I’m lost… because of AI

Hi Matt! I saw a post where you talk about AI, but what do you think we should do as artists? I’ve so lost my motivation and drive to keep on… I’m lost.

With the permission of the person who e-mailed me with this question, I’m uploading my answer for all of you to read. I hope it helps.

OK, first let me tell you a few things that are not an answer to your question directly, but I think we have to make clear here:

  • The current AI versions (their knowledge models) that are using copyrighted content without the consent of its owners or creators can and should be challenged on moral and legal grounds. We should voice our opinions, protest, and challenge the use of such AI.
    But I suspect that even if we win this completely and using copyrighted material for training AI is banned; we will, from now on, face a world where AI art exists and is of excellent quality.
  • I don’t think it’s wise to assume that your corner of art is safe because “AI will never be able to do this or that thing”. It’s just a matter of time until AI becomes more capable – we are seeing these leaps happen all the time now. Things that seemed unreachable for the machine learning systems a week ago are easily handled today.
  • Will some jobs in commercial art go away because of AI-generated content? – Yes. We are seeing this already with book covers, music videos, and all kinds of visual content made with generated images. We can only assume this is going to increase with time, especially when the moral and legal ambiguity is solved. If a big company is able to use an AI image generator that is trained on only legal content, it will. Just because it’s more convenient, faster, and cheaper – that’s how the market works.

So yes, there is much to worry about and be disturbed about. If I’m honest, I’m worried and disturbed and scared quite a bit too. Sometimes the perspective of doing art while having to contend with cheap, fast, and skillful AI feels bleak and like an already lost battle. I’m especially afraid that the outlook may seem even bleaker for people currently thinking about starting in art or thinking about training and learning art at school.

So, is human art doomed?

I DON’T think it is doomed.

Yes, I expect that we (meaning artists, but also many other professions) will face a huge shift in how things are made and consumed, and a lot of groups will suffer near-extinction events, but human art in the core sense will survive, and might even become more valuable than before, actually.

Let me expand on this a bit:

When photography became popular and accessible, many artists that made their living from just archiving people, places, or events with a brush lost their jobs because now people were able just to snap a photo.
But overall, we continued painting portraits and travel journals, and sketches of far-away places. Even more people are doing these now than ever!
This is because there are people that love making such art, and there are also people that would like to see and buy a picture made by the artist they love and respect. This is because their art has depth, meaning, feelings, and atmosphere and is unique to this one person thanks to the lifetime of experiences they had, their style, personality, way of thinking, etc. This will not change. Only you can make the art that you create. No matter how good AI is, it just cannot create the same thing that you would create – because it’s not you! I cannot create the same things that Hayao Miyazaki would no matter how much his art I see and analyze – I’m just not him.

Yes, if someone just wants to snap a picture of their aunt, they can use their smartphone, but if they want art that makes their life richer, they go for their favorite photographer or portrait painter to see the world through their eyes.

This pattern repeated again and again when new technologies came in – print almost killed hand-lettered books, digital photography almost killed film, and so on. But even these categories that someone might consider completely obsolete still survived – you can be an artist that makes manuscripts as monks did in Middle Ages today too! And people will buy your hand-written, leather-bound books if they are good art and they like them!

But even without looking at niche stuff: I will not stop buying novels written by authors I like, now that we have AI stuff for free, because I love their prose, humor, the lookout at life, opinions, style, etc. I will not stop buying music from bands I like, now that I can generate tunes with AI, because no one touches my heart and makes my pain go away better than they can. I want to listen to what they make next, especially.

Of course, not everyone cares about art like this. A lot of people will be content with AI-generated stuff, but an artist doesn’t need the whole world to love them – they need only that small group of people that will love their art and support them.

So yes, AI and AI usage right now feels to me morally bad, probably illegal, scary, and destructive, and the future looks bleak, but we should not forget that there is value in making human art that AI just cannot replicate!

OK, so what to do:

If you think you are an artist, and you would like to try to become or continue being a “good” artist (whatever that means to you) – go for it still and don’t care about what AI generates, how good it is, or how fast it does stuff.

But because the AI thing is here, there are some new things to consider when choosing your art career direction. This is probably as big a shift in how art is made and consumed as when the internet came to be or when art in social media became a thing.

  • I think that the more generic something is, the close it is to being content than being art, the more easily it will be overwhelmed by generic AI-generated things.
  • Commercial art, especially things that have unique and well-defined styles, could be affected by AI a lot! I can imagine someone making an AI that will produce perfect Makoto Shinkai-style backgrounds based on photos – because this style is so well-defined.
  • The more anonymous something is, the more affected by AI it might be. I think that a random Pixiv account with just an icon and nickname is more easily lost in the AI art flood than an artist with a “face” and personality that their peers and audience know to be a real person.
  • It is possible that traditional art will be more valued as it has the intrinsic skill level barrier that has to be overcome. Traditional art produces not only content but also beautiful physical objects that can be sold, bought, collected, and cherished in a way that can’t really be done with digital art (until we have painting industrial robot arms, at least).

I think I now know how many artists must have felt when they saw the art-on-the-Internet-thing boom happening. Many strong feelings, fear, confusion, resignation, and even hate, are floating around right now. But I think that wanting to become an artist or to continue doing art is very important, needed, beautiful, human thing to do and should be done no matter what age or place, or political climate we are currently in. These factors cannot change the fact that you want to be an artist and that you want to make things that only you can create! The art world will be less plentiful if you don’t.

4 thoughts on “I’m lost… because of AI”

  1. You make some really good points and your advice about putting a face to your work is spot on.

    I do wish people would stop calling things AI when they are really just computer programs or at best, machine learning. Though, I suspect my opinion won’t have any impact on a catchy, attention grabbing phrase like AI Generated.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I like how you point out the human aspect. Yeah Iearnt about AI art and honestly had a panic attack and went into depression.

    Love how you pointed out the human aspect. There will always be people who will want something from thier favourite artist and be thier fan. It is more valuable.

    Liked by 1 person

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