Will AI Replace Artists? (Well, No, But…)

If you haven’t asked yourself if AI art will put artists out of the job, you probably haven’t been paying attention.

AI art has been flooding online channels like Instagram, Pinterest, and Artstation. And people are starting to ask themselves a very simple question:

Are artists going to lose out to AI?

You may have read a recent Vice article about this AI artwork that won a digital art competition at the Colorado State Fair. It’s one of many recent examples of situations where AI art has outcompeted other forms of artwork.

A piece of ai art created by Jason Allen for an art contest
Jason Allen’s AI-generated work “Théâtre D’opéra Spatial”, created with Midjourney

Artist Jason Allen created this piece using a software called Midjourney — a program that uses artificial intelligence and a huge database of reference
images to generate iterations of original artwork.

The software, and others like it, have become increasingly popular among both artists and non-artists. The algorithms have become advanced enough to replicate Renaissance-level master works of arts in a matter of minutes simply by typing in a few word prompts.

At the moment, many of these raw products have noticeable flaws, and can still be identified as AI-created art.

However, the untrained eye might easily be fooled. Take this AI generated piece that sold for over $90,000, and the reaction of the buyer:

Buyers of artificially generated art may not be able to catch an AI artwork when they see it. And this will only become more frequent as the algorithm becomes more advanced.

So what’s the big deal?

Creating AI art is currently an imperfect science and some programs do require some upfront fees. However, it’s vastly quicker and cheaper than hand-painting things, and requires no technical artistic skill, often with incredible results.

Many artists are excited about the possibilities, while others are gripped with fear. How can an illustrator make a living, charging $500-600 per piece, when anyone with a decent computer can create 10 artworks of higher quality in a matter of minutes and sell them at 50 bucks a pop?

As a concept artist an illustrator myself, I find myself in the second category.

I’ll be honest—AI art scares the hell out of me. And I think a lot of other artists are feeling this, too.

Still, I see a lot of artists in my community getting excited about it. What they can create in Midjourney totally amazes them, after struggling for so long to develop their own art skills to a comparable level.

And I don’t blame them. Being an artist is hard right now.

The threshold for technical skill has dramatically increased in recent years, even while demand for art remains high. Already, art directors expect concept artists to be competent in a variety of digital softwares, including Photoshop, Blender, Zbrush, and more. And they expect them to create amazing artwork with smaller turnaround times to meet the demands for huge film and game titles.

It’s only natural to jump on the first thing that lets you create better quality art more quickly.

I think what many of these artists don’t realize is that they are themselves perpetuating the increase in demand for quality and efficiency.

The more artists use this software, the more advanced it becomes, and the higher the skill threshold rises.

So will artists still be needed?

A hand sketching on a sketch pad

The short answer: yeah, probably. Even with inevitable advancements in AI software, we will still need artists to “curate” the work. That might mean making adjustments or compositing the results in Photoshop. It might mean inputting the correct prompts for the project, or designing a base for the AI to work from.

At the highest levels of professional art, an artist-AI symbiosis is probably inevitable to keep up with the demand. The most adaptable artists are already incorporating AI into their workflow as we speak. They’re already skilled enough to use the software to improve their workflow and work quality.

As for the rest of us, I expect two things to happen.

First, AI generated art from non-artists and artists alike will likely become widespread and cheap. It will outcompete amateur and professional artists in most commercial realms. If you simply want “great art”, it will make more sense to simply have a robot create it for a fraction of the cost than paying some amateur right out of art school.

Second (and here’s the silver lining for you purists), I expect that quality hand-crafted (yes, even digital) art will become far more valuable. Not necessarily for everyday commercial projects, but as part of an artist’s brand.

Oil painters, artisans, and ceramicists have not gone out of business, despite the widespread availability of cheaper, even higher quality products.

I have a friend who makes a killing selling hand-crafted animal jewelry, and makes a decent living at it, too. Now, you could go online and get a pair of fish earrings for $10 on Amazon whenever you want (and guess what—people do).

But some people don’t want just any fish earring, they want a fish earring from her.

Because they see her making them on Instagram, and they know her story, and she has a whole identity around this. And they’re willing to pay a higher price for them. They want the earrings from “the girl who makes the fish earrings”, not from “fish-earrings-to-go.com”.

AI art will change everything

A digital ai artwork created in Midjourney

Of course people are going to buy and trade AI art and it’s going to become a huge part of a highly competitive art industry. It’s going to put a lot of people out of work. It’s going to force others to adapt.

But people still want to hire a person. They don’t want art created by Midjourney. They want art created by Artist X, who may or may not use AI in their work.

Basically, some people will want an artist who uses AI and some people will think it’s cheap and soulless. Either way, it’s tied to the creator and their brand somehow. Take the earlier AI piece that was sold for 90K. The buyer was totally thrilled about it. Maybe they didn’t know it was AI and they were fooled. And people should absolutely be accountable for that.

But maybe they’re just thrilled to get a cool art piece created by someone that they know uses AI, and they’re ok with it.

Also, people love to see the process. I imagine that’s what brought a lot of people to my community, to see all of my live streams and process videos (like this one here), where I create the artwork from scratch before your eyes.

And honestly, who wants to see process videos of artists plugging words into an algorithm and watching the program spit out different paintings?

Maybe some people will, but it sounds pretty boring to me.

When people value the process, they value the art

A digital drawing of a landscape in Photoshop

Personally, I don’t see myself using AI in my art any time soon, perhaps not ever. If you follow me and my art, you’ll know that I started out drawing as a kid, and studied oil painting and ceramics in college. I love learning new things, and experimenting with new media.

I’ve also loved learning to use digital tools like Photoshop and Blender. They all help me create, and I get to enjoy every element of the process, completely from scratch.

And I just don’t see how I could step back and let a robot do that for me.

Either way, I’m undeterred. I’m going to continue creating art and improving my skills, and I’m grateful for all of you who are following and supporting my work.

Best,

Eben

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