AI Ethics Left Hanging When AI Wins Art Contest And Human Artists Are Fuming

Where will we draw the line between human-generated art and AI-generated art?


Can AI make art?

If so, should we bestow the acclaimed title of artisan upon said AI?

Great questions.

Let’s unpack things and see where the world stands on these mind-bending concerns. A crucial undercurrent has to do with AI Ethics and how we as a society perceive and want to make use of AI. For my ongoing and extensive coverage of AI Ethics and Ethical AI, see the link here and the link here, just to name a few.

News stories this past few days have made AI and art an extremely hot topic.

You see, the whole conundrum about Artificial Intelligence and art was recently thrust into the public eye when an AI “artbot” seemingly won an art contest. The headlines regarding this matter have ranged from fervent outrage to a sense of sorrowful acquiescence that it was only a matter of time before AI would prevail in the creative field of artistry. Some even claim that we’ve already seen AI comeuppance in art and that there is nothing new in this latest occurrence other than it managed to touch a nerve on social media.

Amid all the heated debate in general, there are a lot of facts about this latest incident that muddy the waters and tend to undercut the shallow headlines and vitriolic tweets that the story has generated. It might be useful to take a moment and calmly consider the actual specifics, which I will be doing throughout this discussion.

Meanwhile, one perhaps beneficial outcome of the reported story is that AI Ethics managed to suddenly get some long overdue recognition in the media at large. Whenever an AI-themed man-bites-dog story hits the airwaves and goes viral on social media, public opinions start to weigh in. We will examine the various qualms and complaints expressed in the public discourse about this brewing AI Ethics riddle.

First, let’s lay out the facts of the deemed newsworthy snowball that ultimately started a cantankerous snowfall avalanche.

The Colorado State Fair is where the competition in this case took place. The Fair is an annual event that has a hearty 150-year-old tradition initially focused on livestock. An eventual expansion of activities included the inclusion of a fine arts contest. There is certainly nothing unusual about state fairs having art contests. It is a common occurrence these days.

Entrants for the Colorado State Fair art contest must choose to enter either as an emerging artist considered to be an amateur or enter as a professional artist. This is clearly noted on the Colorado State Fair website:

  • “The Fine Arts Exhibition is one of the longest-running and finest traditions of the Colorado State Fair. The Fine Arts Exhibition provides an unmatched opportunity for both Emerging Artists and Professional Artists from around the state to participate in a quality exhibition.”

Given that the Fair has both an art competition and a livestock competition, the overarching rules of the Fair make this affirmative statement about the requirements for entry:

  • “Every animal or article shall be entered and exhibited in the name of the bona fide owner.”

A similar and slightly more specific rule is mentioned related to the Fine Arts competition:

  • “All items entered for the competition must be entered in the name of the person who created the Entry.”

To try and ensure that the competitions are run in a good and balanced manner, there is an appeals process if an entrant is thought to have violated the rules:

  • “Whenever any person believes that an exhibitor has engaged in any activity that violates the competition requirements of the Fair or engaged in any unethical activity during the course of a competition, such person may provide his or her allegations of wrong-doing to the Management for review.”

The Fair can decide to overturn an entry:

  • “Management reserves the right to vacate as ineligible for competition and order the removal of any entry that has been entered in violation of these general competition requirements or of any specific competition requirements.”

Within the Fine Arts contest, there were these categories that covered the emerging artist entries:

  • Painting
  • Drawing/Printmaking
  • Sculpture 3D/Ceramics/Fiber Art
  • Photography
  • Digital Arts/Digitally-Manipulated Photography
  • Mixed Media
  • Jewelry/Metalsmithing
  • Heritage

An official list of the winners in each category is posted online (list dated August 29, 2022).

For the category of Digital Arts/Digitally-Manipulated Photography, the first-place winner is indicated as follows:

  • Jason Allen for art submission entitled “Théâtre D’opéra Spatial”

This entry was considered a blue-ribbon first-place winner and received a competition prize of $300.

The art entries were submitted in physical form (rather than being an online competition). Jason Allen, the above-mentioned winner of first place in the Digital Arts/Digitally-Manipulated Photography, had submitted three art pieces. An $11 submission fee was paid for each one. The three pieces had been each composed on a computer and the final results that Jason favored were then printed onto canvas by him so that the artworks could be physically submitted to the Colorado State Fair art competition.

All in all, everything would seem to be straightforward and without any controversy.

Here’s how the brouhaha got underway.

Turns out that the aforementioned first-place winner Jason Allen opted to subsequently make known online that he had used an AI program referred to as Midjourney for creating his winning art piece. That vociferously got the ball rolling on raising the roof of this otherwise innocuous art piece.

The art piece that was generated appears uncontroversial in terms of its looks. Envision photo-realistic imagery consisting of three robe-wearing human figures looking out toward a large shining orb (well, this is a somewhat crude text-based description that admittedly does not do justice to the vibrancy of the art piece). The gist here is that the art piece itself is not a source of controversy in terms of how it looks, what it suggests, or anything at all about the contents of the art.

The key to the controversy is that this winning art piece was seemingly crafted via the use of an AI art-generating program.

This deserves a quick introductory rundown of what those AI art-generating programs are all about.

You might vaguely be aware that a slew of AI programs that seek to generate art has been having a heyday of recent note. AI art-generating programs that have garnered some notoriety include OpenAI’s DALL-E and DALL-E 2, Google’s Imagen, and others such as WOMBO, NightCafe, and now particularly Midjourney partially arising from this controversy (though, note that an estimated over 1 million followers are on the Midjourney Discord channel).

Some of these AI programs will generate an art piece without any input required by a human to initiate or shape what the art is supposed to look like. Others allow a human to provide a starter indication such as by entering text. There are also some that will take a human-provided sketch or similar kind of artistic rendering and will seek to morph or further transform the starter into an artistic variant.

In addition to allowing a starter prompt of sorts, there are AI art-producing programs that allow a human to adjust the art while the AI is in the midst of generating the art. For example, you might provide a starter prompt such as “contains dogs and cats” and then when the AI shows an initial art piece to you, you can then mention other facets that come to mind such as “wearing hats” that the AI would then adjust the being-generated art accordingly.

Generally, AI art-generating programs tend to have these facets:

  • In some instances, no human prompt is necessarily required (the art is generated without end-user input per se)
  • Human prompt of text as a starter for the AI generating the art
  • Human prompt of sketch or other visualization as a starter
  • Human prompt of text while midway through generating the art
  • Human prompt of sketch or other visualization while midway of generating the art
  • Other

You might be wondering why AI art-generating programs have risen in newsworthiness. There have been AI art-generating programs nearly since the beginning of the advent of AI systems going back to the 1950s and 1960s. This is assuredly nothing new.

The latest twist is that the current crop of AI art-generating programs tends to make use of Machine Learning (ML) and Deep Learning (DL) to perform their art-producing results.

This also brings us to the realm of AI Ethics.

All of this also relates to soberly emerging concerns about today’s AI and especially the use of Machine Learning and Deep Learning as a form of technology and how it is being utilized. You see, there are uses of ML/DL that tend to involve having the AI be anthropomorphized by the public at large, believing or choosing to assume that the ML/DL is either sentient AI or near to (it is not). In addition, ML/DL can contain aspects of computational pattern matching that are undesirable or outright improper, or illegal from ethics or legal perspectives.

It might be useful to first clarify what I mean when referring to AI overall and also provide a brief overview of Machine Learning and Deep Learning. There is a great deal of confusion as to what Artificial Intelligence connotes. I would also like to introduce the precepts of AI Ethics to you, which will be especially integral to the remainder of this discourse.

Stating the Record About AI

Let’s make sure we are on the same page about the nature of today’s AI.

There isn’t any AI today that is sentient.

We don’t have this.

We don’t know if sentient AI will be possible. Nobody can aptly predict whether we will attain sentient AI, nor whether sentient AI will somehow miraculously spontaneously arise in a form of computational cognitive supernova (usually referred to as The Singularity, see my coverage at the link here).

Realize that today’s AI is not able to “think” in any fashion on par with human thinking. When you interact with Alexa or Siri, the conversational capacities might seem akin to human capacities, but the reality is that it is computational and lacks human cognition. The latest era of AI has made extensive use of Machine Learning and Deep Learning, which leverage computational pattern matching. This has led to AI systems that have the appearance of human-like proclivities. Meanwhile, there isn’t any AI today that has a semblance of common sense and nor has any of the cognitive wonderment of robust human thinking.

Part of the issue is our tendency to anthropomorphize computers and especially AI. When a computer system or AI seems to act in ways that we associate with human behavior, there is a nearly overwhelming urge to ascribe human qualities to the system. It is a common mental trap that can grab hold of even the most intransigent skeptic about the chances of reaching sentience.

To some degree, that is why AI Ethics and Ethical AI is such a crucial topic.

The precepts of AI Ethics get us to remain vigilant. AI technologists can at times become preoccupied with technology, particularly the optimization of high-tech. They aren’t necessarily considering the larger societal ramifications. Having an AI Ethics mindset and doing so integrally to AI development and fielding is vital for producing appropriate AI, including the assessment of how AI Ethics gets adopted by firms.

Besides employing AI Ethics precepts in general, there is a corresponding question of whether we should have laws to govern various uses of AI. New laws are being bandied around at the federal, state, and local levels that concern the range and nature of how AI should be devised. The effort to draft and enact such laws is a gradual one. AI Ethics serves as a considered stopgap, at the very least, and will almost certainly to some degree be directly incorporated into those new laws.

Be aware that some adamantly argue that we do not need new laws that cover AI and that our existing laws are sufficient. They forewarn that if we do enact some of these AI laws, we will be killing the golden goose by clamping down on advances in AI that proffer immense societal advantages. See for example my coverage at the link here.

In prior columns, I’ve covered the various national and international efforts to craft and enact laws regulating AI, see the link here, for example. I have also covered the various AI Ethics principles and guidelines that various nations have identified and adopted, including for example the United Nations effort such as the UNESCO set of AI Ethics that nearly 200 countries adopted, see the link here.

Here’s a helpful keystone list of Ethical AI criteria or characteristics regarding AI systems that I’ve previously closely explored:

  • Transparency
  • Justice & Fairness
  • Non-Maleficence
  • Responsibility
  • Privacy
  • Beneficence
  • Freedom & Autonomy
  • Trust
  • Sustainability
  • Dignity
  • Solidarity

Those AI Ethics principles are earnestly supposed to be utilized by AI developers, along with those that manage AI development efforts, and even those that ultimately field and perform upkeep on AI systems. All stakeholders throughout the entire AI life cycle of development and usage are considered within the scope of abiding by the being-established norms of Ethical AI. This is an important highlight since the usual assumption is that “only coders” or those that program the AI are subject to adhering to the AI Ethics notions. As prior emphasized herein, it takes a village to devise and field AI, and for which the entire village has to be versed in and abide by AI Ethics precepts.

Let’s keep things down to earth and focus on today’s computational non-sentient AI.

ML/DL is a form of computational pattern matching. The usual approach is that you assemble data about a decision-making task. You feed the data into the ML/DL computer models. Those models seek to find mathematical patterns. After finding such patterns, if so found, the AI system then will use those patterns when encountering new data. Upon the presentation of new data, the patterns based on the “old” or historical data are applied to render a current decision.

I think you can guess where this is heading. If humans that have been making the patterned upon decisions have been incorporating untoward biases, the odds are that the data reflects this in subtle but significant ways. Machine Learning or Deep Learning computational pattern matching will simply try to mathematically mimic the data accordingly. There is no semblance of common sense or other sentient aspects of AI-crafted modeling per se.

Furthermore, the AI developers might not realize what is going on either. The arcane mathematics in the ML/DL might make it difficult to ferret out the now hidden biases. You would rightfully hope and expect that the AI developers would test for the potentially buried biases, though this is trickier than it might seem. A solid chance exists that even with relatively extensive testing that there will be biases still embedded within the pattern matching models of the ML/DL.

You could somewhat use the famous or infamous adage of garbage-in garbage-out. The thing is, this is more akin to biases-in that insidiously get infused as biases submerged within the AI. The algorithm decision-making (ADM) of AI axiomatically becomes laden with inequities.

Not good.

I believe that I’ve now set the table to adequately examine the controversy about the winning entry of Jason Allen’s “Théâtre D’opéra Spatial” at the Colorado State Fair art competition.

Getting Riled Up About AI-Produced Art

Let’s tackle some of the outsized anger and pitchfork waving that has arisen on this matter.

First, some on social media insisted that Jason Allen “cheated” by using an AI art-generating program. This is supposed to be human hand-crafted art, some loudly proclaimed. Art in an art competition is about humankind and the creative artistic spark of humanity and the human soul.

In response to these raucous accusations, and as reported widely in the news reports of this story, Jason Allen reacted by saying this: “I’m not going to apologize for it. I won and I didn’t break any rules.”

Generally, the professed claim that things were done strictly by the book does seem to be the case.

Recall earlier the excerpted rules of the Colorado State Fair. As per the rules, Jason submitted the artworks in a requisite manner, having submitted them in physical form and paying the submission fees.

Furthermore, keep in mind that the category chosen was Digital Arts/Digitally-Manipulated Photography which encompasses by contest intent that the art is supposed to include some technological involvement as part of the creative or presentation process. For example, digital filters are allowed, color manipulation is allowed, recombining of images is allowed, and so on.

If Jason had submitted the art to one of the other categories that were not technologically overtly proclaimed, it would seem that having angst about the submission would be relatively warranted and be a presumed violation of the rules. But that’s not what happened.

Jason moreover claimed in interviews that the piece was labeled upon entry as having been crafted in affiliation with the use of Midjourney. That seemed to have been an added gesture on his part that was not necessitated by the rules per se (there didn’t appear to be rules requiring a stipulation of what technology had been used for the art effort).

Reporters that later interviewed this particular category of art judges reported that the judges did not know what Midjourney was. The judges said that it made no difference to them not knowing what Midjourney was. By the nature of the rules of the competition, the art piece was allowed, and they deemed it meritorious artistry.

Remember too that there is an appeals process for those that believe that an entrant didn’t abide by the rules. No appeals on this specific situation were apparently filed. Also, recall that the management of the Fair can opt to vacate an entry, but this entry was not vacated.

So, we can reasonably conclude that as to the rules of the art competition, this art piece was not a cheater.

That being said, an indignant outburst to the assertion that the rules were obeyed was met with hostility by some. They generally contended that no matter what the rules were, the fact that an AI art-generating program was used made this into a far larger kind of cheating. In that sense, cheating was not simply about meeting or not meeting the rules of the Fair. The cheating was a macroscopic big-picture that the artwork was accomplished by the AI and supposedly not by a human.

We need to give that aggressive claim some scrutiny.

Before we do so, a call to arms by some has been making the rounds, namely that art competitions henceforth should explicitly ban the use of AI as being used in any fashion whatsoever in the artworks being submitted. The idea is that if the “normal” rules aren’t catching this allegedly devious and underhanded AI usage, we need to upgrade the rules to a modern era by directly excluding any AI-related use.

I would just like to note that having such a ban is likely to be problematic.

AI capabilities are gradually being infused into all manner of apps. You might not know that an AI component is working inside an app. Thus, if you perchance use any kind of app to aid in your art production, the chances are that you might very well be violating an AI ban. Imagine your chagrin if you thought you had carefully followed the rules, and subsequently, your artwork was vacated because some tiny bit of AI was within an obscure app that you tangentially relied upon.

One can almost envision your competitors eagerly willing to file an appeal about your winning entry. They might know that there is say an AI element in the operating system of your smartphone or laptop system which you used generically as a means to create your art piece. Your masterpiece gets tossed out. All is fair in love and war, as they say.

To some degree, this matter about using technology is already somewhat covered by many existing rules anyway. In the case of the Colorado State Fair, note that the Digital Art/Digitally-Manipulated Photography category encompassed the use of high-tech. Trying to add an additional dividing line between tech that uses AI versus tech that doesn’t use AI is going to be a fine line of almost an indistinguishable minutia.

In short, AI would seem to be something that is going to continue to arise in art, and attempts to ban AI use in art competitions would be difficult to define and enforce.

Some suggest we go the other route, specifically naming AI as a particular category all its own. Call this AI Art or AI-Generated Art, something along those lines (I’m sure there will be catchier names coined).

This might placate both parties of those that want human-only non-AI categories and categories that have AI-allowed provisos. Allow entrants to choose between using an AI-included category or using an AI-excluded category. This might be done on an honor system, though a flagrant violation would seemingly need to be properly handled.

Speaking of flagrant violations, you know how contrarian people can be.

There would be some that will opt to intentionally place an AI-generated art piece into the non-AI category, doing so because they are perhaps a troublemaker or are trying to make some urgently believed point about the world we live in. You will have others that will place a non-AI-generated art piece into the AI-produced category. Why? Likely because they are going to argue that we cannot let AI take over our art and it is wrong to exclude human-derived art from any category, even if a category is purposely arranged just for AI.

Round and round this will go.

Let’s return to the pending point that perhaps Jason Allen was “cheating” in that despite having obeyed the rules of the Fair, the submission of an AI-generated art piece goes wildly and widely beyond the rules of any particular competition. There are rules of society at play. Those societal rules are far and above the mundane or pedestrian rules of a specific art competition.

This is a kind of cheating on a loftier worldview caliber, one might contend.

This takes us down a bit of an abyss, but we need to go there.

Start with the aspect that the AI system did not on its own create the art piece.

Some mistakenly believe that Jason Allen merely slapped his name onto an AI-generated art piece, which they (mistakenly believe) were entirely and exclusively crafted by the AI. You might then even claim that this was a “cheat” in the sense that he wasn’t the true author or artist of the work (we will soon get into the authorship aspects, hang onto your hat).

According to news reports, Jason Allen indicated that he entered text prompts that generated the art in Midjourney. He indicated that this was done over and over again, each time he was assessing whether the art looked as he wanted it to look, and then subsequently entered new prompts. Some 900 versions or variants were generated over time, purportedly. He has held secret the text prompts that he used, vowing to use them again.

Back to the elbow grease aspects of the artwork, Jason Allen said he took the near-final art pieces from Midjourney and then used Photoshop to make additional changes, along with using some other detailed bit manipulation tools. All told, he suggested that the effort required 80 hours of his personal efforts in arriving at the final pieces.

This was not a push-button operation.

You can persuasively argue that human touch was demonstrably involved in this case. The artist iteratively devised the art. It was not an exclusively AI-only activity.

Indeed, one rather compelling argument is that this is seemingly no different than using straight-out photography. We pretty much have accepted photography in art competitions since the emergence of photographic capabilities (kind of, there was a lot of consternation at the start). The usual assumption is that the artist will in fact be influencing the color, focus, and other salient aspects of a photo. The use of an AI art-generating program in this context does not seem afield from the same act of utilizing conventional photographic equipment and technology.

Did the human artist provide sufficient added artistry to overcome an assertion that the art was done by the AI?

In this case, the reported human-crafting effort does seem relatively substantive.

We have them knocked down the claims of “cheating” that were related to the rules of the Fair, and likewise perhaps reasonably undercut qualms about lacking a human touch. This was artistry being done by a human artist that just so happened to use a variety of tools.

Now the slippery slope comes into the picture.

Suppose that Jason Allen had only used only five hours to create the artwork. Is that enough time to assuage concerns about the AI doing too much of the artistry? Imagine that he did the artwork in 5 minutes. How does that seem? In 5 seconds?

What if he didn’t do any of the artistry per se at all and merely ran an app that essentially self-generated the art?

Some would argue that if he ran the app, and despite doing nothing else such as entering prompts, he deserves to still be coined as the artist of the work generated. That makes the skin crawl on many.

The eyebrow-raising belief by some is that invoking the app, is an artistic act.

By then opting to choose to use the produced art by entering it into an art competition, this is also an artistic act of selecting the art that meets the artist’s tastes.

There you go, two artistic acts by the human artist.

Murky waters. Angering contentions. Hogwash, some say. Art takes a lot more than running an app and selecting the output, they exhort.

What then is the minimum requirement for the amount of human effort that is needed to stake an unambiguous claim that artwork was of human artistry?

Quite a conundrum.

We next shift into the question of the artistry of AI.

In this case, a human ran an AI art-generating program. The human opted to enter the art into an art competition. The human took credit for the art piece.

That generates heartburn for some.

You might try to argue that the AI program deserves credit. Our art competition seeking humans is “cheating” by turning in the artwork of someone or something else.

Suppose a person asks another person to paint a beauteous mountainous painting. We would be summarily shocked and quite upset if the first person turned in the art piece of this second person, doing so as the claimed artist of the work. Even if the first person casually mentioned that they had leaned into using the artistry skills of the second person, we still would not likely buy into the art ownership contention of the first person.

Recast that scenario by placing AI into the role of the second person (in a broad sense, without being anthropomorphic). The first person, the human, tries to take credit for the artistry of the second entity, the AI. It would seem that this analogous situation suggests that we are unfairly ascribing true artistry. The AI ought to get the credit.

Problems ensue.

Realize that today’s AI is not sentient. If the AI was sentient, we certainly would seem to have due cause to be upset over the human taking credit for the work of the AI. There is a wide-ranging theoretical debate about what we are going to do if AI does reach sentience. Will we allow AI to have legal personhood? Maybe we won’t, maybe we will. Some suggest that we might decide to treat sentient AI as a form of enslavement, see my analysis at the link here.

Perhaps AI will decide personhood for us, such as deciding that humankind has to provide AI with personhood, or else. There are many arguing that AI is an existential risk and we might eventually see AI that rules the world, including enslaving humans or wiping out humankind entirely, see my discussion at the link here.

Until or if we ever reach AI sentience, we meanwhile still have an open question about the dividing line between what the AI does versus what humans do.

Perhaps our attention as to the source of credit ought to look elsewhere.

The AI developers, for instance.

You might insist that the AI developers that made the AI art-generating program should get the artistry credit. Thus, anyone trying to submit artwork to an art competition for which the art piece was done by an AI art-generating program has to explicitly name the AI developers as the artists. It isn’t clear what the submitter gets out of this arrangement.

Should all of the accolades and art prizes go solely to those indomitable AI developers?

One supposes we could try to come up with an apportionment scheme. If the AI-produced art was augmented by the efforts of the human running the app, maybe the AI developers get 20% of the credit and the artist doing the augmenting gets 80%. It all depends on how much the artist did while rendering the art and finalizing the art. Ergo, it could be 80% to the artist and 20% to the AI developers, or any other split as discernable.

But, some counterargue, you would need to do the same for photography. If you used a brand XYZ camera to take a photo, you would need to give credit to the camera-making company. Splitting the credit in such matters is not tenable, some point out. Forget it.

Another angle is that the credit should go toward the artwork used to train the AI. In essence, if we crafted a Machine Learning or Deep Learning system by feeding a slew of artwork into the computational pattern matcher, we ought to give credit to those original artists.

That seems to make sense.

Sorry, it is more complicated than that.

Suppose we feed artwork by Rembrandt, Picasso, Michelangelo, Monet, Vincent van Gogh, and many others into an ML/DL. All of this gets mushed together into a computational pattern-matching spiderweb. There is no longer a particular artist being patterned upon. We have contrived an artistic Frankenstein that melds and mixes the various styles and approaches.

You come along and use this AI app. Your entry prompt is that you want a work of art containing dogs and cats wearing hats. The AI app produces art that looks breathtaking and amazing. It has a touch of Monet in it, a smidgeon of Rembrandt, and so on. Yes, encompasses dogs and cats wearing hats. I assure you it is magnificent.

How do we give due credit to the array of artists that “contributed” to this wonderous art rendering?

Perhaps some of the artists are living, while others are no longer with us. Also, even if a portion of the art rendering kind of abides by a particular artist’s style, does that warrant giving that particular artist unfettered credit? Imagine trying to comb through artwork and piecemeal assign artistry rights to the elements that perchance seem to resemble a particular artist.

A nightmare to try and aptly dissect.

Now, I am sure that some of you are instantly getting your dander up about one aspect of this. Suppose the AI app is based on one specific artist. Assume the artist has not prior agreed to the use of their art for this AI app. Imagine there is an up-and-rising artist known as Amy. The only artwork fed into the ML/DL was the stunning works of Amy. The AI app is subsequently able to generate art never before produced by Amy yet looks precisely as though it was crafted by Amy.

Yes, this does raise keen Intellectual Property (IP) rights issues.

Legal and ethical questions abundantly arise.

The Artistic Hornets’ Nest

There is a lot more to uncover or shall we say put on display concerning this AI and art conundrum.

Jason Allen indicated that this was the first time he had ever entered an art competition. Apparently, art was not a particular skill set of his. Lo and behold, he wins first place on his first-ever try (in the emerging artist realm, notably).

Some lament that his winning entry was not due to his artistry but due to the artistry of the AI. In that sense, we are seemingly downgrading human artistry. A person that did not seemingly have artistic skills has miraculously out-the-gate won an art contest. The implication is that artists that are highly skilled and have honed their craft during many years of laborious practice are at a disadvantage.

Just about anyone will become an artist, of a kind. All they need to do is write a few catchy texts prompts and an AI app will do the rest of the artistry chore for them. Gone will be any semblance of art skills as imbued in humankind and passed from generation to generation.

We will outsource art and the making of art to AI.

Taken to the extreme, the assertion is that art will inevitably become the exclusive domain of AI art-generating programs. Forget about humans creating art. Instead, all we will have left is AI that creates art. Think of it this way — why would you ask a human to from scratch create art for you? No justifiable reason to do so. Faster, cheaper, and maybe a better art product by using an AI app instead.

All of this implies that human artists will be out of work. This means that AI is once again displacing workers. Perhaps we began with sweatshop workers on the assembly line that were being replaced by AI robots doing manual tasks on the factory floor. The even more unimaginable replacement would be replacing mind-expanding human artists that work based on the essence of the creative human spirit and endearing artistic soul.

Yikes, if AI can replace artists, there is nothing sacred and nothing left to be spared.

Wait for a second, some counterargue, do not toss out the baby with the bathwater (an old adage, probably worth retiring).

Here’s the deal.

Notably, the artwork of first-timer artist Jason Allen did indeed win in the selected category. The AI-augmented his artistic efforts. Without the AI, he probably would not have aimed at doing art and would not have submitted an art piece to the competition.

The point is that AI will presumably encourage art in ways that will widen and expand the appreciation for and creation of art. More people will finally be tempted to try engaging in art. You might even claim that AI will democratize art (see my analysis about AI democratization aspects at the link here).

Rather than having a selected few that proclaim to be artists, the population as a whole can relish in artistry. Young children that today might be discouraged from going into art because they are unable to seemingly produce viable art would be able to use an AI app that embellishes their unpolished attempts. They might completely change their otherwise sour opinions about art and stridently pursue and support art for the rest of their lives.

None of this really has anything to do with human artists becoming extinct, you see. If anything, we will have more human artists than ever before. We will celebrate art in ways that have been opened up via the advent of AI.

Art by human artists that are not using AI will still be available, possibly even savored. People will seek out art that was done solely by AI. They will seek out art done collaboratively by AI with human artists. And they might reserve as especially prized the artwork done by human artists that eschew the use of AI.

Consider these categories:

  • Art created exclusively by AI (non-sentient)
  • Art crafted by AI and human collaboration
  • Art crafted by human hand (averting the use of AI)

A zero-sum attitude proclaims that the third category will evaporate as the first two categories take hold. But another vision of the future is that the art field expands and within that growth, there is ample room for all three categories. In addition, it could be that the third category eventually becomes the most prized of them all. We could become bored or lose salient interest in the AI or AI-human jointly devised art and revert once again to art done entirely and only by human hand.

Will AI take away artisan jobs?

The usual answer is yes, namely that artists will become as scarce as hen’s teeth. The less considered answer is that AI will end up increasing artisan jobs and aid in the flourishing of art all told.

Hard to say which path will prevail. There are the smiley face and the sad face options to be weighed.

On a related tangent, some believe that AI-generated art is “unique” and provides an artistic flare outside that of everyday human artists. Human artists are said to be biased toward other human art and the acclaim associated with that human art. They are like cattle that herd along in the field of art. In contrast, AI won’t be emotionally preoccupied like human artists that seek human fellowship and recognition amongst their artisan peers.

Be aware that this AI uniqueness of artistic panache has various holes.

AI art generation can look quite similar to human art. This especially makes sense when you consider that much of the ML/DL is trained on human art instances. I dare say, you would often have a difficult time discerning which art is which.

One of the notable reasons that people often describe AI-generated art as unique is because they are told it is AI-generated art. They get in their heads that wow, this was crafted by AI. It tends to guide their mindset toward thinking that art is unique.

That’s not to say that some AI isn’t unique looking. It can be. Realize that the ML/DL might be algorithmically trained to push at the mathematical boundaries to try and produce art that is beyond the training set. This can seemingly generate unique-looking art.

For the time being, there are going to be art judges and art critics that will swoon over AI-generated art. Sometimes the swooning might be fully justified. We might see the emergence of art styles that none have seen before. On the other hand, the novelty factor of the AI being part of the art-generating process can sway opinions too. A few handy AI artistry bonus points can be overtly or inadvertently assigned when AI-generated art is at the fore.

One worthwhile contemplative thought is whether we will at some point see AI-generated art as being no longer quite so special. Perhaps the AI apps begin to converge and are not devised sufficiently to produce “unique” artwork anymore. Ho-hum, some might say, there’s another one of those AI artworks. The gimmick has run its course.

I would not expect that to last very long if it does come to pass. I say this because the odds are that AI developers will keep trying to push ahead on making the AI art generation newer and newer. If people find the existing outputs dry or tedious, you can bet that there will be AI developers seeking to improve the AI accordingly.

There will be a continual cat-and-mouse gambit between AI-generated art and human-generated art.


A longtime assertion is that art comes from the soul and reflects a spark of humanity and of being in the world. Under that umbrella assumption, a significant qualm about AI-generated art is that it lacks the soul or spirit, or spark of humankind.

According to Pablo Picasso: “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”

If AI-generated art can do this, would we be wrong in claiming that AI isn’t producing art?

As they say, art is in the eye of the beholder.

Without being overly finicky, another wiggle room consideration is that if AI is developed by humans, you might argue that AI is a byproduct of the human soul. Therefore, the art generated by AI is embodying a semblance of the human spirit. This comes from the AI programming and the source artwork of humans as fed into the AI to train the system for generating art. Ugh, some retort, that’s not the same as an intrinsic human spirit involved in the actual moment-to-moment crafting of art.

Ernest Hemingway said this: “In any art, you’re allowed to steal anything if you can make it better.”

Does that imply that if AI-generated art is “stealing” human art and yet potentially making it “better” (those are argumentative claims, of course), are we to perhaps embrace AI-generated art with open arms?

On a final note, for now, those that firmly believe that AI is an existential risk, are probably inclined to place AI-generated art somewhat low on the list of disconcerting priority items. AI that controls large-scale autonomous nuclear weapons is a lot higher. AI that becomes sentient and opts to control humanity or destroy us all, well, that’s worthy of top-notch attention. Sidenote: For true art lovers and especially those of a conspiratorial viewpoint, if we let AI take over our art, AI is surely going to go after our nuclear missiles and otherwise believe that humanity is a pushover in all regards. One naturally leads to the other, they would insist. Full stop, period.

Anyway, we might end up with sentient AI that decides for us the nature of art. Hey, lowly humans, this is art, decree our AI overlords.

Take it or leave it.

Makes you wonder, will it be AI-generated art or human-produced art?

As per the famous words of Anton Pavlovich Chekhov: “The role of the artist is to ask questions, not answer them.”

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