The Explosion of AI Artwork & Its Harmful Impact on Black Creatives

Artwork created by AI machines has gone viral on the internet. Artists however, are outraged as it may be doing more harm than good.
Art by @loish (all social media)

If you have been on the internet in the past few weeks, you have definitely heard of the recent developments in AI machinery, especially in AI-generated artwork. However, artists and creatives online are not happy about its recent development, and for good reason too.

For those unfamiliar with it, AI stands for Artificial intelligence. The artificial intelligence specifically used in the creation of AI artwork are machines that learn to simulate human creations, mimic components of previous images and artworks, and output similar work with variations. These variations often depend on a prompt that is input into the machine based on style or subject.

The reason this AI artwork is such a controversial topic is because of its mimicry. Many artists have voiced their concerns after seeing their work being fed to these machines without their consent or having any control over what people are doing with their copied work.

Well-known digital artist Loish, who has worked with companies such as Procreate and Sony Interactive Entertainment comments saying “My art is literally being fed into these generators through the datasets, and spat back out of a program that has no inherent sense of what is respectful to artists.” On her blog, she continues with “Artists, speak out against this predatory practice! Our art should not be exploited without our consent, and we deserve to be compensated when our art is exploited for commercial use.”

And artists surely are taking on this advice. For the past few weeks, many artists have been outspoken on all social media about AI’s harmful presence. Many artists are protesting on the popular professional art networking website Artstation, which has been allowing AI-generated artwork to be published (and not disclosed as AI images) on their website since AI artworks’ inception.

Artstation’s homepage during the early days of the protest.

One tweet went viral of artist Li Flag discovering their artwork was fed into an AI generator without their consent in order to make album art for a song on Spotify.

Tweet by @Lirseven on Twitter.

Not only is AI art being used to copy the works of digital artists, but they are being used to deceive people on the internet. One tweet from the account of @EduEle5, now deleted, said “Slick City organized a fashion show for senior citizens. It was magnificent Check this thread out.” and proceeded to make a thread of the following images.

images from Twitter account @EduEle5

The problem is, all of these images are AI-generated. Since the original poster of this tweet did not disclose the fact that these images were AI-generated in the original tweet, many people believed these images were real. They only later disclosed it in the thread with the tweet “AI or not, it looks beautiful” after being called out in the replies for not being truthful about where the images came from.

Twitter user who commented under the tweet with the images above.

On a surface level this phenomenon seems small, but taking a second to dive deeper into the repercussions of AI-generated art reveals a larger threat to artists, and especially already marginalized creatives. 

Creating AI-generated artwork, photography, fashion, etc. like the images above largely displaces human creatives. So instead of hiring human artists, illustrators, designers, and photographers, companies can opt for a cheaper and quicker option by paying around $10 to have access to an AI artwork machine. 

The specific reason this is more harmful to Black and other marginalized groups of creatives is because of AI images such as the above. AI machines are easily able to make fake realistic versions of Black people and negate the need to hire Black models, photographers, designers, and directors for their actual labor. Not only this, but this Black artwork AI machines are creating is appropriating from the works of original Black artists. 

Some people on the internet are making the argument that AI artwork has the ability to be used as a tool to improve artistic skills by creating images or concepts that might be out of the average human’s imaginative capacity. However, as it stands, those who are using AI-generating machines are not artists themselves. Just look at the comparison between search results on Youtube when you look up AI artwork and regular art tutorials.

Comparison image compiled by art director @JamrozGary on Twitter.

So what can be done about AI machines outputting copies of artwork and being used in unethical ways? Currently, nothing. Copyright infringement laws have not caught up to be placed upon generated images. There are some copyright battles being fought currently with people trying to put their own copyrights over the generated images and others with artists trying to claim copyright over their stolen images, but as of now, the situation is still in the air. 

In good news, a photo titled “monkey selfie” snapped by a monkey in Indonesia in 2011 provides hope for artists, as the US Copyright Office said they “will register an original work of authorship, provided that the work was created by a human being…the Office will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants.” (read more about this situation here.) Artists are hoping the US Copyright Office will add “machines” to that last sentence, making it so that artwork requires human authorship in order to be copyrightable. 

As an individual, there are things you can do as well. Firstly, try to avoid interacting, sharing, and supporting AI-generated artwork online. Inform those around you who do share this artwork of the complexities around the topic. Support human artists and creatives. You can do so by buying their artwork, sharing it on social media, liking their pictures, and simply just enjoying their work. Be extra supportive of the works of Black and other minority creatives. If you are looking for somewhere to begin, explore artists publicized by the KC Defender

If you get no other greater takeaway from the situation, reflect on some of the words by well-renowned director Guillermo del Toro as he says “I consume and love art made by humans, I am completely moved by that. And I am not interested in illustrations made by machines and the extrapolation of information…AI can interpolate information but it can never draw. It can never capture a feeling or a countenance or the softness of a human face…and…as Miyazaki says, it’d be an insult to life itself.”

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