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Will artists be replaced by AI?

James Huang | 2023.03.11

Will AI Replace Artists?

If you haven’t considered whether AI art will replace artists, it’s time to start. AI art has taken over online channels like Instagram, Pinterest, and Artstation, and people are beginning to wonder "Will artists be replaced by AI?"

What Is AI Art?

You might have heard of an AI artwork winning a digital art competition in Colorado. This is just one of many examples of AI art outcompeting traditional forms of artwork. Artist Jason Allen created the winning piece using a software called Midjourney, which uses artificial intelligence and a large database of internet-sourced images to generate digital artwork.

Similar programs have become increasingly popular among both artists and non-artists. The algorithms have become advanced enough to replicate Renaissance-level masterworks in just a few minutes by typing a few word prompts. However, many of these raw products still have noticeable flaws and can be identified as AI-created art. Nevertheless, untrained eyes might easily be fooled. For instance, an AI-generated piece sold for over $90,000. Buyers of artificially generated art might not be able to distinguish it from art created by human hands. This trend might become more frequent as the algorithm improves.

What’s the Big Deal?

Creating AI art is currently an imperfect science. When scrolling through an Instagram feed, one can usually spot an AI artwork. The programs still have difficulty getting eyes and hands right, and they usually lack a general sense of design. However, for most people, many of these works are now indistinguishable from an artist’s hand. As a result, people are flooding social media with AI art, selling prints, Patreon subscriptions, and more. Moreover, the technology is getting more sophisticated by the day.

Not only is AI art faster and cheaper than hiring an artist, but it also requires no technical artistic skills and often produces incredible results.

What Do Artists Think About AI Art?

Many artists are excited about the possibilities, while others fear for their livelihoods. How can an illustrator make a living charging $500-600 per piece when anyone with a decent computer can create ten artworks of higher quality in a matter of minutes and sell them at $50 each? AI art scares many artists, and they see it as a threat. However, some artists in the community are excited about it. They are amazed by what they can create in Midjourney, after struggling for so long to develop their own art skills to a comparable level.

Being an artist is hard right now. The threshold for technical skill has dramatically increased in recent years, even though demand for art remains high. Art directors expect concept artists to be proficient in various digital software, including Photoshop, Blender, Zbrush, and more. They also expect smaller turnaround times to meet the demands of huge film and game titles. So, it’s only natural for artists to jump on the first thing that allows them to create better quality art more quickly.

Many of these artists don’t realize that they are perpetuating the increase in demand. The more artists use this software, the more advanced it becomes, and the higher the skill threshold rises.

Will Artists Still Be Needed?

The threat is far greater than initially imagined. First, it’s absurd to think that artists are a “necessary” part of the AI art equation. At first, many AI artists will consider themselves “curators” or “promptists”. Some artists even boast about the skill needed to input the right word prompts to get a particular result. However, the capacity for AI to generate the prompts needed to create the artwork is built into the programs themselves. The more people use the software, the more it learns what prompts will generate the most desirable results.

In short: AI does not need us to generate artwork. Human creative input is a facade that aids in refining the technology that has the potential to fully replace artists.

The Best Case Scenario

Without active intervention, the best-case scenario will likely be something like this:

At the highest levels of professional art, an artist-AI symbiosis would be required to keep up with demand. The most adaptable artists are already incorporating AI into their workflows. They’re already skilled enough to use the software to improve their workflow and work quality.

As for the rest of us, AI-generated art from non-artists and artists alike will likely become widespread and cheap. It will outcompete amateur and professional artists in most commercial realms. If you want "great art," it will make more sense to have a robot create it for a fraction of the cost than paying an amateur artist right out of art school.

Secondly, quality handcrafted (even digital) art could become far more valuable. Not necessarily for everyday commercial projects, but as part of an artist's brand.

Oil painters, artisans, and ceramicists have not gone out of business, despite the widespread availability of cheaper, even higher quality products. Some people don't want just any fish earrings; they want a pair made by a specific artist. Human-made art would be firmly cemented in the realm of collectible curiosities of the upper class.

AI Art Will Change Everything

Of course, people are going to buy and trade AI art, and it's going to become a huge part of a highly competitive art industry. It's going to put a lot of people out of work and force others to adapt. It is possible that in some cases, people will still want to hire a person. They won't want art created by Midjourney; they want art created by Artist X, who may or may not use AI in their work. Some people may want an artist who uses AI, while others will think it's cheap and soulless. Either way, it's tied to the creator and their brand somehow.

Also, people love to see the process. They want to see the artwork created from scratch before their eyes. Who wants to see process videos of artists plugging words into an algorithm and watching the program spit out different paintings?

What Can We Do?

I don't want to live in a world where machines are responsible for telling our stories, generating our ideas, and expressing the most ancient and essential quality of being human—our art. Unfortunately, we can't simply ignore this trend.

If you're an artist, it's important to stay informed about the advancements in AI art and how it can impact your career. While AI-generated art has become increasingly popular and accessible, it still has its limitations in terms of design and technical skill. However, the technology is improving rapidly, and it's important to consider the potential long-term effects on the art industry. As the threshold for technical skill increases, artists may need to adapt and incorporate AI into their workflow to stay competitive.

Will artists be replaced by AI?
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