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Is AI "Art" Really Art?

by Bennett Dungan

A few months ago people were making funny, strange and meme-y pictures using an app called DALL E which, for a lack of a better description, is an "AI" art program. I used it quite a bit making some fun little images but none were anything that I would consider "art" since I took 5 seconds to plug in a phrase and the images were pretty rudimentary looking.

Fast forward a few months, DALL 2 is released along with other "AI" art programs, one of which is called Midjourney. I found out about this because I was seeing some really beautiful pieces of surreal art on my Twitter feed that had #midjourney #aiartist tags underneath them. The difference with these pictures is that they looked like actual fine pieces of art, stuff you would expect to see hanging in an art gallery. Curiosity bit me and after joining up on the Midjourney discord I was creating similar pieces of art myself within literal seconds. This stirred up many thoughts, questions and emotions surrounding this technology. The pictures this program makes are quite literally breathtaking and more beautiful than most people could ever dream of creating themselves with more traditional art forms.

This caused a lot of controversy among art communities because many of these pieces being generated were being called "art" by the person who made it. The even more controversial part of it was the person creating these images were sometimes referring to themselves as an "AI artist". My gut reaction was to laugh, thinking how absolutely ridiculous it is that someone would ever put themselves in the same camp as other artists after punching in a phrase and having a computer program render it from 5 seconds of human input. A week or so ago I even Tweeted:

The term "AI artist" is kinda hilarious. I guess I'm a mechanic now too since I can steer a car

Though, the more I read and reflected on what art means to me and how that definition is so subjective, I think I may be on the side of the "AI artists" now.

My own definition of "art" is anything created in which the creator (or observer) puts intention and value into. This can be for functional purposes as well, not just a pretty picture. By that definition, someone with the intention of creating something beautiful via Midjourney by typing in "tree in a field full of flowers" is just as much of an artist as someone physically painting it. Are these two artists experiences completely different in creating this piece? Absolutely.

A similar thing happened during the advent of photography. Many painters at the time deemed photography as "cheating" and not real art because they weren't putting the same effort into drawing the scene by hand as it just magically appeared on a piece of paper in a darkroom. As we know today, photography is widely regarded as an art-form and I don't think there's anyone alive to argue against that.

What we're seeing right now is the same argument, it's just traditional art vs AI art. There's a lot of gatekeeping in art communities and the gut human reaction when seeing a 12 y/o kid create something with an app in a few seconds that rivals the beauty of some more "traditional" art is to hate it and find reasons why it's trash and not art.

There's a lot more to be said on this topic, such as how the experiences of these artists differ, but thats an entirely different rabbit hole. Right now we're seeing an evolution in art and I believe there is much more in store for this technology. It will eventually expand human creativity in my opinion, which makes me more excited about the possibilities vs being resistant to them.