The emergence and rapid evolution of artificial intelligence (AI) graphics tools is reshaping the visual arts. In less than a year, the visual arts have been shaken by the production of increasingly sophisticated still images generated using AI applications.

The debate about whether AI art is “real art” has begun. While ignoring advances in AI is always an option, that isn’t going to make it go away. Saying AI art is not “real art” won’t make it go away either.

The arguments are probably inevitable. However, that debate is pointless; the time spend arguing over what art is could be better spent figuring out the roles of AI and human beings in creative processes.

The starving artist barely subsisting in a cold and shabby attic has become a cliché for a reason. The vast majority of creators have been vastly underpaid for the work they do. The question is whether AI-generated artwork will cut even more deeply into artists ability to earn a living.

As with every technological advancement, there are winners and losers. We only need to look at the impact of the Internet over the past three decades. The big winners were Google, Amazon, Facebook, and a very small number of other intermediaries who inserted themselves between content creators and content consumers.

While they collected hundreds of billions of dollar distributing content created by others, most writers, musicians, visual artists, and other creators found it increasingly difficult to earn a reasonable income from their work. To avoid even more erosion of their ability to earn a living, creators are going to have to figure out how they can be among the winners as AI becomes increasingly sophisticated.

Both “Forest Guardian” and “Seascape #1” were created using a combination of AI and Photoshop. These images are among hundreds of experimental pieces I developed over the past nine months using a variety of AI applications. At this point, any discussion of whether AI will be used to create art and the question of whether is really is art is irrelevant.

Marcel Duchamp took care of the debate about what art is when his “readymades” asserted that what is art is defined by the artist. Basically, if an artist say something they created is art, then according to Duchamp, it is art. Period.

Duchamp, however, went beyond that, identifying three important points:

  • the choice of an object for use as a readymade is in itself a creative act.
  • cancelling the “useful” function of an object is a creative act.
  • the presentation of the object and addition of a title to the object can give it new meaning, which is a creative act.
“Seascape #1” created by Peter von Stackelberg using an artificial intelligence application and Photoshop.

If Duchamp can hang a urinal on a gallery wall and call it art, then choosing an image generated by an AI, changing its use, and adding meaning are all creative acts that make it art.

As the sophistication of AI increases exponentially, there are far more questions about the implications of the technology than there are answers. So, the point creatives need to keep in mind is not whether something created with an AI is “art”. Rather, creatives need to figure out how to use AI to assist them in the process of creating art.

Creatives also need to figure out how to have their art, whether created with AI assistance or not, valued in a way that ensures human artists can avoid starving in a cold, shabby attic.

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