The photo that is used for this article is my sister, who in 2022, like many others quickly uploaded selfies of herself on an app called Lensa. Lensa is an AI-powered photo generator, that, like many others, allows the user to upload and enhance selfies that are designed to mimic pre-established, trending aesthetics. The beautification of the selfies inherently came along with backlash from the art world. Critics of AI art allege that these algorithms are stealing art from artists. In order to understand the perspective of many artists, it’s essential to understand how these apps generate artwork.
Starting from the base, the Oxford Dictionary defines an algorithm as “a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problems.” In other words, Algorithms act as lists of instructions that AI uses to conduct specified actions, step by step. In the world of AI art, the artist maintains an active hand by inputting the instructions that AI uses as a road map to “learn” specific techniques and aesthetics of past examples. This is where the controversy comes into play. In order for artificial intelligence to create artwork, it first has to “learn.” AI artists write algorithms that incorporate already-made art by assembling a cohort of images to sustain the algorithm. This phase is referred to as the “pre-curation.” The artist must teach the algorithm how to comprehend the creative process that is used to create specific art. The algorithm can be tweaked in order to generate the desired output. Critics claim that the analytical process of creating AI art lacks intent, and creates work that appropriates the creative process of artists. Feeding the algorithm pre-existing artwork from various artists undermines the artist’s ability to consent to the use of copyrighted work, and there is no compensation for their involvement in teaching the AI how to generate profitable artwork. The mechanized blending together of AI artwork lacks depth but serves the purposes that consumers want.
When my sister used the Lensa app she paid four dollars, uploaded a couple of selfies, and in return, she received hundreds of AI-generated portraits within minutes, which speaks to the profound nature of Artificial Intelligence that separates itself from the intrinsic embodiment of the artistic element of intent- AI takes seconds, human artists take hours. The profound nature of AI is that it was derived from the neurological representation of the human brain. Although humans and artists learn about artistic styles in comparable ways, AI is capable of rapidly analyzing and learning from giant databases, something that human process is incapable of. These databases that AI learns from, in an artistic context, are other artists’ creations, consequently threatening opportunities for artists to create and charge a fair price for similar artworks. Therefore, using AI to generate art comes with moral and ethical weight, a weight that will become denser as society cultivates the use of AI to eliminate mundane tasks- slowly eroding creativity.