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What is Art: Criticisms of AI-Generated Imagery

Updated: Dec 11, 2022

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about the growing controversy over AI-generated imagery. It's a complicated issue that can be discussed on a number of different fronts and levels. Listed here are some of the arguments against that I've heard. I strongly disagree with some of them, perhaps even most of them, but there are some I agree with. Subsequent posts will discuss these issues. See the end of this post for links to a few articles on the subject.

Also, Content Warning: there are some images of AI-generated boobs in this post. Please keep that in mind if that sort of thing is relevant to you.


1. AI-generated imagery steals work opportunities from artists. E.g., Why hire a logo designer when I can get an AI art engine to do it for me in an afternoon?


2. The training of AI art engines by having them analyze real art by humans and then use that data to mimic art in a particular artist's style is tantamount to stealing from that artist. E.g., Creating a marketing campaign that features work in Banksy's distinctive style is a kind of copyright theft. Also, that this theft is even more egregious because the only reason the AI can mimic Banksy's work is because it learned by analyzing Banksy's work in the first place.


3. AI doesn't have a soul, or at least genuine artistic inspiration, and so anything they produce is without heart or real feeling. E.g., Anybody can simply enter the words, "A beautiful scene" and get a result (like the one pictured here), but that result will be shallow and without meaning.


4. AI-generated images are made instantly by typing in some words and so don't have the same artistic merit as art that is laboured over with time and effort. I.e., It's so easy to generate tons of content that the content is cheapened by that ease.


5. AI-generated images can be produced by anyone, regardless of skill or training, and so the results possess less depth, subtlety, and value than work produced by an artist who has trained and practiced for years to achieve a high level of skill.


6. AI art engines are developed within a culture that values a popular type/standard/style of beauty, and that standard shapes their training. As a result, they tend to produce images that conform to stereotypes of attractiveness.


7. Closely related to #6 is that some AI art engines sexualize subjects in the absence of an instruction to do so. I.e, Some AI-generated avatar apps and the like (e.g., Lensa) tend to include a (usually) large pair of boobs and/or sexualized attire and poses, even when all that has been provided as input are generic selfies. The four avatars on shown here are an example of this, courtesy of my friend, Victoria Bryers.


8. As AI engines become more sophisticated, it will become increasingly difficult for users of art, the audience, to distinguish AI-generated images from human-made ones. That cultural space will be inherently more confusing and uncertain. Mistakes of attribution will be made, artists will be copied, and the genuineness of images will be called constantly into question. This is the Deep Fake problem, essentially.


9. A criticism or concern I don't hear being discussed much is the horrible shit factor. Inevitably, sick and disturbed individuals will use this technology to create images that are ethically and morally repugnant, if not actively illegal. Child porn, revenge porn, grotesque violence and any violation of norms that the human mind is capable of conceiving will be made and distributed.


Lots to think about.


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