AI Artwork

photo courtesy of OpenAI

photo courtesy of OpenAI

By Lauren Felder, Editor-in-Chief

Exponential growth in artificial intelligence (AI) has given rise to a host of new technology and AI tools, including software that assists humans in performing tasks. These tools have been hailed as game-changers due to their ability to help make work easier, automate tedious tasks, and even create original work through their “writing” capabilities. 

That is, according to the AI text generator I fed a mere two fragmented sentences to curate an unending page of similar openers. 

Simply choosing one of the first websites to come up under the Google search “AI writing generator,” I found CopyAI. With a similar name and concept to OpenAI, a website that’s been making its rounds among Tamalpais High students, this free-to-use website requires no more than 30 seconds to produce paragraphs upon paragraphs of content as specific as the description you provide. This program produced the above introduction paragraph.

While the software quickly loses its nearly human style with the more “creative” your requests get, AI-generated text isn’t as identifiable as the average reader might hope. According to MIT Technology Review, researchers at Cornell University found that “people found fake news articles generated by GPT-2 [an OpenAI product] credible about 66% of the time.” 

On the flip side of this whole phenomenon is AI-generated artwork, which this article will be taking a closer look at; for more on AI-generated writing, read Will AI ever write as well as people can?”. Along with a bevy of other programs, OpenAI is an image generator that compiles a range of AI systems that have been gaining popularity in the media recently. 

The following images were curated using one of these machines: DALLE-2. 

For each AI-generated image, I prompted the generator with “red tail hawk,” choosing three styles–“artistic portrait,” “photo,” and “dark fantasy,” respectively, out of the twelve offered. Similar to CopyAI, the images were finished in mere seconds, with striking detail. 

Several students assessed the photos, their observations aligning with the given prompt for a few of the produced images.  

“I think the second image is easily the closest to what you would see in a photo of a hawk or osprey … it just looks slightly off, but it is a nice art style,” Tam junior, art student, and bird enthusiast Cate Benedict said, guessing what kind of bird was stylistically depicted across the three images.

“I think the first drawing is a falcon and the second image is a hawk,” sophomore and artist Sophie Delacrose said. “Though the second image almost looks like a reference photo for the [falcon].” 

However, when it comes to AI-generated artwork, the quality of content or adhesion to a prompt is not the only aspect viewers critically examine. Rather at large, conversations revolve around two central discussions. First, is AI-generated artwork actually artwork? And second, is AI-generated artwork harmful to artists? 

The difficulty in examining the former discourse is how subjective artwork is. If you turn to elementary definitions, you’ll find that the Oxford Dictionary states that art is “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination.” Although this definition highlights humanity as being a necessary component, it doesn’t hold up as substantial reasoning for why AI-generated works shouldn’t be classified as art. As AI artwork relies heavily on human input, both in terms of prompt selection and the massive database of human-generated art that these AI machines are drawing from, there is still ever-present humanity to the process. 

“Truly machine-generated art without any human intent behind-the-scenes doesn’t exist yet. When it does, we’ll have to grapple with whether it’s still art at all,” Dylan Freedman, a programmer who researched AI-generated art at Google, said in an interview with the publication Quartz.

Others believe that the presence of intention is what classifies art as art.

“One might argue intent is key to the creation of art, for it is with a goal in mind that an artist produces their work–whether it be to provoke, to please, or to profit,” Oxford student Josh Boddington said in an article from his school’s publication. 

But similar to conversations around a supposed lack of humanity, this point comes up short when you consider the person behind an AI-generated work. Is there not an inherent intent behind AI art when someone comes up with a prompt, hoping for the generator to produce a work that aligns with their mental image? 

However, arguing if AI artwork demonstrates intent or not isn’t as moving as examining the necessity of intentionality as a whole. 

“Works can hold a symbolic meaning very personal to the viewer, and each person in a gallery space will have their own memories and feelings regarding certain ones they view…It matters not whether the pieces we appreciate are made by humans or animals, nor does it matter whether they are the product of lines of code. What matters is that we determine art for ourselves,” Boddington wrote. 

I believe this to be true of traditional, as in human-produced, art, so what prevents that same logic from being applied to AI creations? Are the feelings an AI image evokes in a viewer less than simply because a human didn’t construct the artwork?

But even if AI-generated art is accepted as a genuine art form, is it still inherently harmful to artists, particularly those whose art is theoretically a part of the database? As subjective as the former discussion is, this second central topic is even more convoluted; even more controversial, particularly among online spaces such as Twitter where discourse tends to escalate out of control. 

“I’ll see a video of AI art and it’s interesting because the user will use [AI] in tandem with art they’ve made to create another product. But then everyone in the comments is like ‘unfollowing you,’ ‘I can’t believe you’d do AI art,’ everybody’s like ‘block this page,’ saying ‘you are taking away jobs from artists,’” junior and art student Quinlyn Kennel said. “I don’t get that very emotional response as much because I feel like you can use AI art as an interesting tool. That can’t be the only way artists create, but I also don’t think AI is the end of all artists.”

The loathing Kennel describes most commonly stems from the issue that AI art generators train themselves using all art published online they have access to, most of which isn’t copyright free or otherwise explicitly offered for such entities to use. This, albeit simplified, process brings words like “stealing” and “plagiarism” into the conversation. 

“Since so much of AI art is built off of stolen work given to the bot, I would say that while it is considered art, every work contains a bit of artwork from other artists, technically making all of it plagiarized,” Benedict said.

On the other hand, the very fact that a massive amount of artwork has been scanned to train these generators could stand to reason that AI art is not glorified plagiarism. That is, no more than any other modern-day artist’s work. 

“AI art generators are effectively taking all art of human history and smashing it together. And some algorithm has been created to figure out how you translate what you take from where based on what keywords someone typed in … I just think it’s not worth getting upset over. You know what I mean? Or really worrying about,” visual arts teacher Zachary Gilmour said. 

This detailing of the process is one way to look at how all artists, whatever their given art form may be, create their work. AI programs don’t simply cut and paste the images it scans. These generators look at whatever source images they deem relevant, using said images and trained experience to put out a unique product. Although a more recent development in the technological world, these steps are hardly any different from what human artists have been doing since the day they picked up a crayon.

After examining both sides of the AI artwork debacle, it appears that AI art is more similar to the art forms we already celebrate than many critics seem to acknowledge. An essential part of reconciling with this interpretation is recognizing the power we, both viewers and artists, have when it comes to appraising AI art; a responsibility spread across all forms of media consumption. 

“AI artwork is harmful only as much as you let it be,” Gilmour said.