference image, something that would be incredibly helpful in his profession. 


AI can produce images quicker than a human–and sometimes better. But it is important to remember that there are qualities that humans have that AI cannot even come close to replicating. To stay relevant in an age where technology is expanding rapidly, Pierce recommended studying the history of design so that you can always understand visuals’ underlying history and metaphors that can’t easily be put into words. 


“The physicality of things I think is going to make a comeback,” said Pierce. “AI isn’t going to easily make a new painting or a new drawing or an illustration used in a design that had some level of the hand.” 


He also warned students to not outright ignore the issue of AI, because it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. 


A Potential Tool

AI has the potential to be an amazing tool for collaboration. It can help give people ideas for what to do with their next art project and it provides tools that aid in setting a piece of artwork apart from all of the others out there. However, it must be exercised with caution, or else your artwork can no longer be called completely “yours.” 


“I think it can be good in moderation,” said Williamsen, “but I also think you need to recognize that if you’re using it past a certain point you are taking away from what is your work.” 


But even the work that is done without the use of AI runs a risk of being taken and used in someone else's generated image, without an artist’s permission or knowledge. There's no escaping it, so students must work just a little bit harder in order to set themselves apart from this system of data and code. AI may be quicker, but its creations are still dependent on a human producing a prompt to get the image generation going. 


“What they will always say in the industry is ‘we’re looking for creatives that have good ideas,’” said Pierce. More than technical ability, more than speed and accuracy, ideas are the currency of the creative. Don’t be deterred by this new technology, because we humans have one thing that AI doesn’t: a fresh, bright mind. 


Answer to sidebar: The one on the right is generated by AI.

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