How AI is changing the role of artists

Randy Ginsburg
November 13, 2022
“The future will still belong to the curious tinkerers and the culturally thirsty” — Henry Daubrez

Artificial intelligence presents immense challenge and opportunity to artists, and the change looks today as if it could impact every step in the artistic process. Randy Ginsburg speaks to Francien Krieg, Artificial Bob, and Henry Daubrez to investigate how they use AI today and how they feel about its future impact.

Art has always been about the creative process more than the final product. With the rise of AI image generation tools like DALL·E-2 and Stable Diffusion, artificial intelligence is beginning to play a larger role in the creation of art. While some artists leverage AI to better realise their vision, others are producing works that are entirely generated by software.

This disruption is forcing many creatives to find new ways to create meaningful artworks that stand out in a world where algorithms can create art that looks just as good, if not better, than humans. 

This creates a significant question: if artificial intelligence eliminates the barrier to entry for digital artists, how does this affect the livelihoods and careers of talented creators across the globe? 

For Francien Krieg, who has pursued her talent as an oil painter and visual artist for a career over the past 25 years, the evolution of AI art proved troublesome at first. Only until experimenting with the technology did she recognise these tools as enhancers rather than threats. Still, scepticism aside, the transition has not come without pain.

Cutout memories, AI art by Francien Krieg.

“It’s a love-hate relationship. It was mind-blowing to see how I could make images with the same emotional impact as my oil paintings, but much faster and easier,” Francien explains. “However, I felt frustrated because with AI I got the rush of creating masterpieces 10 times per day, whereas with my oil paintings I became more insecure because the process was too slow. I am now trying to get back on my feet with oil paintings while still integrating AI art as a reference.”

The Dutch painter is also conscious of a paradigmatic shift in how artists are labeled. While many artists previously donned clear-cut titles as painters, sculptors, or photographers, these lines are becoming increasingly blurred — if not disappearing altogether.

“All the disciplines are merging, and it’s amazing. It proves more and more that art is about the concept and the message that the artist wants to tell. The technique doesn’t really matter.”

The Czech Republic’s Artificial Bob is living proof. Over the last few years, he has built a flourishing career using these new technologies to shape his work. In his eyes, the shift is inevitable. “Artists should either consider AI as a new tool in their workflow or ignore it completely. If traditional artists are willing to give it a shot, it can open a lot of doors for them. But standing in the way of a runaway train is completely pointless.”

Funny human society, by Artificial Bob.

As for the worries about whether human artistic will be crowded out, he is confident that real quality will always rise to the surface. “Talented artists who have their own style and ideas will still be in demand, but for those who don't have original ideas, it will be hard,” he suggests, adding that “anyone can create artwork, but few can find their style, which is not easy.”

Still, it’s not all sunshine and computer-generated rainbows. Along with the many applications of AI, there are a fair share of ethical issues, particularly around copyright and ownership.

All AI generation tools are trained on massive data sets of artwork, photographs, paintings and more. It is these initial inspirations that fuel the end artwork users see on their screen. But with this magical output, comes a very important question. If the resulting artwork is derived from the works of many artists, who owns the work? Should an artist have the right to opt-in to include their work in the AI model?

“I'm not worried about someone replacing me, because what makes my art are my ideas.”

— Artificial Bob

This controversial question is very much up for debate. To some artists and collectors, like Objkt Community Manager Wise, it seems only logical that the machine-generated output should be attributed to the artists that fuel it. After all, without them, AI would have nothing to learn from.

“The ethics haven’t been explored much yet,” says Wise. “As a collector, I like to know where my work is from. I want to know the original source because even though the end image was created by the artist, there were still different images used by different artists to create that work. The same applies to disclosure around whether the art was created using AI.”

Evermore, by Henry Daubrez. “Down in the lake where she lived, luring all cursed lovers to join, but as they all eventually drowned, she remained all alone for evermore - Artificial Intelligence and the tyranny of taste to start a new era born in the imagination of millions of daydreamers.”

While some artists and collectors are seeking an option to choose whether the artist’s work is included in the data set, others like Henry Daubrez are less concerned. “It would be hypocritical of me to complain,” says the AI artist, adding “stories mean everything. Good technical work without inspiration, story, or an idea does not mean much.”

Artificial Bob echoes a similar sentiment. “If someone uses my art and mixes it with other people's art to create something unique, I think that’s great. Because all the pieces will be partly me, and yet it will be an original piece, not a copy. I'm not worried about someone replacing me, because what makes my art are my ideas.”

“The future will still belong to the curious tinkerers and the culturally thirsty.”

— Henry Daubrez

Like him, artists appear to be unconcerned about the prospect of being replaced all together. As with any industry or creative profession, they expect that those who continue to innovate will continue to succeed.

“A lot of the best AI work I’ve seen is from people who are already extremely busy switching tools, implementing new frameworks, and studying old masters’ works,” Henry says. “The future will still belong to the curious tinkerers and the culturally thirsty. If anything, the traditional artists who are quick to embrace the change have a huge head start.”

Meanwhile, Francien argues that love for the traditional painter, sculptor, and photographer will always exist. Perhaps, she suggests, it will even grow, as the sensation derived from seeing an AI work becomes more familiar. As for her own approach, some things will never change. 

“I’m still a painter and I think I will always be one, but the ability to integrate AI into my work is a really exciting development.”

“Art is about the concept and the message that the artist wants to tell. The technique doesn’t really matter.”

— Francien Krieg

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Randy Ginsburg
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Randy is the founder of Digital Fashion Daily and Third Wall Creative, a web3 marketing agency. Straddling the worlds of retail and emerging technology, Randy has worked with many companies including nft now, Shopify, and Touchcast to create compelling and educational web3 content. Previously, Randy worked at Bombas, developing the most comfortable socks in the history of feet.