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ARTifical Intelligence - Can AI “create” Art?

Have you ever heard about ChatGPT? If you don’t live under a rock then the answer is probably yes. ChatGPT, an Artificial Intelligence (AI) programme, has recently gone viral as a hot topic in the field of education.


ChatGPT is an AI that, in the context of academia, helps students to write essays and perhaps even theses. Whereby, it has to be said that “help” may not be the right word for what ChatGPT does. Letting a program write your academic paper after giving it the right keywords and research question is, of course, plagiarism and, for legal reasons, I would remark here that you should NOT test out the program on your next course assignment. But ChatGPT is just one of several examples of what AI can do.


Another skill of AI that seems to fascinate many is how it can create beautiful artwork.


Art. Something which is almost synonymous with emotions, sentiment, and passion, can now be created by a machine? Art done by a rational object feels like a paradox, though AI programs like DALL ᛫ E™ now advertise this specific skill. How it works is simple. You, as the user, just have to type in a few keywords or a sentence and the AI program generates fitting/matching artwork for you. The art style and details can further be customized to your wishes.


Now, if AI can just create artwork curated to the customer’s ideas for everyone in seconds/minutes, what does this implicate for the art industry? What happens to the humans behind the art, the artists? Let’s first ignore AI for a second and focus on the current situation of the art scene.


Art as an industry is not as respected as other industries in our society. By that, I mean that jobs in any kind of creative or artistic field are ridiculed by others from non-artistic backgrounds. Being an artist is not seen as a real profession in the eyes of many. Besides the lack of respect and recognition artists receive for their work, the art branche is also really competitive. Establishing oneself as a firm presence is difficult, even generating a sizable enough pool of customers to just create a living off the art one creates is hard. Sure, in the age of social media, where you can get viral overnight via a post or video, getting fans may not be as hard as a few decades ago, but a large follower count does not equal the same amount of paying customers. And yes, I am aware that money should not be the main thriving motivation for artists behind their craft. Yet, thinking realistically, money is an important aspect for artists and, generally speaking, for a lot of people who choose their professions based on their future job prospects. Nothing wrong with that. Though, putting AI back into the picture now, it is easy to see that they could represent a clear additional obstacle for artists. An artist’s work is already often exploited by today’s society, simply because the efforts behind every artwork is either not recognized by the general public or ignored and belittled. Therefore, the prospect of AI in the art scene replacing artists could further strengthen such misconceptions and demotivate many creators.


Thus, the replacement of humans by AI is definitely a worry. As mentioned before, the art industry is competitive with many fleeting short-term trends (e.g., minimalistic designs and line art), which are hard to follow for content creators long-term. AI would be able to easily keep up with the trends, as it is quick in creating the art, and is customizable, while still being affordable when you compare their services to that of real humans.


But the real question now is whether what AI creates can be considered art. For many, the answer would be no. No, because art has to be the self-expression of humans, or because it has to evoke emotions in other people; it has to have been created when the artist was feeling something. A lot of people say that art is only meaningful and real if it was created in a process of passion.


Personally, I may have a rather unpopular opinion in that I say that art does not have to be deep in meaning or symbolism. Sometimes it is enough for me to just enjoy art for its simple beauty; pretty colors, no realism, no hidden messages, just a cool piece of artwork that is not supposed to make me think too much. Letting art just be. Why should the input matter when I want to simply enjoy the output? In this instance, I’d say AI is a great tool to create this kind of art. AI programs could also be great instruments in the advertisement industry. However, does that mean that I do not see the difference between what I call for lack of a better word, “simple” art and those artworks that force me to think critically and make me feel? Of course not! I definitely see and appreciate the effort of all artists who craft thoughtful pieces of a deeper beauty. AI can never compare to a human artist in this aspect because there may be a “brain” but there is no heart. Humans programme AI softwares and give them the ability to recognize patterns, giving them, metaphorically speaking, a brain. But it is still a machine with no ability to authentically feel human emotions.


Furthermore, what I really appreciate about “shared art” is how from the moment an artist finishes their piece and hands it over to someone else, it is no longer only their art. That is, in essence, what I mean by “shared art”: every art that is published or otherwise shared with other people. This gives space for new interpretations, and novel personal takes on it. The moment a painter sets down their brush, the moment the last words of a book have been typed… The moment I finish this article, I invite you as a reader to dissect my sentences and you are free to agree as well as disagree with me because this piece of work is now shared.


That is something I will not find in AI art, the little details in art that tell me more about the artist behind. Of course, I can have my personal interpretations of artworks that were produced by AI programmes, but whose signature will I find in the picture? Who really had their hand in creating the art?


Well, the answer is as easy as it is complex. On the surface the answer is as follows: the person behind the program or rather in our case, the human who wants to have a specific idea visually computed by AI, has an influence over the artwork. Their opinion and perspective is now reflected in the art. But digging deeper into it, you will realize that the original artworks, and the original artists, create the data basis for some AI programs. So, their work will be reflected in anything the AI generates, even if only indirectly.


Now this leads me to another relevant thought I had regarding AI: copyright issues. AI programs need data input to create an output. Simple logic. But where does this data actually come from? Nowadays a lot of artists have a media presence in the form of Instagram accounts and blogs, etc. Artists upload their artwork on social media sites free of charge and such artworks could be taken by AI programs to accumulate a data basis. Sometimes users have to upload images of their own to use AI programs, they basically feed the AI. So who can guarantee that nobody uploads your art without your permission? AI learns through these images how different art styles look like to imitate them. In general, AI learns by recognizing patterns and adapts through algorithms. While the artworks are not directly copied, you can still argue that there is a violation of the original artists’ copyright. The copyright of an artwork can be registered, but the copyright protection also begins without a registration. For that the artwork has to be original, show a minimum of creativity and must be fixed to a tangible object (e.g., paper, a canvas). Only the original artist (copyright owner) is allowed to duplicate the artwork in any form or publicly share it, in principle nothing can be done in regards to copying without the artist’s permission.


As a matter of fact, there have been cases where AI art programs have been fed with artists’ works without the artists’ permission. My question now for you: could you perhaps consider this another form of “taking inspiration”, rather than a copyright violation, if it is not a direct copy? Ultimately, art is not created out of nothing. Every creative content creator takes inspiration from something, be it nature itself, literature, other artists or artworks. In fact, the act of copying something is a staple in classical painting practices. As a beginner painter you always start by copying from still life or original artwork. For example, students start by painting Monet’s “Water Lilies” or Van Gough’s “Starry Night” to familiarize themselves with the art styles and learn new painting techniques. But where do you draw the line now when you consider AI?


What do you think, can AI actually create art? Should artists fear being replaced by machines? One thing at least is clear, Artificial Intelligence is becoming more and more visible in our world, whether one likes it or not.


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