August 9, 2023

The Impacts of AI-Generated Art

Written by
Matt Duffin

The world of art and creativity has already been impacted in many ways by the emergence of AI-generated art. Platforms like BlueWillow and similar services like Midjourney and Dall-E 2 are capable of producing incredibly realistic high-quality images after being prompted with just a few words. This new technology is causing many to wonder - is this the future of art? Is this legal? How can I get involved?

While AI-generated art provides new creative possibilities, it also raises many concerns around copyright, ethics, authenticity, and the potential displacement of human artists. In this article, we'll explore the exponential growth in AI art quality and accessibility, debates around ownership and originality, impacts on creative industries, and considerations around the limitations of artificial creativity. 

The Emergence of AI-Generated Art

AI-generated art has only recently gained widespread recognition due to the high-quality images produced, but the development of AI art has been underway for decades. 

In 1973, Harold Cohen's AARON AI painting program marked an early milestone, creating colorful abstract drawings. Other pioneers like Roman Verostko developed algorithmic procedures to mimic the gestures of a human holding a pen. Despite their novelty, these early attempts at AI generated art never gained widespread attention or acceptance.

The modern breakthrough came with generative adversarial networks (GANs). GANs pit two neural networks against each other to generate and critique new ideas based on the network’s training data. This clever implementation of machine learning allowed for the creation of high-quality synthetic images.

In 2018, the AI-generated Portrait of Edmond de Belamy sold for over $400,000 at Christie's auction house. 

Edmond de Belamy by Paris-based arts-collective Obvious sold for $432,500, 2018

The following year in 2019, the Rutgers Artificial Intelligence Lab's AI art titled The Next Rembrandt won first place in a Utah art competition, astonishing judges with its ability to generate a new "Rembrandt" painting based on analyzing the Dutch Master's works. 

"The Next Rembrandt" by Rutgers Artificial Intelligence Lab, 2019.

Today's generative AI image systems demonstrate significant advancements. Leveraging vast datasets and computational power to create photorealistic images from text prompts alone, the rapid progress raises many questions about the soul and intent behind artificial art.

Impacts of AI-Generated Images on Artists and Collectors

The emergence of AI-generated art is proving to have widespread impacts on artistic processes, market dynamics, and the perception of art. For human artists, AI provides new creative tools, collaborators, and inspirations. However, some fear AI art could make traditional skills and styles commoditized or obsolete. The market value and demand for existing art may shift as AI-generated alternatives become commonplace.

Audience appetites are also changing, with some eager to embrace AI co-creations while others insist that “AI art isn’t real art”. For art collectors and investors, AI is challenging the notions of scarcity and authenticity that give fine art its inherent value.

Case studies reveal artists like Refik Anadol who coach AI systems to create novel multimedia installations. Others like Jason Allen sparked debate by winning art competitions with AI augmentations. In 2022, Christie's sold its first purely AI-generated portraits by algorithmic artist ANNIE. The AI art auction market is projected to expand but still values the human touch - Beeple’s “Human One” fetched $28.9 million by blending algorithmic and human craft into a physical dynamic NFT project.

Beeple’s “Human One” dynamic physical art fetched $29 million, 2021.

As AI becomes more and more widely adopted, perceptions are shifting. Some see democratizing potential, while others fear the death of uniqueness and originality. Museums and galleries are dealing with a tricky situation: should art made by AI be put on display? Some view these AI creations as eerie and soulless. More and more critics are also arguing that AI art hits a creative ceiling - the algorithms can remix existing styles well enough, but can't conjure the kind of meaningful self-expression that comes from living life.

Ethical and Legal Implications

Things get tricky when we talk about the ethics and laws around AI art. Some argue that AI creations can never be "authentic" art since they come from algorithms that are trained on existing works. Also, who owns what the AI generates? Do companies behind the algorithms now hold intellectual property rights, even if the art has no human author? Does the user who wrote the prompt own it. Currently there is no universal consensus on this question with legal systems in different countries often coming to opposite conclusions.

Both Midjourney and Stability.AI are currently facing lawsuits in the United States for allegations of copyright infringement and unauthorized use of artists' work. Groups of digital artists are arguing that the image tools, which were trained on vast amounts of internet-scraped images, are creating derivative works based on their original art or "style" and are violating intellectual property rights. The court's decision on these cases could have far-reaching implications on copyright laws regarding AI-generated art.

There's also the worry that AI could put artists out of work. If algorithms get so good at mimicking styles and generating endless "works", will actual human artists struggle to compete? Not everyone buys that - some believe AI will be more of an assistant than a replacement. But the concern is lingering out there as this technology takes off. We may need to rethink ideas around originality and IP as machines keep improving creatively.

Future Perspectives

Looking ahead, there are endless avenues for how AI capabilities could shape art. As algorithms grow more advanced and the ability for artists to train their own "models" becomes easier, perhaps we will see AI artists develop distinct creative signatures, rather than just relying on the AI engine to mimic existing styles. It’s quite possible that collaborative human-AI art may become the norm, or at least recognized as a legitimate niche with machines as creative partners rather than competitors. It's currently possible to generate a portrait of a person, say, in the style of Van Gogh. The mechanism doesn't exist currently, but perhaps in the future a living artist could be compensated for the use of their style in creating a family portrait, similar to how digital rights are managed in the music industry.

Before this can happen though, many questions still need answering. How will notions of originality and expression evolve regarding art made by algorithms? Might AI reach a ceiling in technical ability but lack the essence that makes art deeply human? As artists adopt these tools, will algorithms enhance or constrain their visions?  Will artists be able to work through legal systems to garner more rights and a greater share of revenues? Will a completely new style of art emerge from human artists as a reaction to AI, just as the advent of new technologies such as photography have spawned a variety of modern art movements.

The intersections of technology and creativity offer endless possibilities. As AI capabilities progress, we are sure to continue seeing profound impacts, displacement, and adaptation across the art world.

Wrapping Up

As AI art becomes widely adopted and accessible, we’re seeing more and more questions regarding the legal, ethical, and creative implications of these tools.

While AI art generates fresh opportunities, risks to traditional arts and artists remain. The path forward will require adaptation from artists and art enthusiasts alike. Like every disruptive technology, growing pains are expected and as unsettling as it is for some artists, this period of change promises to reveal new capabilities as human and machine creativity meet somewhere in the middle.

Author Bio

Matt Duffin is the Founder of Combining his background in Mechanical Engineering with a passion for tech, Matt utilizes his expertise to help others leverage AI technology and tools. Views expressed in this article are the author's own.