Artist James Sanders on AI generated art and what it means for creativity

James Sanders London Diamonds AI generated digital painting.

It’s a heavy news cycle out there these days and you may not have noticed the furore that surrounded a fine arts competition in September.

When Jason Allen’s Theatre D’opera Spatial won the Colorado State Fair’s digital art category, it caused huge controversy in the art world. Why? Because the image is AI generated.

Fine art competition winner created through an AI generator

It wasn’t until the category winner was announced that it became clear that the artist had created the piece using the AI art generator Midjourney, which is hosted on Discord.

So, this elaborate epic sci-fi fantasy piece of art was generated by AI and then upscaled using AI Gigapixel to present it on canvas.

This raises an existential question regarding the nature of art itself and whether AI generated art can be considered true art.

Easy-to-use AI text-to-art generators are on the rise

Over the last year or so, there have been a few AI art generators making social media waves. Some of the most recent, including Midjourney, but also the likes of Stable Diffusion and DALL-E 2 can make incredible art based on just a few prompts in text.

You can input an art style, such as Renaissance and a couple of characters from existing art or literature and the AI will generate a brand-new image that could take your breath away.

Naturally, this has caused huge concern among the art community, but also among designers, photographers and, indeed, anyone in the creative arts space.

Judges say the win stimulates great conversation

In response to the backlash, Allen stated that he had entered the piece into the competition and stated clearly that it was ‘computer generated via Midjourney’. However, the judges don’t seem to have got the memo and considered it against every other piece of digital art.

Of course, they know now and interestingly decided to stay with their original decision. They praised the work for generating a ‘great conversation’.

Is AI art cheating though?

The question for many artists and art lovers is whether pieces that are generated by AI are ‘cheating’. Artists that are pro-AI argue that creating a piece of art capable of winning prestigious prizes is not simple.

Allen says to create the winner, he spent many weeks generating hundreds of images and then fine-tuning them.

Other artists who have created AI generated pieces beg to differ. For example, artist John Lewis said that it took him “about 10 seconds” to recreate something similar to Allen’s prize winner.

According to Lewis, AI generators like Midjourney are extremely limited in artistic expression. In an interview with Creative Bloq, he says that generators like this pump out more or less random images loosely connected by an art style.

In other words, there is no way to fine-tune or really make much difference to the output, other than the initial text prompts that go into it.

AI generators are tools

Perhaps then, the skill with AI generated art comes from knowing how to get what you want through the prompt. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we’re now seeing the emergence of marketplaces just for AI art prompts, offering another avenue of monetisation.

The first competition win for AI generated art has caused a lot of debate, but there’s certainly an argument that AI generators are just like any other tool, such as Photoshop.

In which case, should there be any limits on AI art being entered in competitions? A simple solution is for art competitions to create a new category for AI art, that must come with clear explanations of the tools used.

An artist’s view – James Sanders on AI art

As an artist, I see AI art as having plenty of pros and cons to its use. There is a massive benefit for artists in being able to speed up the iteration process and scroll through concepts much more quickly.

Negatives include the copyright minefield of using already existing art online to generate new art through AI tinkering. This could lead to all kinds of legal problems or, perhaps even more negatively, remove the original artist’s rights with little recourse.

The idea of replacing all art with AI generated art is outlandish. While AI can imitate some of the aspects of an artist’s real-life process, it will never bring true emotion to a piece.

As a tool, I think it’s fascinating and I’m keen to see where it takes the creative arts, but we need to ensure there is clarity surrounding its use across the board.

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