If 2021 was the year art NFTs burst into the center, then 2022 is when they were assaulted by AI art. The past few months have only heightened the tremendous potential and concerns surrounding AI art, much of which will play out in the coming months.
The conversation around AI art started strongly from July 2022 after the machine learning model DALL-E2 was made available to one million people on the waiting list. DALL-E2 was the long-awaited beta of DALL-E (named after artist Salvador Dali and Disney Pixar’s WALL-E) by Open AI, an AI research lab. DALL-E2 was officially released to the public in September and users couldn’t get enough of the images and art generated by language prompts that could be as simple or as bizarre as “astronaut relaxing on moon beach” or “Darth Vader walking on ‘ riding a tricycle”. outside on a sunny day” (the latter was a command used by AI image generator Craiyon).
In just one month, an estimated three million people used this AI art generator to produce more than four million images per day, according to reports.
Users have used DALL-E2 to generate images that are inherently absurd, surreal, humorous, and sometimes satirical.
Another major AI art generator that has dominated the conversation over the past year, and seen more complex results from it, is Midjourney, which runs on the server Discord and also uses text prompts. In its initial days, Midjourney became synonymous with otherworldly landscapes, often with a dystopian touch. It quickly attracted interest and various artists, illustrators and designers, especially those who design concepts and storyboards, found it attractive. For example, concept artist Andrei Riabovitchev used Midjourney to create fantasy compositions that included angels, supernatural beings, aliens, and astronauts. Closer to home, Goa-based design studio The Busride used Midjourney to think about alternative futures for the Taj Mahal and to think about other monuments in a whole new way, available for viewing on their Instagram page. In their explorations, the following scenarios were considered to be paired with artwork made by Midjourney. In one, a massive 9.3 Richter scale rocks northern India in 2031 and the monument is “irreparably damaged”. Restoration follows, and the reconstructed Taj has Persian poetry filling the cracks.
Concerns about Midjourney and AI-generated art came to a head when an artist won the Colorado State Art Fair’s competition in the “emerging digital artists” category. Jason Allen’s work, Théâtre D’opéra Spatial (Space Opera Theatre), was made using Midjourney. As the title suggests, the artwork depicted a space setting with robed figures looking out through a viewport. The work brings together space opera and classical Baroque elements.
According to reports, Allen submitted it in the digital art category under the name “Jason M Allen via Midjourney”. As The New York Times reported, the category’s rules allow any “artistic practice that uses digital technology as part of the creative or presentation process.” This could mean that using AI programs to create art is no different from using other software such as Photoshop.
Many believe that with the increasing popularity of AI art will lead to the creation of a separate category that sets it apart from other forms of digital art. However, as the controversy surrounding Allen’s work has shown, artists and designers are increasingly concerned about the apparent ease with which AI appears to provide multiple options of artwork, something that would normally take a human professional hours, if not days. In recent months, the art and design community has questioned the way in which AI seems poised to put many artists out of work as well.
In a viral social media post by a user named “loish,” the artist said they wholeheartedly support the ongoing protest against AI art because “my artwork is included in the datasets used to train these image generators without my permission… Many have compared image generators… to human artists seeking inspiration. Those two are not the same…”
This will largely become the story in 2023, where the community attempts to find a balance between the expansion possibilities of AI art and the ethics surrounding it.
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