AI Art is not Art
Artificial Intelligence is at our doorstep, and it could lead to the erosion of human creativity
Written by Olivia Schwab
In 2022, the Colorado State Fair’s annual art competition gave out prizes in all the usual categories: painting, quilting, sculpture. But one entrant, Jason Allen, didn’t make his entry with a brush and canvas. He created it with Midjourney, an artificial intelligence program that turns lines of text into hyper-realistic graphics.
Allen’s work took home the blue ribbon in the fair’s contest for digital art — making it one of the first AI-generated pieces to win such a prize, and setting off a fierce backlash from artists who accused him of cheating.
If you have been out of the loop, AI is a tool that uses supplemental logic processes to perform tasks that typically require human intelligence. It is the brain behind deep fakes of Jerry Seinfeld in “Pulp Fiction,” the TikTok For You page and the inspiration behind Steven Spielberg’s 2001 “A.I. Artificial Intelligence.” AI works through a digestive process. The model takes in existing content (in public domain as well as copyrighted material). From this, it creates a Frankenstein’s monster of information. The output looks new, but comes from existing material. The output can mimic the style of any artist who has ever lived, edit photos, and write entire screenplays, all with a short prompt.
AI-generated art has been around for years. But tools such as Midjourney have made it possible for amateurs to create complex, abstract or photorealistic works simply by typing out a few words. These apps have made many human artists understandably nervous about their own futures — why would anyone pay for art when they could generate it themselves? They have also generated fierce debates about the ethics of AI art, and opposition from people who claim that these apps are essentially a high-tech form of plagiarism.
Art tells stories of experiences, things that have actually been imagined by real human people. Could you imagine how dull “Breaking Bad” or “Forrest Gump” would have been if it was written by a computer? True creativity cannot happen without sentience. It is crucial for our culture to have diverse and vibrant works of art.
"True creativity cannot happen without sentience. It is crucial for our culture to have diverse and vibrant works of art."
Recently, the Writers’ Guild of America (WGA) has had their own problems with AI. More than 11,000 WGA affiliates are on strike against the Alliance of Motion Pictures and Television Producers (AMPTP). This dispute has been largely concerned with industry-wide problems with staffing, workflow, and wages as entertainment shifts from broadcast to streaming. This is not the first time a major WGA strike has put Hollywood on the brink of a full production shutdown, but it is the first strike where artificial intelligence has played a role. This is where the WGA’s issues arise. The vast majority of writers and other artists have not given consent for their works to be passed off as something “new” or “original.” Artists also do not receive compensation for their works being used to train AI.
In May, the WGA publicized its stance on AI and scripts: “AI can’t write or rewrite literary material; can’t be used as source material; and MBA-covered material can’t be used to train AI.” In other words, the WGA came to a nuanced consensus to preserve the right to use AI as a tool, not as a replacement for the arts. The AMPTP rejected these terms, offering instead to hold “annual meetings to discuss advancements in technology.” The Alliance’s unwillingness to outline strict policies around generative AI tools has led to a stalemate.
"The idea that AI will democratize art and entertainment is ridiculous. Art created by an unskilled and untalented prompt-writer is not art people want to see."
The AMPTP and other AI enthusiasts see the tool as an equalizer that enables individuals with no experience or creative input to produce cinematic worlds. It is easy to imagine AI being used by executives to undermine writers. Film and TV producer Todd Lieberman, whose credits include (of all things) “Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers,” said, “This (AI) is going to change the world. One year from now will there be a script written by AI? Yes.”
Setting aside the commercial implications, there is also the artistic aspect of this man vs. machine dynamic. The idea that AI will democratize art and entertainment is ridiculous. Art created by an unskilled and untalented prompt-writer is not art people want to see.
Artificial intelligence machines capable of generating literary and artistic works that were once “science fiction” are at our doorstep. These generative AI technologies, which can generate new content because they incorporate millions of existing literary and artistic works into the fabric of their software, will have a significant impact on the future of the arts. The writers’ strike and the broader debate about AI's role in content creation highlight the need for clear guidelines, ethical standards, and fair compensation structures as AI technologies continue to advance. It also underscores the importance of preserving human creativity. Finding a middle ground that respects both human creators and technological progress is a significant challenge facing the entertainment industry and society at large. All Hollywood strikes have been about technological change. The latest change, the use of AI, is still ominous and ambiguous.