By Jillian R. Harman
The intersection of art and technology in the 21st century has paved the way for exciting advancements, with artificial intelligence (AI) at the forefront of this convergence. AI’s profound impact on the creative arts is reshaping the landscape of visual art, music, literature, and beyond.
But the rise of AI in the arts is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it opens up a world of possibilities, allowing for the creation of art that transcends human limitations. On the other hand, it raises complex questions about the nature of creativity and the value of human contribution to the artistic process. As society delves into these issues, a balanced perspective is needed, one that acknowledges the potential of AI while also highlighting the challenges it presents.
What is AI?
In 1950, Alan Turing pondered whether machines could think or, at least, exhibit intelligent behavior. He devised the Turing test, which measures a machine’s ability to simulate human conversation, challenging computer scientists to create an intelligent computer.
In 2014, the first program to pass the Turing Test was Eugene Goostman, a chatbot that simulated a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy. It convinced 33% of judges that it was a human during a Turing Test competition at the Royal Society in London. While the result was controversial, and there were limitations to the test, it marked an important milestone in the development of artificial intelligence.
AI utilizes machine learning algorithms to make predictions and decisions without explicit programming. Over time, AI has evolved, aided by faster computers, algorithmic advancements, and access to vast amounts of data. By 2020, natural-language processing systems were matching human performance, showcasing the remarkable progress in AI. Most recently, GPT-4, a multimodal deep learning model from OpenAI, passed the Uniform Bar Exam, demonstrating an enormous leap for machine learning and proving that an artificial intelligence program can perform complex tasks on par with or better than humans.
In the realm of the arts, AI-based text-to-image generators, such as Midjourney, Dall-E, and Stable Diffusion, allow users to describe an image using text descriptions called prompts. The systems generate unique digital images using their vast knowledge of artistic styles, internet images, and machine learning. This technology has the potential to make anyone an artist based on a person’s ability to master prompt engineering.
In 2023, these AI systems reached such a high level of realism that they’ve given rise to deep fakes, images depicting real-world people in situations that never actually occurred. These images blur the lines between reality and AI-generated content and raise concerns about how to authenticate images.
AI and Creativity
AI’s foray into the creative arts has been nothing short of revolutionary. From sculptures to music, the technology is pushing the boundaries of what we perceive as art.
Researchers at Swedish engineering company Sandvik recently used AI to create the Impossible Statue, a five-foot-tall stainless-steel sculpture mimicking the styles of renowned artists Michelangelo, Rodin, Käthe Kollwitz, Takamura Kotaro, and Augusta Savage. The AI system analyzed the intricate details and unique characteristics of each artist’s work to create a two-dimensional representation. AI was then used to extrapolate this image into a 3D model and determine how to construct the massive structure in the real world.
This project not only showcased AI’s ability to replicate artistic techniques but also highlighted its efficiency in the manufacturing process. Rather than carving the sculpture from one massive chunk of steel, which would have required more than eight tons of material, AI determined that 17 pieces weighing 2.5 tons collectively could be cut, precisely stacked, and then carved, resulting in nearly 70% less material waste. Testing and verification times were one-sixth what they would have been in a manual operation. By leveraging AI, the creation of intricate sculptures that once required extensive time and human craftsmanship can now be achieved with greater speed and precision.
Music legend Paul McCartney recently used AI technology to synthesize John Lennon’s voice from a demo to complete a decades-old song. This development comes as controversy over the use of AI in music continues to mount, with high-profile fakes of Drake, the Weeknd, and Kanye West having been discovered. As easy as it is for a renowned artist to create new music, it is equally easy for scammers to create music in the style of other creators, pawning it off as original. Spotify, a major music platform, recently removed tens of thousands of songs generated by AI from its platform and strengthened its monitoring system to detect such files and fraudulent activity.
These examples highlight the power of AI to expand the horizons of artistic creation as well as contribute to a rise in illegitimate uses. Whether AI-generated art can be considered original or creative is a subject of intense debate.
Critics argue that creativity requires a human touch, an emotional connection that AI, as a product of algorithms and computations, inherently lacks. They contend that AI-generated art, while technically impressive, lacks the depth and emotional resonance that characterizes human-created art. Proponents of AI art highlight its ability to generate novel and unexpected creations, challenging our traditional notions of creativity. They argue that AI’s ability to process vast amounts of data and identify patterns beyond human comprehension can bring a new perspective to art, pushing the boundaries of what is possible.
Use of Technology in Art
The influence of technology on the arts is not unprecedented. Throughout history, artists have embraced new technologies and materials to enhance their creative expression. The earliest art can be traced back to cave paintings, where early humans used natural materials like rocks and animal bones for drawing. The invention of tools allowed for more detailed and sophisticated artworks.
As civilizations progressed, artists began experimenting with different materials to create pigments for painting. Initially, natural pigments derived from minerals, plants, and animal sources were used. Over time, new colors and dyes were synthetically developed. For example, Egyptian blue was made from ground limestone mixed with sand and a copper-containing mineral, such as malachite, then heated to 1470 to 1650° F. The exploration and availability of pigments expanded the color palette and visual possibilities in art.
The invention of brushes made from animal hairs, plant fibers, and feathers allowed artists to achieve finer details, texture, and a greater range of strokes. Brushes made it easier to manipulate paint on various surfaces and played a crucial role in the development of painting styles throughout history.
One of the most significant advancements in painting techniques was the development of oil painting during the Renaissance. The use of oil as a medium, pioneered by artists like Jan van Eyck, allowed for greater control over color, texture, and drying time. This technique became a dominant medium for centuries, enabling artists to create luminous, realistic, and highly detailed work.
In the 15th century, the discovery and refinement of linear perspective transformed the way artists depicted space and depth in their work. This technique allowed for more realistic and accurate representations of three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface, enhancing the illusion of depth and creating a sense of realism in paintings.
The invention of photography in the 19th century profoundly impacted the art world. It gave artists a new medium for capturing reality, challenging traditional representational art. However, the art world’s recognition of photography as an art form took time to evolve. In the early years of photography, there was skepticism and debate about whether it should be considered art. Many viewed photography merely as a mechanical process lacking the creative agency and subjective interpretation associated with traditional art forms. London’s Victoria & Albert Museum became the first museum to hold a photography exhibition in 1858, but it took museums in the United States a while to come around. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, one of the first American institutions to collect photographs, didn’t have a photography exhibition until 1924.
In the early 20th century, several avant-garde movements started challenging the traditional perception of art. By the 1960s, artists began blending visual art and technology. Andy Warhol was one of the most influential artists who used modern technology, including video, film, and screen printing, to make his art more visible and accessible. It is a little-known fact that Warhol was also one of the pioneers of digital art, creating drawings on an Amiga computer as part of an ad campaign for Commodore International.
Since the 1980s, advancements in personal computing have led to the development of computer graphic design, digital music, e-books, and 3D printing. Today, artists not only use technological innovations as assistants in their creative process but also as an art and design medium, allowing them to create new immersive and engaging multi-disciplinary mixed media art and installations.
Along with these developments, technology has also had a negative impact on the arts. Some view digital art as an inauthentic version of the discipline. Famous paintings are being reproduced and altered at an increasing rate, thereby devaluing the originality of art pieces. Skeptics worry that digital art will take away the creative aspect of art. While technology gives artists a nearly limitless array of options to express themselves more creatively and accurately, it also can dampen creative expression as artists rely on it to generate ideas.
Copyright, Ownership, and Ethical Considerations
The rise of AI in creative arts brings with it a host of legal complexities, particularly around copyright and ownership. Current copyright laws, designed to protect human creators, are ill-equipped to handle AI-generated art. These laws are based on the premise that a work of art is a unique expression of an individual’s creativity, a concept that becomes murky when AI enters the picture.
For instance, if an AI generates a piece of art based on a prompt from a human user, who owns the copyright to the resulting work? Is it the human user who provided the initial input? Or is it the creators of the AI who designed the algorithms that generated the art? Or does the work fall into the public domain, given that a non-human entity created it? These are complex questions with no clear answers, highlighting the need to reevaluate copyright laws in the age of AI.
The courts have consistently emphasized that IP law can only protect material that is the product of human creativity and authorship. For example, a series of copyright disputes took place concerning selfies taken by apes using equipment belonging to British nature photographer David Slater. Slater argued that he had created the conditions under which the photos were taken. The U.S. Copyright Office published an opinion to clarify that only works created by a human can be copyrighted under United States law, which excludes photographs and artwork created by animals or by machines without human intervention. The UK Intellectual Property Office added that copyright depends on whether the photographer has made a creative contribution to the work, a decision that must be made by the courts. Consequently, the photos in this case remain in the public domain.
Recently, the U.S. Copyright Office opened the door for human creators to seek and obtain copyright protection when AI assists them in the creation of their work. A work containing AI-generated material must contain sufficient human authorship to support a copyright claim. Currently, no legal precedent quantifies “sufficient,” so for the time being, the issue remains murky.
The Copyright Office has clarified that copyright will only protect the human-authored aspects of a work; it does not affect the copyright status of the AI-generated material itself. For example, in February 2023, the Copyright Office concluded that a graphic novel comprised of human-authored text and images generated by Midjourney qualified as a copyrightable work, but the individual images could not be protected independently by copyright.
Furthermore, there are concerns about how AI models were trained. Many AI systems learn by processing vast amounts of data from the internet, including copyrighted works. While some technologists say this is akin to a person learning from exposure to various works of art, it raises questions about the legal implications of using copyrighted works to train AI systems. This issue becomes even more complex when AI uses what it has learned to generate new works, potentially creating derivative works based on copyrighted material.
Another ethical concern is the potential for AI to perpetuate and amplify existing biases. AI models learn from the data they are trained on, and if this data contains biases, the AI may reproduce these biases in its output. This concern relates to all applications of AI, but it’s particularly relevant in the arts, where representation and diversity are key values.
There’s also the question of authenticity. Art is often valued for its ability to express the unique perspective and emotions of the artist. If an AI creates a piece of art, can it truly be said to have the same depth of meaning and emotional resonance as a piece created by a human?
As AI continues to evolve, it’s also being integrated into popular digital tools. For instance, Adobe Photoshop now includes a “Generative Fill” feature, which fills a selected area of an image with new content based on a text description. This feature allows artists to easily add, remove, or edit visuals, further blurring the lines between human and AI-generated art. While Adobe uses only royalty-free content to replace sections of images, can the results be considered original art?
Adobe has also integrated prompt-based AI image generation into Adobe Firefly, its Web-based content creation tool. However, unlike other AI tools, Adobe has chosen to watermark these images to indicate they were AI-generated. The Coalition for Content Provenance and Authenticity, or C2PA, was founded in 2021 to create a technical standard that certifies the source and history of digital media. Adobe, Microsoft, Intel, and Sony are a few of the companies working with this initiative.
Other technology is also being developed to help detect AI images. For example, Truepic offers a camera technology called Truepic Lens, which can be integrated into mobile applications to authenticate media at the point of creation. It captures data, including date, time, location, and the device used to make the image, and applies a digital signature to verify if the image is original and has not been manipulated or generated by AI.
Some lawmakers are now calling for more tech companies to address the problem. Solutions are also needed to identify images as AI-generated after they have been produced and shared online. Reality Defender and Hive Moderation allow users to upload existing images and receive an instant breakdown with a percentage indicating the likelihood it’s real or AI-generated.
Value and Ownership of AI Art
Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) have emerged as a way to authenticate and establish ownership of digital assets, which can be easily replicated and shared without clear attribution. NFTs are unique digital tokens recorded on a blockchain that provide verifiable proof of ownership and authenticity for digital creations. NFTs may become increasingly relevant in the context of AI-generated art because they address some of the challenges associated with establishing ownership and provenance.
NFTs can incorporate smart contracts enabling artists to receive royalties or a percentage of the resale value each time their AI-generated artwork is sold in the secondary market. They also provide a mechanism to create scarcity and uniqueness in the digital realm, allowing artists to sell and monetize their AI-generated artworks as limited editions or even as one-of-a-kind pieces.
NFTs can also allow for interactive or dynamic elements. For example, an NFT might represent an artwork that evolves or changes over time based on external factors or user interactions. These elements add a unique dimension to the digital art experience and may enhance the value of the NFT.
For traditional art, AI and NFTs can positively and negatively impact the value of preexisting artworks. On the positive side, digital platforms and online marketplaces can increase access and exposure to traditional artworks, potentially increasing value or attracting collectors. On the negative side, AI can easily recreate works of art, devaluing physical originals. If digital replicas are widely available and indistinguishable from the original, it may impact the perceived rarity and value of traditional physical artworks.
Funding Shifts in the Arts
As AI continues to permeate the arts, it’s likely to have significant implications for arts funding. Traditionally, funding for the arts has been directed towards human-created works, with grants, donations, and public funding supporting individual artists and arts organizations. However, as AI-generated art gains prominence, it could potentially divert funding away from traditional art forms.
Several factors could drive this shift. For instance, AI-generated art can be produced at a lower cost and in greater quantities than human-created art, making it an attractive option for investors looking for a high return on investment. Additionally, AI art’s novelty and technological sophistication could attract funding from tech companies and other entities interested in promoting innovation.
This potential shift in funding raises concerns about the sustainability of traditional art forms. If funding is increasingly directed towards AI art, it could reduce support for human artists and arts organizations, potentially undermining the diversity and vibrancy of the arts sector.
To adapt to these changes, arts organizations may need to rethink their funding strategies, including seeking new funding sources and emphasizing the unique value of human-created art. While AI art can be innovative and exciting, it lacks the personal touch and emotional depth that characterizes human art. By highlighting these qualities, arts organizations can make a compelling case for the continued relevance and value of human-created art, even in the age of AI.
AI’s Potential in the Arts
While there are valid concerns about AI’s impact on the arts, it’s also important to recognize the potential benefits this technology can bring. AI can serve as a powerful tool for innovation in the arts, opening up new possibilities for creativity and expression.
AI can generate art in a variety of styles and mediums, allowing artists to experiment with new techniques and forms of expression. Using AI could lead to the creation of unique and innovative works of art that push the boundaries of what’s possible in the arts. As technology continues to evolve and improve, AI-generated art may become a separate genre of art, much in the way photography is viewed differently from oil painting or watercolor from sculpture.
In addition to fostering innovation, AI can also expand access to art. Lower costs and greater quantities can make art more accessible to a broader audience, democratizing the art world and allowing more people to own and enjoy art.
Furthermore, AI can be used to personalize the art experience. For instance, museums and galleries can use AI to curate exhibitions tailored to individual visitors’ tastes and interests. This could enhance audience engagement and make the art experience more interactive and enjoyable.
As the impact of AI continues to unfold globally, conversations around AI and its impact on the arts are happening at the local level. Arts organizations are beginning to grapple with the implications of AI. “As a post-industrial city with a history of making, we’re well-positioned as a region to explore AI,” says Nicole Mullet, executive director of ArtsNow. “While there are still a lot of unknowns, the sheer talent and dedication of our creative community will yield inspiring and innovative work in Greater Akron.”
As AI continues to evolve, it will be important for local institutions to engage with these issues, exploring how AI can be incorporated into their work to benefit the community.
Jon Fiume, John S. Knight Director & CEO of the Akron Art Museum, shared his perspective, “We are currently undergoing strategic planning and developing a separate digital plan. Part of that plan will encompass having staff who are experienced or will gain the experience and thus be able to address the impact and or incorporation of AI on museum work.”
The value technology brings to art has not gone unnoticed. In 2022, the Knight Foundation awarded the Akron Art Museum $7 million to incorporate digital and technical infrastructure and create a gallery space dedicated to displaying digital artworks. “As technology has become a fundamental force in the creation, dissemination, and experience of art, it has become essential for artists and arts and cultural institutions to rethink how they connect to people, whether in person or through digital platforms,” said Victoria Rogers, vice president of Knight’s arts program. “Enabling artists and arts organizations to experiment, enhance expertise, and attract and retain audiences is precisely why we are investing in key arts organizations and launching programs that support innovation in the arts in Akron.”
This May, the Knight Foundation announced it had awarded five artists unrestricted grants of $50,000 each as part of its 2023 Knight Arts + Tech Fellowship. Since 2021, the fellowship has supported artists utilizing new and emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, immersive installations, video game design, and software coding. “The intersection of art and technology enables new possibilities for storytelling and collaboration,” said Koven Smith, senior director/arts at Knight Foundation.
Integrating AI in art within our local economy can have significant implications. The arts also contribute to economic development by sparking growth and innovation. It can help mature industries become more competitive and catalyze community revitalization. Companies interested in associating their brands with innovative technologies and cutting-edge artistic endeavors should consider increasing their corporate sponsorships and participation to support these new art forms.
With more funding, exhibitions of AI art will attract tech-savvy tourists who seek unique cultural experiences that blend art and technology. By embracing this new era of art, the Greater Akron region could distinguish itself as a forward-thinking destination and a thriving hub for artistic innovation.
The Future of Art
Delving into the intersection of AI and the arts requires navigating a complex landscape of innovation, opportunity, and ethical quandaries. The rise of AI in the arts is transforming the way art is created, experienced, and understood. It’s opening up new possibilities for creativity and expression, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in the arts. At the same time, it’s raising challenging questions about the value of human creativity.
Technology has also given more people access to the arts, giving art enthusiasts and collectors platforms to build their art collections and share them with others. Technology has also revolutionized the traditional art scene by allowing people to express themselves through interactive and highly-engaging digital art pieces and projects.
From AI, virtual reality, and augmented reality to digital designs and 3D printing, technology has disrupted contemporary art and the art market in many ways, changing how art is created, consumed, and shared. Besides being a versatile and expressive art medium, technology helps artists gain much-needed visibility and exposure for their work.
However, these advancements come with their own set of challenges. The question of authorship and ownership in AI-generated art is a complex issue that our current legal framework is not fully equipped to handle. Ethical considerations, such as the potential for AI to perpetuate existing biases, also need to be addressed. The development of guidelines and best practices is needed to ensure this technology is used properly and benefits all people.
It’s clear that the conversation around AI and the arts is just beginning. As society continues to explore this new technology, it will be important to keep discussions grounded in the values that are at the heart of the arts: creativity, originality, and human expression. Emphasizing the “art” in “artificial” will be key.
This article was written with the assistance of ChatGPT-4. Since the model was only trained with data up to September 2021, plug-ins were used to expand the model’s knowledge, which allowed URLs to several recent articles on the subject plus some additional original content to be evaluated and used to formulate the structure of the story and pull out key elements.
After working with ChatGPT for three hours, much of the content it produced was manually rewritten because the model was unable to accurately predict what parts of the provided content were the most relevant. It also tended to repeat itself multiple times rather than using different phrasing to express the same idea.
Overall, the model provided a decent first draft, but its style was unoriginal and mostly followed academic style writing. This very formulaic approach is likely due to consuming large amounts of online content explicitly designed with search engine optimization (SEO) in mind. The AI model’s repetitive use of words and phrases also supports this hypothesis.
Ultimately, using AI did not reduce the time to compose and refine the article nor significantly contribute to the content. For long-form writing or journalism, AI won’t replace any writers today, but advancements in technology could make that happen in the very near future.—JRH