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Artificial Creativity: The Modern Crime of AI

Updated: Feb 27, 2023

In Pueblo Colorado, August 29th, “artist” Jason M. Allen won his division’s art competition with just two clicks of a computer mouse. Utilizing the newly developed artificial intelligence software Midjourney, he fed a short prompt into the generator and produced a masterpiece he titled “Théâtre D’opéra Spatial”, or “Space Opera Theatre” in English. Posting it on his social media, it soon went viral as people questioned if this was considered art. Allen didn’t lift a pen to complete this art yet it produced a masterpiece. If creating art is becoming this easy, how will this affect the artist community? And how are artists supposed to react to this fraud?

It’s important to analyze how this art compares to hand-made, human-produced art. Human art takes years of training, something that people go to school to hone their skills in the art industry. Not to mention the absolute instability in going into art as a career. The average salary in a home in the US is about $60,000, and the average yearly salary of an artist is spanning just $20,000, with over 60% of artists making under $30,000. That’s the equivalent of working a full-time job of 40 hours a week for only $10 an hour (Cascone). That’s less than the average salary of a Mcdonalds' employee. Meanwhile, AI can create ten times as much artwork at the click of a button. It doesn’t rely on talent or training, simply on how fast your internet is. Bringing non-complaining, perfect employees of metal into an already difficult field is like a cold slap to the face to any artist already struggling to make ends meet. It’s a pandemic of industrialization.

The art itself has to come from somewhere. Though creating new masterpieces in seconds, the computer needs to be inspired, just like a person. It’s suspected that these online AI art generators skim the internet for thousands of art pieces online, sorting them into its database to replicate the art style those artists have worked on and developed for years. Supernatural fiction world-renowned author Stephen King unintentionally fueled this debate after posting an image of his hit character “Pennywise '' on a bicycle. It was a humorous post with light intentions until he noted that it was “done by an AI bot” (Ajao). This is the result of him feeding the prompt into an art generator that expelled this art piece based on the character based on reference images they found online. The cherry on top, however, was when online users noticed a small marking in the bottom right-hand corner of the image. Seeming like just a squiggle, but upon further inspection, it was increasingly clear. It resembled an artist’s signature. A signature that was unrecognizable after the AI blurred it out the best they could to cover up the thievery of their work.

An art thief that wasn’t alive! Artists all over had never heard of it before! This bot had skimmed the internet and found an art style it enjoyed, just to replicate it perfectly, ripping off this artist it stole from. Artists began to notice that their art may be stolen to mass-produce faux art pieces, and they began removing their pieces from the internet at once to prevent their pieces being mass-produced. Websites like “Have I Been Trained?” emerged to enable artists to check if their images were being used in Google Imagen, another AI-powered generation system. Artist Grzegorz Rutkowski (a renowned artist known for his work in the hit game Dungeons and Dragons) is a firsthand victim of this petty theft. Online art generator “Stable Diffusion” has been caught using Rutowski’s artwork over 100,000 times, having been tracked by Lexica (another website that was created to track similarities from artworks from AI art programs and real artists’ works). Rutowski claims that “ I can have trouble looking for my images on Google because it will be flooded with AI,” (Ajao) drawing the thinning line between artists and their careers. If this online robot can analyze Rutowski’s art and output these thousands of art pieces nearly identical to a piece of his own, even creating new ones in exact replicas of his art style to whatever any internet user may want, why commission him for any work? This could mean devastation for his career.

And art is already a difficult field to go into. Listed as one of the hardest to succeed in, it’s overflowing with passionate people hoping to take their passions and do it for the rest of their life. If only 1 in 10 people who graduate art school find a stable career in art, how will this be affected by these AI programs? Well, Cansu Canca, founder and director of the AI Ethics Lab, claims it may be for the best. “You could imagine human art being this artifact that is hard to find and even highly priced, whereas computer-generated art would be not so highly valued” (Ajao) she claims, visualizing a world where this is better for artists all over the world, making art more accessible to those who may not be able to pay hundreds of dollars for a simple art commission. She claims that in order to move forward we must use this intelligence to improve in our work, using it for the greater good and immersing ourselves in it entirely. However, this is not the common belief amongst artists.

Artists like Rutowski face this blatant fraud and forgery. Currently, in conversations with copyright lawyers, he hopes to legally claim his art style and search the web for any websites trying to mimic it. Other online discussions have banned it, such as popular websites like Newgrounds or smaller servers such as Youtuber Derivakat’s server on the online communication chat room “Discord”. They even made an announcement, claiming, “Given recent discourse in the artist community over the prevalence of AI art, we have considered all sides of the issue and have decided to prohibit the posting of AI art on this server… While we appreciate advancements in technology… We believe that the way AI art is currently generated is unfair and damages an industry of artists who work to make a living creating original and unique art.”. They’re just one out of many who are hoping to stand against this fraud, as communities slowly become more aware of this injustice.

Art theft is a huge problem in the artist community, who would’ve known that robots would be the number one assailant in it? Though it may be used to “progress” the art society, that can’t be done without rendering thousands of artists jobless in an already difficult industry. The worst part about it? It’s almost impossible to get rid of, and artists are concerned about where this will lead in the future. For now, however, it’s important to inform others on the topic in order to raise awareness of how these “harmless” photos may harm thousands of individuals.

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