AI-Created Work of Art – an Insult or a Masterpiece?

Painted in the 1660s by the Dutch Golden Age painter Johannes Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring is among the most well-known paintings in the history. The painting, which has been in the collection of the Mauritshuis museum in the Hague ever since 1902, has got a peculiar rival dubbed My Girl with a Pearl. The primary peculiarity about the new painting, if we could call it so, is that it has been created exclusively by AI.
The new work of art is also exhibited in the acclaimed Mauritshuis as a modern recreation of the outstanding painting. However, numerous artists were, mildly said, shocked by such a decision coming from the museum. This move irrevocably sparked a fiery debate on whether AI generated works of art are indeed art or an insult.

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ai in art creation

Illustration: MilicaM

If you happen to be in Amsterdam by June 4, 2023, and get a chance to visit the Rijksmuseum, you’ll see the greatest exhibition of Vermeer’s paintings ever organized. Naturally, one of his most famous paintings, Girl with a Pearl Earring, is one of the exhibits at the Amsterdam museum.  

While the painting is on loan in the most populous Dutch city, the Mauritshuis museum, its original home, came to an idea to exhibit fan recreations of the popular painting. Thus, visitors can see a man with a pearl earring, a black woman adorned in the same fashion, even a puppet.  

One particular work of art out of five displayed fueled a ranging controversy. No, no nudes were shown, only an image generated with the use of artificial intelligence.  

A slap in the face to genuine art 

Julian van Dieken, a digital creator from Berlin, created My Girl with a Pearl, his version of Vermeer’s painting with Midjourney, an AI tool, and Photoshop. The notorious AI tool generates an image based on the prompts from a user, combining millions of pictures gathered from the internet – just like ChatGPT does with the text. 

Van Dieken’s creation came after Mauritshuis invited artists to submit their versions of Vermeer’s masterpiece for the installation dubbed My Girl with a Pearl. His image was selected out of 3,482 sent by fans, printed, and hung where Girl with a Pearl Earring is typically located. For the creator, seeing his work of art exhibited in the Mauritshuis museum was surreal. For other artists, it was an insult.

my girl with a pearl

Source: France 24

Iris Compiet, an artist from the Netherlands, shared on her Instagram profile that the exhibition at Mauritshuis was “a shame and an incredible insult.” As this was an invitation to rant, others joined the discussion.  

The key issue with the image, which Compiet described as “Frankensteinish” is that it was generated with AI. For many artists, AI tools infringe the copyright by implementing the works of other artists as the basis for image generation, in addition to scraping the data of internet users. Due to this, it is criticized as “unethical technology” that doesn’t belong in an art museum. 

But does AI-generated art pose a threat to traditional art? Artist Milica Mijajlović believes it doesn’t. “It might pose a ‘threat’ to some fields such as applied art, but again not entirely, only in segments where automatization can be useful.” 

What is and what isn’t art? 

It’s extremely ungrateful and challenging to draw the line between what is and what isn’t art. But one thing is certain – art created with AI is budding. The popularity and enthusiasm around AI art have skyrocketed this year. It is now easier than ever to create art because of the introduction of several new AI tools. The power and functionality of these tools are ever-growing.  

Still, AI-generated art brings up some delicate and difficult questions. Who is the rightful owner of AI-produced pieces of art? Will designers be compelled to use AI or risk falling behind? Will artificial intelligence eventually replace artists? 

“I’m not quite sure, possibly in case we evolve into human beings who don’t need creativity which has existed within human race since prehistoric times (cave painting). Art produced for the sake of money, without intention of expression, may definitely be replaced. Yet, a question that arises is if that’s art in the first place,” Milica Mijajlović comments. 

Nobody can say with certainty what long-term effects artificial intelligence will have on the art world because the future is so unknown. The AI genie has been released out of the bottle, and we do know that it won’t be coming back. If it becomes more of a Pandora’s box, difficulties will arise. 

What is AI art? 

When we discuss art produced by artificial intelligence, we refer to computer programs that have undergone machine learning training to generate visuals on command. Having been trained on millions of images, AI tools can generate new images upon users’ requests.  

Some of the most famous artificial intelligence tools for generating art are Dall-E, Midjourney, and Stable Diffusion. All of them function in the same manner. You, as a user, give prompts and the tool generates an image according to them. Later on, users have an option to refine the image or make new iterations.  

Source: IFLS

Such a way of creating art appears deceptively straightforward, and anyone can master it fairly fast. In only a few minutes, users can instruct the AI to generate amazing artworks. Being incredibly powerful and versatile, these digital technologies can create paintings that are inspired by Van Gogh, photorealistic imagery, or a variety of other artistic techniques. 

Professional artists and many others in the creative sectors are currently pausing to reflect on the speed, accessibility, and quality of the product, as well as to panic. What will the future of artists be like if someone who doesn’t have many artistic skills can produce a high-quality work of art? 

How to tell a difference between AI and man-made art? 

The main discrepancy between computer-generated and human-made art lies in details, complexity, and sentiment. AI art may be generated fast and in great volumes; it also possesses intricate and complicated details which may make it pretty complex.  

However, AI-generated art lacks the human touch and emotional resonance that man-made art possesses. Human-made art may be less exact and take longer to create, but it can be more emotional and represent the artist’s unique perspective.  

Nevertheless, both forms of art have distinctive qualities of their own and can be implemented for various purposes. 

Is this deja vu? 

Artificial intelligence is not a recent development, nor is advancing technology. Many first believed that the invention of the camera would put an end to painting. Why would you need to paint a landscape if a camera can capture its beauty just as well? Of course, painting survived, while photography also developed into a distinct art form. 

Artist Milica Mijajlović makes the same comparison. “The advent of photography brought up the question of whether painting made sense given that everything could be recorded with a camera. Nevertheless, painting still exists since in this case the process itself has primacy over the result, along with the authenticity that the process brings. Photography is a medium and an art in itself – sometimes autonomous and often in the service of painting, sculpture, etc.” 

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I believe the same will happen with the use of artificial intelligence in the process of creation. AI art will emerge as a separate field, but certain AI methods will be also merged with other, more traditional forms of expression for the purpose of creativity.

Milica Mijajlović, artist

Yet, it is likely that the impact of photography on portrait painters’ work was significant. Prior to the invention of the camera, a portrait artist’s painting of you was the only means to capture your image. The simplicity and accuracy of making a portrait this way swiftly replaced painting as the preferred technique after photography entered the picture. In the same way that portrait painters were replaced by photography, it’s possible that AI-generated art will displace certain contemporary artists. 

However, it’s worth highlighting that it is highly improbable people will quit making art simply because a piece of technology can produce AI-generated works of art. AI might change how modern artists work, and the creative industry might incorporate technology into its operations, but human-made art will still exist. Therefore, artificial intelligence needn’t be your foe but your friend. 

AI as a work buddy 

AI will soon become widely used. Thus, it is better to be ready for anything that can happen and be able to adapt. The biggest threat posed by AI to designers and illustrators is that non-artists will start using AI-generated images instead of hiring real artists. 

Currently, people are just playing around with Dall-E and Midjourney, creating their own works of art. But what if these services began to be utilized by editors of newspapers, journals, and websites instead of hiring professional artists? From a business standpoint, this will be significantly more affordable and cost-effective. However, it may lead to many illustrators and designers losing their jobs. 

This, by no means implies that you should start panicking. Instead of regarding AI as a threat, consider turning it into your best buddy. Artificial Intelligence has great potential, so let it be a handy tool in your creative process.  

How to make the most of AI 

Let’s be honest: there is more to design and illustration than generating images according to different prompts. Someone who has received training in the creative fields will almost always be better at making the creative decisions involved in the design process than people playing around with Dall-E or Midjourney. 

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It is enough for someone to give a command such as ‘make a cat with a mouse’s head in a blue room’, be delighted with the result, and conclude that artificial intelligence can replace the artist. These are mostly people who have very little to no knowledge about the theory of art and who have devoted very little time to this field, but still dare to generalize and make conclusions.

Milica Mijajlović, artist

With this in mind, illustrators and designers might be the ones to implement AI tools and generate the best images by grasping what prompts to give. Plus, they will know how to polish the output and make any necessary adjustments or finishing touches at the end of the creative process. 

When they set out on the journey of creating art, artists typically do sketches first. These sketches could prove to be a great use case for artificial intelligence. Rather than taking a few hours to create various sketches and ideas, artists can utilize AI tools to quickly create the preliminary ideas to offer to your client. Owing to the versatility of artificial intelligence, it’s possible to experiment with a variety of drawing and sketching approaches without having to start from scratch every time. 

Milica Mijajlović is one of the artists who is fine with AI in art. “I support the use of artificial intelligence as a tool in art. I myself have tried to make sketches using some of the currently existing AI tools. However, I am not always satisfied with the results, though they can have their use cases.” 

For designers and artists, coming up with fresh thoughts and ideas can be a challenging part of the creative process. When you get stuck in a creative block, it may take a while before something like an idea pops out.  

In such situations, your new brainstorm buddy AI can act as a catalyst for creativity and thus save the day. Enter your ideas and prompts into a picture art generator, then use the results as a springboard to dream up your own ideas. Computer creativity may end up being extremely distinct from human creativity, leading to some novel ideas and methods. 

So, are artists really in danger? 

The fact that AI is limited to using works that humans have already produced puts it at a significant disadvantage. AI art generators could be able to mimic the renaissance painters’ style, but they couldn’t create it on their own. A neural network that has been trained on human-created images can suggest variations on these images. Still, it will never originate its own artistic movement. 

Art, in general, is a reflection of human experience. Yet, this is another significant obstacle for AI in the creation of art. People use art as a tool to communicate and understand each other and the world.  Though super intelligence might be able to copy artworks echoing the human condition, it won’t have any genuine life experiences to draw from for inspiration. 

People will keep on using technology and AI in generating art, but AI will never completely replace human-created art. “I believe that many people still lack a lot of education in the fields which have existed for centuries. Thus, artificial intelligence might be coming too early. I don’t think we as a species are ready for it yet,” concludes Milica Mijajlović. 

"Ever tried. Ever failed. Never mind. Try again. Fail better."

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