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Opinion: AI art will never live up to human potential

Humans have used visual forms of storytelling from the days of Adam and Eve. From constructing symbols that tell hunting stories, to portraits of noblewomen, these art forms have defined human expression for centuries. Now, artificially generated art is the next medium to be traversed by this generation.  

Stories have traveled across a multitude of media in a pattern that we have seen time and time again. From painting on a canvas to using film to record real-life action, art is once again facing the challenge of transferring to a new medium. Each time this occurs, artists question what qualities define art and who can be called an artist.

This image was created Dec. 4, 2023, by generative AI using the following prompt: “rise of artificial intelligence.” (Illustration by Adobe Firefly)

Generative AI art made its first appearance in 2014 when Google engineers released DeepDream. This web-based application used a networking model that took prompts from a user interface to output images by using online references and preexisting art.

In the current era of advanced machine-learning artificial intelligence, generative art has been a topic of conversation and concern for many artists. The public debate concerns the ethicalities of AI; specifically, using art that’s inspired by another artist without any fair compensation or credit.  

The 2023 Writers Guild of America strike asks studios to refrain from using AI in their production process to ensure that writers are not out of a job, and I believe it’s a valid point for writers to bring up. Thankfully, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers has made a tentative agreement to refrain from using AI in its final products.  

An art professor at New Mexico State University, Craig Cully, suggests the real artistic value of generative AI art lies in human beings’ interaction with the technology. 

“The art lies in the prompt,” Cully said. “If all you’re worried about is the product, quit it. You’re missing the whole point. The whole point is the prompt.” 

Cully said AI can’t understand the nuance of the world that it lives in, nor does it care. AI is just a pattern recognition algorithm that can only take what it has been given and regurgitate it back out. It cannot make a new creation on its own without being prompted to do so.  

I agree with Cully. Artists shouldn’t be afraid of AI. AI is not out to get an artist’s job, nor is it going to be anytime soon. In essence, there is still a level of purity and creativity that only humans can express. 

I believe there are a lot of things to figure out when it comes to generative art in the realm of commodity art. AI art has allowed amateurs to generate character artwork and even produce easy landscape scenery. Many artists have become very concerned that AI is taking away their clientele. However, I would also say that this isn’t an AI problem, but more of an adaptability challenge for the artist. The major problem to figure out is how to identify what images AI is referencing and how to compensate artists for their use.

Let’s look at Adobe and its policy on AI referencing other images for art. Firefly is Adobe’s AI model that references a stock image database and other open-source public domain databases. One of its biggest commendable features is that Firefly automatically compensates its human contributors for using their art, and credits them within the metadata. This has made it easier for companies that want to use AI in their workflow since they know artists who supply the source imagery are being fairly compensated for the work they’ve done.  

AI generative art is not going away any time soon, and it seems as if it will continue to be popular for the foreseeable future as AI models improve. I urge readers to keep in mind that AI is a tool for artists to gain quick references and solutions for tedious tasks. Of course, AI models need to be regulated in terms of which human-made reference material they can use to ensure that artists are being fairly compensated for their work.  

In the end, AI does not have complete human capabilities, and while it can mimic them well, it will never have any understanding or care for the artistic experiences and expressions that humans have.  

The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to New Mexico State University, the NMSU Department of Journalism and Media Studies, Kokopelli, or any other organization, committee, group or individual.

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