AI Art: A friend, not a foe
AI Art is a tool that can be used to support and inspire creatives. Yet, for many, its presence is seen as a threat to the very nature of art.
With the recent release of tools such as Midjourney, AI Art has become increasingly accessible. Unsurprisingly, this has led to a community of ‘AI Artists’ being formed on platforms such as Instagram. Sam Finn, a 3D artist, is one of these with his account having grown to around 9,000 followers.
Yet with this surge in interest, Finn has attracted criticism, branding himself as an AI photographer. Simply put, Finn describes what he wants to see and the AI creates the image. This convenience that AI Art provides is something that Finn uses not only in his free time but also in his profession. ‘The company I work for now, it wouldn’t feel weird to put an ad out for an AI artworker, at all.’
With Midjourney, Finn’s professional output has increased, but this, he says, only ‘changes the amount of work that is expected from you, already I’m making like 30 to 40 images in a day.’ Whilst he admits ‘it will save time’, employers are aware of the uses of AI, and so work hasn’t become easier, but rather, expectations have increased.
Whilst employers have quickly clocked onto the ways in which AI Art can be beneficial, some artists have been more apprehensive. For Nixie Foster, an independent children’s publisher, AI Art has helped her with her book illustrations, yet she holds some concerns. ‘If it’s used to create works mimicking or relating to work that is already out there in a purposeful way it becomes copying just like recreating a masterpiece hung in a gallery.’
Finn also advocates for this sense of originality, seeing no point in copying another’s style. ‘It just feels a bit artistically unfulfilling. If you want to do that, do it. But you’re going to get bored in a minute because you’ll just press a button and it'll just come out and you’ll have no connection to it.’ Concerns were mostly raised since Midjourney founder David Holz, admitted that the application was trained using assets without consent.
Yet Finn stresses that artists should be ‘honest with themselves, do they use and look at other people’s artwork for inspiration, without permission?’ The programme acts slightly more human than one would think, it has learnt how to draw from frames of reference, and then draws the prompted image from scratch. Is this any different from learning to draw from others and then developing your own style?
Legally, the landscape is a bit more complicated. The UK’s Copyright, Designs and Patent Act of 1988 establishes the precedent that one can hold a copyright on AI-generated artwork, with GOV.UK claiming that ‘The AI in these cases may be considered to simply act as a tool which allows an artist to express their creativity’. Yet for countries like the USA, AI Art is in a state of limbo, residing within the public domain, technically it is owned by nobody.
Finn agrees with the UK’s legal interpretation, claiming that ‘the images wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for (him).’ Satisfaction is what is most important for him, perceiving AI Art as a skill to be developed like any other medium.
‘Everyone has an amazing camera in their pocket but very few people are photographers.’
‘Concept is key, you still need an eye for it. If you look at the public generations of Midjourney, it’s all rubbish. It’s rubbish in the same way if you saw everything that came out of photoshop.’
For Finn, AI is merely a tool that breaks down social and financial barriers. His photo concepts are in themselves, fantastical and controversial. From angels to the 1980s, Finn’s work explores concepts that would be time-consuming and expensive to recreate in reality, so AI Art for Finn has become a way to ‘level the playing field.’
Whilst reception to his work has been mixed, critics most notably reared their heads when Finn uploaded his ‘Truther’ series of images, recreating snapshots of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Yet Finn stood by his piece, despite three days of digital hate mail, with one user expressing their anger, asking ‘What the fuck is wrong with you? You gonna do Auschwitz next?’
There is a sense of inevitability to Finn’s comments, he sees AI Art as a force that will only continue to be accepted. Speaking about this positive shift, ‘Every one of my posts when I first started, I got loads of shit. Maybe half the comments were negative. But now, you know, maybe one out of thirty are.’
Finn is opposed to heavy regulation but his only requirement is that creators don’t ‘create a false narrative, e.g. if I start making images about a war that didn’t happen.’ Yet even this is contentious for him, ‘I think those problems predate AI and probably predate photography. I don’t think that’s AI’s problem, I think that’s just people being a dick.’
Finn sees the inevitable backlash as an example of history repeating itself, referring to the common criticism that photographers once faced, ‘the camera’s doing all the work for you.’ Yet despite the hate he has received, Finn has managed to turn this new hobby into a career, selling his art for cryptocurrency. He has managed to sell artwork for around 0.50 Ethereum, which converts to around £837 per piece.
Since speaking, he has flown to New York City for an artists’ panel, with his art being displayed across billboards. Finn’s main takeaway is that AI Art breaks down the gatekeeping present within the creative industries, ‘I think it empowers people. I’m more interested in seeing what some kid in a remote country does. Now they’re making something, it sort of levels the playing field.’ Finn is well aware that his work may never be seen as valid by some, but to him, ‘there will always be elitism’, yet emphatically he continues, ‘I don’t care.’