Is AI Art Even Art?

Or are the developers the true artists?

Photo by ian dooley on Unsplash

I asked this question in my Instagram story: Is AI art better than human-made art?

Almost everyone said no. It’s a question that gets a visceral no from most people…except maybe the people feeding the AI.

And yet, we are fascinated with AI art, as all the Lensa selfies have popped up. I admit, some of them have made me laugh as people have created busty, muscular, basically superhero versions of themselves.

I have heard heavy people complain that it makes them thin, thin people complain that it gives them large breasts, and POC complain that it whittles down their ethnic features. AI art just might be sexist and racist, but hey, it gives what we feed it, right?

While we want to say AI art isn’t art, it brings us back to the question of what is art. Is a banana taped to a wall art? These two artists, who are duking it out in court, seem to think so. Now you have probably only seen the image of the slightly bruised banana taped to the wall, as I believe it’s made the internet rounds more frequently than the greener, less curvy banana…

So is one banana taped to a wall better than the other? Is the curved banana with the bruises more aesthetically pleasing? Is it because the tape hits it at a more perpendicular angle? And would it suddenly be bad art if a robot taped that banana to a wall? Or would the artwork then belong to the person who had the idea to have a robot tape a banana to a wall?

Many people like AI art and the Lensa selfie trend because it feels like we have taught a puppy a new trick: We taught AI to make art. But a lot of those same people would turn around and say it’s not art at all, and hold the human beings who created the AI responsible for any plagiarism and theft of concept. It’s novel, and it’s fun, and it’s problematic…and it’s not art, after all.

So in the not-so-distant future, artists like Joe Morford might sue developers whose AI had the idea of creating a banana taped to a wall because it, theoretically, learned the idea from him. So would the developers then have to prove that the AI came up with the idea organically? An AI doing things organically: This is in itself absurd.

(Wait, how do we humans generate our own ideas for art?)

We want to say human-made art is better because a human made it. I want to say that, too. But that’s obviously circular reasoning. Or we want to create a definition of art that says human beings made it. But what about all that Midjourney art that requires several iterations using AI? Is this human-created? And if we say artwork created with the help of Midjourney doesn’t count, then must we exclude artists who use Photoshop, cameras, paint brushes, sticks?

We like to think there is a necessary human component—that only artwork made by human beings can evoke certain emotions, and the greatest artists do this the best. But what about this fake Rothko, which sold for millions? Surely the buyers must have been moved by it.

Our gut tells us no–AI art is not real, that it is a theft of human creativity.

What would the developers think?

Isn’t the AI itself their form of art?

And are they responsible for what it creates?

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