How is Artificial Intelligence Changing Art?

The introduction of AI art tools is evolving not only the art industry but the way we define and consume art. Shilpa Ahuja discusses how artificial intelligence is changing art, and the role of artists going forward.

AI at the office, created by Midjourney*

Art has always had somewhat of a mystique about it. Even in the media, artists have always been portrayed as misunderstood, enigmatic or eccentric – too lost in their own world to be relatable to everyone else. There have always been many who appreciate art, but not as many who can make it.

Andy Warhol in the style of Andy Warhol

But that changed this year. AI tools like Midjourney and Dall-E 2 make it possible for anyone to create art just by typing in a description in simple English. Type in, “a man looking at stars,” and here’s what you get.

Man looking at the stars

The Post-AI World of Art

While traditionally, artists were associated with art styles, mediums and movements, there was a major factor that really differentiated artists from non-artists – skill. However, the AI text-to-image generators, or as I like to call them AI art generators, have bridged that gap between the two.

Artificial Intelligence is changing art by making it possible for anyone to do it, regardless of their skill. Now anyone who has an idea can create art.

The role of art in culture and society

Of course, this isn’t necessarily great news for artists, because it takes years or even decades to master an art style. Artistic skills are honed with labor and practice, with love and passion. Because of those skills, artists have always been respected.

The fact that now anyone can create good art within seconds is not great news for someone who spent their whole lives learning to be able to do it. What’ll earn them respect now? Moreover, the fact that AI can take over the jobs of artists doesn’t sound like a good thing for the society.

But allow me to point to one silver lining.

The retro woman

The Artistic Democracy

Since art is a representation of the society we live in, a part of our culture, ideally everyone should have the ability to produce it, right? Art is about expression, it helps us process our emotions, to help us understand the world around us and depict our own meaning of life. And everyone needs an expression.

Artificial intelligence is putting the focus of art from skill to subject. Now it’s not important how many hours it took to create a work of art, or how many years it took for you to master that skill. What’s important is whether your subject is intriguing enough to give it a second look, start a conversation, or create an experience, a memory for the viewer.

Toxic relationships

Is Art Just Content Now?

The worry of people right now is that AI art tools will reduce works of art to just content, like any other meme on the internet. But once we get past that, we’ll emerge on the other side of the smoke as a new, post-postmodern society. One that has the power, and tools for self-expression. Where everyone has a language for their emotions.

So no, great art is still great art, not content. The rest is, as it always was, just clutter.

New York City

Even with all these tools, not everyone can still be an artist. Turns out, there’s indeed skill involved in creating a work of art, even using AI art apps. In fact, a lot of skill. Easily evident from the fact that my husband can still not generate decent illustrations for his articles using Midjourney, and he always needs my help with it. While he seemed excited to try to create art with it in the beginning, he has completely given it up now.

“Art still requires taste, imagination. To be able to express, you need a thought that can be expressed, an idea,” he tells me. “While Leonardo da Vinci needed exceptional artistic skills to paint Mona Lisa, he still already knew he was going to paint Mona Lisa before he started,” he adds.

Magazine cover girl

AI tools make art accessible to everyone, but not easy for everyone. They’re actually most beneficial to those who always had the imagination and original thinking to produce great art, but lacked the patience to hone their skills.

AI Tools in Other Fields

If you look at some other popular AI tools today like Rytr that can generate written content or ChatGPT that can help with coding in any language, you’ll notice a similar pattern. While writing and coding are also skills that take years to master, these AI tools make it seem easy for anyone to be able to do it.

So perhaps anyone can generate an informational blog article now using a writing tool, the demand for those will be less going forward. Perhaps readers will place importance on the human touch, an experience, an opinion or the observation of a brand new trend. This article, for example, I couldn’t have written it with an AI tool (I hope).

This means that now, instead of losing their jobs, writers and coders will just have to focus their energy on creating something unique, solving problems through their work. On using AI tools as what they are – just tools.

Coding and writing

Also read: Will AI Replace Fashion Models?

This phenomenon is not new. Technology has always evolved the way artists produce art. Calligraphy is a great example.

The availability of beautiful fonts in personal computers of the 90s led to people thinking that now anyone can do calligraphy, which earlier used to take years to master. And while that is true in a way now, the focus has shifted to selecting the right font, sizing, spacing, etc. to represent the idea in a graphic, or to create visual harmony. Even though seemingly anyone can select a font, you can often tell the work of a professional graphic artist apart from anyone else.

The Changing Role of Artists?

Artificial intelligence is changing art by forcing humanity to redefine what is considered art, and what separates great art from just any art.

AI may change the way artists work, but it won’t change the role of artists themselves. They not only express their own emotions or ideas, but those of the others too. They create depictions of our society and define our culture. They critique the world, the economy and politics through their art. They inspire people, bring them joy and help others find themselves in their works.

Self-expression and self-confidence

The new generation of artists will not be those who sweat for decades just to be able to express themselves, but those who have the original thinking. Those who have so many great ideas within them to justify a need to create works of art their whole lives, as a career. Those who, instead of being eccentric, are relatable. Those who can mix aesthetics with ideas in such a creative way, that the world is inspired.

The Thinker

So what do you think – is AI giving art a new meaning? Or is it giving meaning back to art?

* all art is generated by Shilpa Ahuja via Midjourney, unedited, captions may not necessarily be prompts.

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