AI Is Blurring the Definition of Artist (2023)

AI Is Blurring the Definition of Artist (1)

This Article From Issue

January-February 2019

Volume 107, Number 1
Page 18
  • View Issue

With artificial intelligence (AI) becoming incorporated into more aspects of our daily lives, from writing to driving, it’s only natural that artists would also start to experiment with it.

Indeed, Christie’s recently sold its first piece of auctioned AI art—a blurred face titled “Portrait of Edmond Belamy”—for $432,500.

The piece sold at Christie’s is part of a new wave of AI art created via machine learning. Paris-based artists Hugo Caselles-Dupré, Pierre Fautrel, and Gauthier Vernier fed thousands of portraits into an algorithm, “teaching” it the aesthetics of past examples of portraiture. The algorithm then created “Portrait of Edmond Belamy.”

The painting is “not the product of a human mind,” Christie’s noted in its preview. “It was created by artificial intelligence, an algorithm defined by [an] algebraic formula.”

AI Is Blurring the Definition of Artist (2)

Ad Right

(Video) Midjourney: The Game-Changing AI Project Blurring the Lines Between Art, Design, and Technology

If artificial intelligence is used to create images, can the final product really be thought of as art? Should there be a threshold of influence over the final product that an artist needs to wield?

As the director of the Art and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at Rutgers University, I’ve been wrestling with these questions—specifically, the point at which the artist should cede credit to the machine.

The Machines Enroll in Art Class

During the past 50 years, several artists have written computer programs to generate art—what I call algorithmic art. The process requires the artist to write detailed code with a desired visual outcome in mind.

One the earliest practitioners of this form is artist Harold Cohen, who wrote the program AARON in 1973 to produce drawings that followed a set of rules he had created. Cohen continued to develop and refine AARON for the rest of his career, but the program maintained its core design of performing tasks as directed by the artist. New developments incorporate AI and machine learning technologies to allow the computer more autonomy in producing images.

To create AI art, artists write algorithms not to follow a set of rules, but to “learn” a specific aesthetic by analyzing thousands of images. The algorithm then tries to generate new images in adherence to the aesthetics it has learned.

To begin, the artist chooses a collection of images to feed the algorithm, a step I call pre-curation.

Most of the AI artworks that have emerged over the past few years have used a class of algorithms called generative adversarial networks (GANs). First introduced by computer scientist Ian Goodfellow in 2014, these algorithms are called “adversarial” because there are two sides to them: One generates random images; the other has been taught, via the input, how to judge these images and deem which best align with the input.

For example, an artist could feed portraits from the past 500 years into a generative AI algorithm. The algorithms then tries to imitate these inputs, producing a range of output images. The artist must sift through the output images and select those he or she wishes to use, a step I call post-curation.

Throughout this process, the artist maintains an active hand: He or she is very involved in pre- and post-curation, and might also tweak the algorithm as needed to generate the desired outputs.

Serendipity or Malfunction?

The generative algorithm can produce images that surprise even the artist presiding over the process. For example, a GAN being fed portraits could end up producing a series of deformed faces. What should we make of this?

AI Is Blurring the Definition of Artist (3)

Psychologist Daniel E. Berlyne has studied the psychology of aesthetics for several decades. He found that novelty, surprise, complexity, ambiguity, and eccentricity tend to be the most powerful stimuli in works of art.

The generated portraits from the GAN—with all of the deformed faces—are certainly novel, surprising, and eccentric. They also evoke British figurative painter Francis Bacon’s famous deformed portraits, such as “Three Studies for a Portrait of Henrietta Moraes.” But there’s something missing in the deformed, machine-made faces: intent.

Although it was Bacon’s intent to make his faces deformed, the deformed faces we see in the example of AI art aren’t necessarily the goal of the artist or the machine. What we are looking at are instances in which the machine has failed to properly imitate a human face, and has instead spat out some surprising deformities.

Yet this is exactly the sort of image that Christie’s auctioned.

(Video) Mind Boggling A.I. to Fix EXTREME Blur!

A Form of Conceptual Art

I would argue that the deformed faces do not indicate a lack of intent because the intent lies in the process, even if it doesn’t appear in the final image.

For example, to create her artwork titled “The Fall of the House of Usher,” artist Anna Ridler took stills from a 1929 film version of the Edgar Allan Poe short story of the same name. She made ink drawings from the still frames and fed them into a generative model, which produced a series of new images that she then arranged into a short film.

Another example is Mario Klingemann’s “The Butcher’s Son,” a nude portrait that was generated by feeding the algorithm images of stick figures and images of pornography.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter

I use these two examples to show how artists can play with these AI tools in any number of ways. Although the final images might have surprised the artists, they didn’t come out of nowhere: There was a process behind them, and there was certainly an element of intent.

Nonetheless, many are skeptical of AI art. Pulitzer Prize–winning art critic Jerry Saltz has said he finds the art produced by AI artists boring and dull, including “The Butcher’s Son.”

Perhaps critics are correct in some cases. In the deformed portraits, for example, you could argue that the resulting images aren’t all that interesting: They’re really just imitations—with a twist—of pre-curated inputs.

But it’s not just about the final image. It’s about the creative process—one that involves an artist and a machine collaborating to explore new visual forms in revolutionary ways.

For this reason, I have no doubt that AI-produced pieces are conceptual art, a form that dates back to the 1960s, in which the idea behind the work and the process is more important than the outcome.

As for “The Butcher’s Son,” one of the pieces Saltz derided as boring? It recently won the Lumen Prize, a prize dedicated to art created with technology.


When artificial intelligence has been used to create works of art, a human artist has always exerted a significant element of control over the creative process. But what if a machine were programmed to create art on its own, with little to no human involvement? Our lab has created AICAN (artificial intelligence creative adversarial network), a program that could be thought of as a nearly autonomous artist that has learned existing styles and aesthetics and can generate innovate images of its own.

People genuinely like AICAN’s work, and can’t distinguish it from that of human artists. Its pieces have been exhibited worldwide, and one even recently sold for $16,000 at an auction.

An Emphasis on Novelty

When designing AICAN, we adhered to a theory proposed by psychologist Colin Martindale. He hypothesized that many artists will seek to make their works appealing by rejecting existing forms, subjects, and styles that the public has become accustomed to. Artists seem to intuitively understand that they’re more likely to arouse viewers and capture their attention by doing something new.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
(Video) Thirty Seconds To Mars - Up In The Air

In other words, novelty reigns.

When programming AICAN, we used an algorithm called the creative adversarial network, which compels AICAN to contend with two opposing forces. On one end, it tries to learn the aesthetics of existing works of art. On the other, it will be penalized if, when creating a work of its own, it too closely emulates an established style.

At the same time, AICAN adheres to what Martindale calls the “least effort” principle, in which he argues that too much novelty will turn off viewers. This careful combination ensures that the art generated will be novel but won’t depart too far from what’s considered acceptable. Ideally, it will create something new that builds off what already exists.

Letting AICAN Loose

As for our role, we don’t select specific images to “teach” AICAN a certain aesthetic or style, as many artists who create AI art will do. Instead, we fed the algorithm 80,000 images that represent the Western art canon over the previous five centuries. It’s somewhat like an artist taking an art history survey course, with no particular focus on a style or genre.

At the click of a button, the machine creates an image that can then be printed. The works will often surprise us in their range, sophistication, and variation.

In prior work, my colleagues and I developed an algorithm that assessed the creativity of any given painting, while taking into account the painting’s context within the scope of art history (see sidebar, below). AICAN can use this work to judge the creativity of its individual pieces.

Because AICAN has also learned the titles used by artists and art historians in the past, the algorithm can even name the works it generates. It named one “Orgy”; it called another “The Beach at Pourville.”

The algorithm favors generating more abstract works than figurative ones. Our research on how the machine is able to understand the evolution of art history could offer an explanation (see the sidebar at the bottom of this article). Because it’s tasked with creating something new, AICAN is likely building off more recent trends in art history, such as abstract art, which came into vogue in the 20th century.

Can Humans Tell the Difference?

There was still the question of how people would respond to AICAN’s work. To test this reaction, we showed people AICAN images and works created by human artists that were showcased at Art Basel, an annual fair that features cutting-edge contemporary art. For each artwork, we asked the participants whether they thought it was made by a machine or an artist.

We found that people couldn’t tell the difference: Seventy-five percent of the time, they thought the AICAN-generated images had been produced by a human artist.

They didn’t simply have a tough time distinguishing between the two. They genuinely enjoyed the computer- generated art, using words such as “having visual structure,” “inspiring” and “communicative” when describing AICAN’s work.

Beginning in October 2017, we started exhibiting AICAN’s work at venues in Frankfurt, Los Angeles, New York City, and San Francisco, with a different set of images for each show.

At the exhibitions, we heard one question, time and again: Who’s the artist?

As a scientist, I created the algorithm, but I have no control over what the machine will generate. The machine chooses the style, the subject, the composition, the colors, and the texture. Yes, I set the framework, but the algorithm is fully at the helm when it comes to the elements and the principles of the art it generates.

For this reason, in the all exhibitions where the art was shown, I gave credit solely to AICAN for each artwork. At Miami’s Art Basel in December 2018, eight pieces, also credited to AICAN, were shown.

(Video) Annie Lennox - No More "I Love You's" (Official Video)

AI Is Blurring the Definition of Artist (4)

The first artwork offered for sale from the AICAN collection, which AICAN titled “St. George Killing the Dragon,” was the one that sold for $16,000 at an auction in New York in November 2017. (Most of the proceeds went to fund research at Rutgers and the Institut des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques in France.)

What the Computer Can’t Do

Still, there’s something missing in AICAN’s artistic process: The algorithm might create appealing images, but it lives in an isolated creative space that lacks social context. Human artists, on the other hand, are inspired by people, places, and politics. They create art to tell stories and make sense of the world.

AICAN can, however, generate artwork that human curators can then ground in our society and connect to what’s happening around us. That’s just what we did with “Alternative Facts: The Multi Faces of Untruth,” a title we gave to a series of portraits generated by AICAN that struck us with its timely serendipity.

Of course, just because machines can almost autonomously produce art, it doesn’t mean they will replace artists. It simply means that artists will have an additional creative tool at their disposal, one they could even collaborate with.

I often compare AI art to photography. When photography was first invented in the early 19th century, it wasn’t considered art—after all, a machine was doing much of the work. The tastemakers resisted, but eventually relented: A century later, photography became an established fine art genre. Today, photographs are exhibited in museums and auctioned off at astronomical prices.

I have no doubt that art produced by artificial intelligence will go down the same path.

American Scientist Comments and Discussion

To discuss our articles or comment on them, please share them and tag American Scientist on social media platforms. Here are links to our profiles on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

If we re-share your post, we will moderate comments/discussion following our comments policy.


AI Is Blurring the Definition of Artist? ›

While it's true that AI art may pose a threat to some airbrush artists' careers, it mostly has the potential to expand them. A new generation of airbrush artists is already embracing AI art and making use of its tools and techniques in their own work.

Is AI a threat to artists? ›

While it's true that AI art may pose a threat to some airbrush artists' careers, it mostly has the potential to expand them. A new generation of airbrush artists is already embracing AI art and making use of its tools and techniques in their own work.

How is AI affecting artists? ›

For “AI artists,” the art-making process involves figuring out what string of words will generate the best image — not what colors to mix or brush strokes to try. Even the artistically challenged can produce decent, sometimes deceptive, images using artificial intelligence text-to-image generators.

Why are artists against AI? ›

It undermines the hours, weeks, and months artists put into conceiving and creating their work and has the ability to disenfranchise them in a matter of minutes. AI can undercut a skilled artist's economic viability.”

Is AI art going to replace artists? ›

No, AI apps are unlikely to replace artists. While AI technology has made significant progress in generating visual and audio content, it still lacks the creativity and human touch that is intrinsic to art.

Why can't AI replace artists? ›

Without human input, no artificial intelligence system could ever reach such conclusions. Art is also a way of reacting to the world around us, from politics to the environment. Therefore, an AI system can't recreate these settings without the help of a human artist.

Is AI art stolen from artists? ›

Ultimately, to say AI art is theft just isn't true. AI art-making models are a tool and it is within the hands of the user to either use them ethically or unethically. These AI art-generating models are not directly stealing other's artwork or images to create their own, they just use them to learn.

Can AI take over artists? ›

The short answer is no. Suggesting that AI can produce Art is no different than implying a pencil can draw illustrations or write stories. A pencil, just like AI, is not human — it's a tool.

What is the controversy with AI art? ›

And, perhaps unsurprisingly, new research has just proven that, yes, AI art generators reproduce copyrighted imagery. Image diffusion models such as DALL-E 2, Imagen, and Stable Diffusion have hogged headlines over the last few months thanks to their scarily detailed text-to-image generation.

What are the negative effects of AI-generated art? ›

This could mean less opportunities and income for human artists and it could also result in a decrease in the value and appreciation of visual art overall. Lastly, AI-generated art could raise some ethical concerns. Like, when AI algorithms replicate the styles and works of specific artists without their permission.

Why are artists angry at AI? ›

The AI models are based on millions of images, including artists' work. When AI uses artists' work, they do not receive any return attribution. For this reason, some artists have taken to social media and posted on ArtStation to protest against the use of AI in art.

Why are artists afraid of AI art? ›

The main argument for AI art is “not real” is emotional. Artists argue that even if AI art makes you feel something or tells a story, it isn't genuine or authentic. That is because AI is scanning existing human created art and using that to generate an output.

Are artists scared of AI? ›

The short answer is no. While AI has made great strides in certain areas, it still has a long way to go before it can fully replicate the creativity and nuance of human artists. In fact, many artists are already using AI tools to enhance their work and streamline their creative process.

Will AI take over creativity? ›

The leading opinion is that AI cannot generate fundamentally new ideas on its own but that it can support humans to do so so by catalyzing human creativity. What's easy to overlook, however, is that AI can also inhibit human creativity because as AI gets more intelligent, it becomes more helpful and distracting.

Is AI-generated art ethical? ›

There has been an explosion of software that uses AI to generate artwork on the fly. Now, working artists say these systems are unethical because they trained using artists work, and without their permission.

Will 3D artists be replaced by AI? ›

And it is very unlikely that it will replace 3D artists, architects, and designers. Though AI does streamline some processes, it always needs a human touch to produce something truly interesting or useful. On a grand scale, AI is similar to photography, which shook the art world more than a hundred years ago.

How do I stop my art from being used in AI? ›

Glaze is a tool that can help artists protect their work from AI art generators. The app works by applying subtle changes to the artwork—changes so minor that they're barely noticeable to humans—that can easily confuse AI software.

Does AI art hurt artists? ›

AI art not only invalidates the hard work of real artists, but it also stands to be an absolute ethical nightmare. Many AI programs, such as DALL-E and DALL-E 2, require pre-existing art to be fed to them to understand certain art styles' basics.

Who is the artist lawsuit against AI? ›

A group of San Francisco artists, including cartoonist Sarah Andersen and illustrator Karla Ortiz, are taking legal action to reclaim copyright and consent by filing a class-action lawsuit against DreamUp, Midjourney, and Stable Diffusion.

Is it illegal to sell AI-generated art? ›

By that logic, an AI art piece cannot be copyrighted by typical copyrighting standard practices. One AI art generator, Deep AI, states on its terms of service page that all content created using its AI tools is free of copyright, including for all legal uses, such as personal and commercial gain.

Will AI make graphic designers obsolete? ›

Most importantly, today's AI lacks creativity; it's based on 'crystalized intelligence' and can not come up with brand-new ideas. While AI may become a tool to help our design process [Steve Dennis. 2022. How designers can start using AI at work today], it will not replace designers any time soon.

Do AI artists make money? ›

One of the most profitable ways to make money from AI art is to create print-on-demand products using your art. All you need to do is upload your designs to websites like TeeSpring and RedBubble. These websites will print your artwork on various products, such as t-shirts, mugs, posters and notebooks.

Does AI art pay artists? ›

The ability to create breath taking works of art through a prompt is a great way for anyone to express their creativity. However, there is another side to the AI art process, one that is not talked about enough. The artists whose works enables these generators are not compensated for their work in any way.

Why illustrators are furious about AI? ›

They will never move their hands the way the original artist did. AI doesn't do the same – it can only copy.” When a human artist does “mimic a style, or pass off a piece of artwork as their own, it is incredibly frowned upon – and in some cases could be seen as copyright infringement.

What is the ethical problem with AI art? ›

The Ethical Downsides of Using AI Art Generators

AI is changing the future of art in amazing ways, but the technology has several flaws to iron out, especially when it comes to its ethical use. Copyright violation is the biggest problem alongside the ongoing debate on whether AI-generated images are real art at all.

Are artists revolting against AI art on ArtStation? ›

On the professional portfolio site ArtStation, hundreds of artists are upset about the use of AI-made art. Artists are fed up with the AI work on Epic Games' portfolio site, but the firm isn't backing down. Epic Games has issued a statement stating that AI photos will not be banned.

What are 3 negative impacts of AI on society? ›

These negative effects include unemployment, bias, terrorism, and risks to privacy, which the paper will discuss in detail.

Is AI-generated art true art? ›

Much more than just a text prompt! AI-generated art is not really “AI art.” It is actually engineer-generated art.

How do artists feel about AI-generated art? ›

Some enjoy the creation of AI art, while others see it as a machine that stole their artwork and craft. The majority of the concerns are focused on the datasets that are used to create the AI art. Datasets use copyrighted images, and generally, artists don't like that their artwork is used without their consent.

What do concept artists think of AI? ›

AI can be a useful tool for concept artists, providing them with new ways to generate ideas and explore different options. It can also help to automate certain tasks, freeing up time for humans to focus on more creative and innovative work.

Why generative AI scares artists but not writers? ›

The reason lies in how we perceive art rather than in how we create it. Artists aren't more worried than writers because they believe AI can perfectly replicate something with which they identify tightly (i.e., their own style)—actually, they mock AI art quite often.

Will AI ever outsmart humans? ›

The AI can outsmart humans, finding solutions that fulfill a brief but in ways that misalign with the creator's intent. On a simulator, that doesn't matter. But in the real world, the outcomes could be a lot more insidious. Here are five more stories showing the creative ingenuity of AI.

Why generative AI angers artists but not writers? ›

The reason lies in how we perceive art rather than in how we create it. Artists aren't more worried than writers because they believe AI can perfectly replicate something with which they identify tightly (i.e. their own style)—actually, they mock AI art quite often.

Why does AI make us uncomfortable? ›

Scientists attribute this distrust and discomfort to our primal feeling of needing to be in control. With AI, we lose that sense of control, thereby giving rise to fear and anxiety. Machines that can think, act, and react like humans are perceived as a threat. Despite this, AI is here to stay.

Is AI becoming a problem? ›

Job Loss Problem

As per an Oxford Study, more than 47% of American jobs will be under threat due to automation by the mid-2030s. As per the World Economic Forum, Artificial Intelligence automation will replace more than 75 million jobs by 2022. Some of the figures are even more daunting.

Can AI think outside the box? ›

No creativity

A big disadvantage of AI is that it cannot learn to think outside the box. AI is capable of learning over time with pre-fed data and past experiences, but cannot be creative in its approach.

What is the controversy with AI generated images? ›

One artist, Greg Rutkowski, has reportedly complained that AI-generated images mimicking his art are drowning out his own work. Users had apparently prompted Stable Diffusion with text including Rutkowski's name nearly a hundred thousand times as of September 2022.

Is AI art legal? ›

US law states that intellectual property can be copyrighted only if it was the product of human creativity, and the USCO only acknowledges work authored by humans at present. Machines and generative AI algorithms, therefore, cannot be authors, and their outputs are not copyrightable.

Will AI art replace graphic designers? ›

AI graphic design still needs designers

Most graphic design jobs require the creative and social skills to negotiate, persuade and solve problems. AI might be the newest technology for designers to learn, but AI is far from a total replacement for professional designers.

Will photography be replaced by AI? ›

In recent months, AI has become one of the most widely discussed topics. A lot of creatives, not only photographers, are saying that AI will kill professional photography. However, this cannot be further from the truth.

Will AI take over architects? ›

AI or Artificial Intelligence may modify parts of an architect's jobs, making them obsolete, but the profession itself will never be taken over by programmed codes or AI assisted robots / machines.

How is AI changing art? ›

Unlike old-fashioned generative art, AI-generated art is not produced with an explicit set of programming instructions provided by human artists; instead, it involves training an algorithm on a dataset so that it can later produce artworks (images, music, or video clips) using its own internal parameters that have not ...

How is AI changing the art world? ›

AI-generated art is on the rise Artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly being used to create art, with algorithms generating everything from abstract paintings to realistic portraits. This raises difficult questions around artists and the role of the human artist in the creation process.

How do artists use AI? ›

AI art generators use machine learning algorithms and deep neural networks to generate art. Large sets of already-made art are used to teach these algorithms how to find patterns and styles that can be used to make new art.

How do artists feel about AI art? ›

Some enjoy the creation of AI art, while others see it as a machine that stole their artwork and craft. The majority of the concerns are focused on the datasets that are used to create the AI art. Datasets use copyrighted images, and generally, artists don't like that their artwork is used without their consent.

What is the bias in AI-generated art? ›

Some critics argue that the algorithms powering AI art perpetuate harmful biases and stereotypes found in humans. More cynically, these algorithms have the ability to shape the way we see the world, coloring the visions of AI artists and their audience.

Why should artists be worried about AI copying their work? ›

A user can ask the system to produce an image, such as “a cat in the style of Van Gogh,” and the AI tool will quickly do so. That makes living artists worry that their works will be copied without their permission. Two new legal actions, or lawsuits, have been brought against the AI companies creating the images.

How technology has devalued art? ›

But, technology has also disrupted much of the traditional art world; it has changed audience expectations, put more pressure on arts organizations to participate actively in social media, and even undercut some arts groups' missions and revenue streams.

Do you own art generated by AI? ›

No, you can't copyright images made by A.I., says the U.S. Copyright Office. The U.S. Copyright Office said that art created by A.I. tools would not receive copyright protections.

Do you own the art created by AI? ›

AI Art and Copyright Infringement

The result of an AI artwork isn't copyright attributed to any one person; however, the art used to generate it often might be. In early 2023, Getty Images opened a lawsuit against an AI generator that was suspected of using unlicensed Getty Images photos to create AI images.

Is AI capable of artistic creativity? ›

AI is designed to be precise, to follow instructions, and to achieve specific goals. Because of this, AI is not very good at being creative. The main problem with AI is that it's focused on achieving the results you tell it to complete.


1. How AI & UI designs will change with Microsoft Designer
(Codex Community)
2. Thirty Seconds To Mars - Closer To The Edge
3. Sfera Ebbasta - Visiera A Becco (Prod. Charlie Charles)
(Sfera Ebbasta)
4. Blur - Coffee And TV (Official Music Video)
5. Manchester Orchestra - I Know How To Speak (Acoustic Version / Music Video)
(Manchester Orchestra)
6. Coez - La Musica Non C'è (Video Ufficiale)


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Rob Wisoky

Last Updated: 10/10/2023

Views: 5596

Rating: 4.8 / 5 (48 voted)

Reviews: 95% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Rob Wisoky

Birthday: 1994-09-30

Address: 5789 Michel Vista, West Domenic, OR 80464-9452

Phone: +97313824072371

Job: Education Orchestrator

Hobby: Lockpicking, Crocheting, Baton twirling, Video gaming, Jogging, Whittling, Model building

Introduction: My name is Rob Wisoky, I am a smiling, helpful, encouraging, zealous, energetic, faithful, fantastic person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.