Generative AI: Friend or Foe to Art?

Art students and staff share their thoughts on the future of art with generative AI.
Art by Sophomore Vanessa Law

Generative artificial intelligence (AI) has recently taken the world by storm, affecting schools, writing and art. With AI art becoming more accessible due to AI generators such as DALL-E 2 and Midjourney, concerns and controversies regarding the software have grown more prominent. 

William George, who worked in animation and concept art for over 25 years and now teaches art classes ranging from Digital Art to AP Drawing at Westlake, has already noticed a change in available opportunities for artists. 

“[A] lot of job openings are AI. Obviously not just in art, but in every area.” George said. “It’s going to be a shortcut for a lot of people and a shortcut for a lot of content producers that don’t want to pay artists to create these images.”

However, George believes that there will continue to be opportunities for artists despite the shift. 

“[It’s] not something we haven’t faced before. Look what happened when photography came along. [We] used to have this huge movie poster industry where illustrators would get paid huge amounts of money… [With] Photoshop and photography, those people were suddenly out of work,” George said. “There’s going to be a lot of artists that are going to be displaced by AI and its ability to create illustration[s] quickly… But now the question is are there places for the artists to go… Just because there’s displacement doesn’t mean that these people are permanently out of work.”

Sophomore Vanessa Law, a digital art student and member of the Final Draft, has similar beliefs as George on the future of art with generative AI.

“It would reduce the demand for artists, but I don’t think it’s impossible to overcome,” Vanessa said. “For example, when people were drawing as realistic as they can and  photography got invented, people didn’t know what to do, but then they started inventing new [art] forms that photography cannot take.”

Some art students have greater concerns with how AI art is currently utilized. Kailey Hughes is a junior in AP Drawing, and she believes that changes and regulations would need to be made before AI art should be used in the workforce.

“[AI] could be implemented if the right restrictions were put on it, but as it stands, it could put a lot of animators, storyboard or video game artists out of business,” Kailey said.

AI generated art using NightCafe

AI art raises many questions and possibilities for the future of art, but there are current questions and concerns about the ethics of the tool as a whole. Concerns on whether generative AI is using other artists’ work to create new pieces have caused questions over ownership of the generated piece, the ethics behind its creation and whether it is really considered art or not. Vanessa finds there to be a fine line in the ethics of AI art.

“I feel that [the] process of taking existing art and turning it into something new is not a problem. The problem I see is people taking art without the artist’s permission,” Vanessa said.

Kailey shares similar concerns about its ethics.

“I’ve never been the [biggest fan] of AI art because, in some instances, it’s mixing these two [pieces] and then making its own art, and then in other instances, it’s taking this person’s style and then just kind of doing something,” Kailey said. “It’s just never settled right with me.”

Similar to Kailey, George has concerns about the ethics of AI art in relation to artists’ styles. He also raises questions regarding the pre-existing issues of style and ownership in the art world as it is.

“We’re gonna have to figure out to what extent an artist owns their style and how you can regulate that. [There’s] already issues with that right now, with other artists copying other artist styles… so there are ethical questions about that, ” George said. “[The] same issues are going to be there ten times [more] with AI when [it’s] literally taking elements from this person’s style that arguably belong to that person.”

As technology continues to develop and AI becomes a more accessible part of our world, artists have begun to think of how generative AI may be used to assist artists or affect art in the future. George believes that AI art may become helpful to future artists, but—as of right now—requires a completely different skill set.

“AI is great and AI can produce amazing images, but as soon as you start trying to really nail down what you want to see and what you want the lighting to look like, what you want the character to look like, the pose, the hand gestures… how you want that composition to be structured if you want to get in control of that, it’s very difficult with AI to do that,” George said. “I sometimes wonder if learning how to use AI well enough to make it do exactly what you want it to do might not be just as hard as learning to draw or paint.”

On the other hand, Vanessa questions whether generative AI will assist individual artists.

“I don’t think [we] will exist as partners,” Vanessa said. “I think it will assist big companies… but I don’t think it will assist artists directly.”

 However, despite the shift in job opportunities and questions generative AI brings, she does see an optimistic side to AI art. She believes that AI art will open new doors and opportunities for artists, pushing art to evolve and develop into new shapes and forms.

“Artists can use this opportunity to branch out and create more unconventional types of art that AI cannot replicate. And I think we will see a lot of new styles and unique art movements in the upcoming generations,” Vanessa said. “People will continue to create, whether it’s for themselves or if it’s for a job. I don’t think [people] will stop because of AI.”

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