A Letter to AI Art Advocates

If you are excited about using AI tools to create art, I don’t blame you. Maybe you feel like you can finally realize the creative vision that you’ve always wanted to.

Maybe you’re already an accomplished artist and are excited for another digital tool in your toolkit.

Or maybe you’ve never pursued art because you never had the time or the money to do so. Maybe you didn’t feel like grinding away for 10 years without getting paid just for the chance to get an entry level position at some concept art studio. Or to get your work hung up at some fancy gallery just for a small chance it might get bought.

If any of this sounds familiar to you, I get it. We all want the ability to be creative. We want to push ourselves to new levels, even make a career from our art.

But before we do, let’s pause for a moment. Let’s talk about this. Let’s get together with our fellow creatives and ask: is this the kind of future we want to create for ourselves?

Changing the conversation around AI art

First, I should say that I have chosen to remove myself from this conversation for some time. I recently landed a great full-time art job at a game studio, and so I’ve been trying to keep my focus on that. I’ve been trying to limit my exposure to social media and developments in the AI controversy.

Whenever it comes up, I feel physically a bit sick, and have to quickly distance myself for my own well-being.

But here and there, I allow myself to engage, and learn a bit about the different perspectives involved. As much as I would like to shut it out, I know that there are many out there who are excited about AI art tools. And there’s been a lot of hostility between those who are pro and against this sudden development in the art world.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it’s important for both sides to understand one another. And as an artist who finds this development deeply troubling, I would like to speak directly to those who are excited about this technology.

The problem with artists

The truth is, this issue is bringing to light a problem that the art community has had for years. It is the perceived and existing elitism and classism present within art culture. This is what leads many to see artists as removed and disconnected from the workforce, and even to feel hostile towards artists in general.

Maybe art seems to you like an upper class privilege, something that only those with leisure and wealth can pursue.

And to an extent, you may be right. I saw this myself in the art culture that grew around colleges and art schools and the gallery system. It seemed less about the art and the creativity and more about perceived value, status, social connections, and subverting expectations.

And for those that choose to pursue a different route, as I did, making a go at freelancing, getting paid commissions here and there, or even pursuing a job as a full time concept artist at a film or game studio, the path is even less inviting. Years and years of unpaid work, honing your skills in your spare time. Maybe working another full time job or raising children. Applying to hundreds of jobs, only to be rejected at every turn.

I think you’re right to see this and feel that we can do without it. Art and creativity should be something that everyone can share in, regardless of education or class or social standing. And it’s something that we should be able to pursue as a legitimate means of making a living.

I have heard opinions expressed in comments that question why art is so important in the first place. I’m not going to bother going into that here. The very fact that AI art has become so popular and controversial, and that investors are flocking towards this technology should be enough evidence for art’s importance.

But why should we object to this? Doesn’t this just give everyone the same ability to pursue their creative goals?

Why is creativity important?

As a kid, drawing was how I could find relief. It was how I escaped my pain, how I coped with a world that I just didn’t to fit into. Without the means to pour myself into my art and creativity, and to see the rewards of watching those skills build over time, I truly would not be here today.

I knew that making a living from this was a long shot. But it was a challenge I created for myself.

It was a way that I could fit into a world where I always felt like an outsider. And while many others around me were fast-tracking their way into society, and (wisely) choosing well-paying careers and starting families, I was grinding away at these skills.

I was building the infrastructure for my business, and fruitlessly applying to art jobs. I lived in self-imposed poverty, spending months living and working from my car so I could save on rent.

And this was my choice, not because I wanted to be part of some class of tortured creatives, but because the pursuit, the satisfaction of diving deeper into a creative outlet, seeing new rewards from the skills I was developing, was all worth it.

If I could make a living as an artist, I would be a valued for who I was at my core. Something I would never be able to do in a more conventional career.

Why AI art doesn’t help

I think many artists today are in similar positions. And the scraping of their work by AI art companies represents a very conscious decision to take advantage of this desperation.

They know we are desperate to succeed. They know how important it is for us to meet our own standards of quality. So it’s easy for them to convince us that we are the ones who benefit from feeding our work into the machine.

Some have argued that fighting for the right to copyright artwork doesn’t actually benefit artists. It just allows companies to get away with stealing art and keeping it for themselves.

And yes, copyright is one of many ways large corporations have taken advantage of artists.

However, I would argue that unchecked data mining poses a much larger threat. What AI art advocates are missing is that they are not needed for this equation to work.

The companies that are training this tech are relying on human input for now to refine their algorithm but they can just as quickly use the same intelligence to generate the prompts themselves.

And if we are judging prompt generation to be the new tool for artists, why then would anyone need a “promptist” over an AI that can judge what a company’s art needs will be and generate its own prompts accordingly?

I see no end to this cycle, and no reason why human input will be needed after a certain point. This is why it’s important to set a precedent now that allows humans to retain their right to make a living from their creative work.

Art for the people

This is they key to making art accessible to the masses. Not by removing the ability for artists to remain competitive by outsourcing creativity to artificial intelligence (which makes worse a problem that already exists within the industry). But by restructuring the industry so that more jobs are available to artists of many different skill levels and socioeconomic classes.

Yes, for now, using AI tools may give you a competitive edge in the art market. But this option will only exist for as long as the companies who control this technology judge it to be beneficial to them. Ultimately, this is at the expense of every creative person who wishes to sustain themselves through their craft.

The pursuit of creativity and the means to support oneself through creativity is one of the most valuable things we have. Truly, I cannot imagine a life worth living without this.

If you’re new to AI art and you want to learn more about how it works and why it’s so controversial, check out my other article here.

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