artificial intelligence

We asked artists how they felt about AI-generated art – and they had a lot of feelings

Marguerite de Leon
We asked artists how they felt about AI-generated art – and they had a lot of feelings

Midjourney and Craiyon

How much harm will AI bring to the creative industries? We asked all kinds of artists – from photographers to komikeros!

MANILA, Philippines – It seems that AI-generated art is the latest tech boogeyman spooking people these days, and for good reason. When an artificial intelligence program can create, within minutes, an aesthetically pleasing digital painting based on a few simple text prompts, it will certainly lead to questions about the “genuineness” or “legitimacy” of a work of art, and about the fate of living, breathing human beings whose livelihoods depend on artistic skills.

Case in point, an AI-generated image recently bested man-made entries at the Colorado State Fair, and it caused an uproar among many artists who felt that the win was unfair. Jason Allen, the flesh-and-bone entity who submitted the work, defended himself by saying he was completely transparent about using AI program Midjourney for the piece.

So was this cheating, or was this simply using a newfangled tool?

This question – and a ton of other questions – have been on the Rappler team’s minds lately, so we decided to ask Filipinos from the art world and creative industries for their feelings about AI-generated art, and here’s what they had to say:

The race to the bottom

For creative director Emil Mercado, it is the efficiency of artificial intelligence that might cause the most harm, as it could very well exploit an already toxic industry.

“There is much anxiety rather than excitement for this shiny new tool among artists and designers, since the creatives industry is problematic enough as it is,” he said. “Much of creative work is undervalued, uncredited, copied, or outright stolen. We hear stories of freelance artists racing to the bottom for the price of their work just to clinch a job, only to find out that they need to copy a work of a more established artist/designer. Plus, you have to do three to four studies with unlimited revisions. And then when you finally deliver the piece, it will take months before you get paid. Imagine juggling three to four projects like that trying to eke out a living, only to learn that you’re no longer needed because AI can do it instead.”

“From the client’s perspective, why would they go to the trouble of hiring an artist?” he continued. “They can be difficult to talk to, temperamental, can’t understand instructions, aren’t able to meet the deadline, etc. But with AI, they just punch in the prompt words and they can have results in less than a minute. No more back-and-forth for a period of several weeks, and best of all, it’s cheap. This could also mean letting go of in-house artists and design studios. No overhead costs. No benefits. Nothing.”

THE REPLACEMENTS. The results of Emil Mercado’s prompt “Out of work artist replaced by AI” on Midjourney.

“Definitely, we’ll be losing the human aspect of collaboration,” added graphic artist Raffy de Guzman.

Who gets the credit will also be an issue, comic artist and illustrator Andoy Edoria pointed out.

“If it was the client who provided the artist with a description of an image, does that mean it’s the client who made the artwork?” he asked.

Edoria also fears that the new technology will lead to a new class of less creative work – “prompt artists, prompt engineers…prompters” – and that artists may end up working as prompters instead to stay employed.

Animator Janina Malinis, in turn, feels that using AI would be unfair to real artists:

“You spend years learning and honing your craft, but then someone else just types in a few words and can get the same (or better) results even without any prior training,” she said. “I understand this can be a hypocritical take, especially as an animator where tech is so heavily used and has already automated a lot of processes in the field. Where traditional animators once dominated in certain techniques, technology has already gotten to the point that certain movements can be simulated or generated through software. So, I’m hoping that’s also what AI will end up as – that instead of being used as a tool by clients to fast-track certain projects, it can be a way for creatives to build on their own concepts and ideas.”

Illustrator Guia Abogado also has a bone to pick with AI art being framed as the “democratization” of art:

“The technology will still end up being monopolized by the elite,” she posited. “This is evident given that the more decent AI programs are still locked behind a paywall. It’s history repeating itself – ‘democratization’ was also the driving force behind cryptocurrency and NFTs. Proponents of AI wanted banking systems run by people, and art auctions accessible by any artists online.”

Who’s holding the pencil?

Other artists, however, are a tad more optimistic.

For illustrator and photographer Julian Cirineo, such AI programs make creation easier, but they do not necessarily cancel out the human behind the controls – and may in fact even empower less-skilled people.

“It’s similar to the arguments over digital art. If you created art, say, through an iPad using pre-programmed brushes, are you really practicing ‘art’ if you didn’t learn the traditional way? The answer, in my opinion, is yes, you still created art. You’re the one holding the pen(cil) after all,” he argued.

“What if this becomes a way for those who are more creatively challenged to start turning their visions into reality?” he added. “Sure, it becomes a shortcut, but I don’t think that affects other artists directly, just the one who relied on AI himself.”

Photographer Rob Reyes agrees with seeing AI art as a tool, and not a threat.

“As long as it serves the purpose of setting an idea, or as a guide, and is not used to replace a ‘real, created photograph,'” he qualified.

Comic artist and animator Mervin Malonzo also feels that true art-making still revolves around the human touch:

“I’ve tried out AI art generation, but most of the time I’m not satisfied with the pieces that come out of my prompts,” he confessed. “I learned that you have to provide a ton of specific descriptions for it to work better, and if that’s the case, then I feel that it would still be better if I just drew my ideas myself. For me, the point of art-making isn’t just the final artwork, but it’s also the process itself. That’s what I enjoy about it, so I doubt that AI art generation is for me.”

Fellow comic artist AJ Bernardo also points out the irreplaceable quality of man-made work:

“There are qualities in comics-making that AI-generated images can’t replicate (at least at the moment)— clarity, consistency, and (for lack of a better term) a human touch…. It’s a tool at the end of the day. In the past, I find that if I lean too hard on my tools, the art ends up looking stiff and soulless, no matter how good the execution.”

Teacher and book designer Adam David doubles down on this as well:

“Trite as it may sound, the actual human artist, no matter how poorly they can render a hand (like me all the time) or how poorly they can string up words (like me sometimes) still imparts character and soul and complexity in the work that no AI, no matter how precise, will ever be able to do, until it gains sentience to correct itself and to make mistakes – not because it learned it from the terrabytes of data it processed for rendering, but because it learned to have its own tastes and opinions and biases from all the drawing and writing it’s been doing.”

Visual artist Juan Alcazaren even compared AI art to TVP – textured vegetable protein, which vegans use as a meat substitute: “You’re full but not satisfied, and there’s a strange aftertaste.”

“Besides, stealing ideas from other artists and passing them off as your own is strictly a human artist’s job,” he added cheekily.

Finally, art writer Alice Sarmiento feels that “too much currency is placed on classical forms of artistic production,” and that she finds the development of the technology “fascinating.”

“I find it incredibly interesting that the sheer abundance of images uploaded to the web can be aggregated, and it also opens our eyes to the other techniques borne of this form of image generation: like what the coders and researchers behind the software need to teach the bots in order to prevent dystopian situations. As a writer, I also find the work that goes into writing the prompts necessary to generate these images very fascinating, but the biggest challenge this poses to art critics and curators is how to write about these works. It’s really a matter of understanding that these images are formed from different sets of materials which cannot be easily dismissed just because they’re deemed ‘artificial.'”

How about you? How do you feel about AI-generated art? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section! – Rappler.com

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Marguerite de Leon

Marguerite Alcazaren de Leon heads Rappler’s Life and Style, Entertainment, and Opinion sections. She has been with Rappler since 2013, and also served as its social media producer for six years. She is also a fictionist.