Art and technology are often considered to be from two opposite worlds. Technology is perceived to be mechanical, detached and purely functional whereas art is deemed emotional, humane and expressive. Lately however, there has been a convergence of the two spheres in the form of Artificial Intelligence Art (AI Art), forming a rift between people’s perception of this new reality. Can Artificial Intelligence (AI) and art co-exist to create something miraculous or is this whole enterprise simply disastrous?

Artificial Intelligence is the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines, especially computer systems (Burns, Laskowski and Tucci, 2022). Recently, a multitude of image and art-producing AI softwares have gained traction, most notably DALL-E 2, by OpenAI, Midjourney and Deep Dream, a neural network created by Google in 2016.

The beginning of the AI Art gold rush began in 2018 when the algorithm-generated “Portrait of Edmond de Belamy” sold for $432,000 according to Forbes (2021) . The uproar over AI Art however, began more recently, when Jason Allen’s piece, “Théâtre D’opéra Spatial” won the prize at the Colorado State Fair. This piece was created through Midjourney, an AI image generator.

IMAGE: Théâtre D’opéra Spatial — Jason M. Allen

Allen’s win sparked outrage from many within the art community. Many argued that AI Art is unethical or “automated plagiarism.”

The idea that AI-generated art is plagiarised or unethical stems from the programming process of AI. In the “germination” stage of programming an AI software, hundreds of thousands of images are fed into it. The machine thereby learns to identify colours, shapes, even entire art styles, for instance “photorealistic” style, or “pixel art” style, even renaissance-esque styles, not unlike Allen’s ‘Theatre D’opera Spatial’. Once the machine has been “taught” it then learns to replicate or imitate this work, mixing and matching various features of it depending on the command the artist gives the software, to produce an entirely new piece. The issue is that the images fed into the software are frequently taken from personal blogs, amateur-art sites and various artists, some of whom have passed on, and are often not accredited for their work. Others counter this argument by noting that the machine is simply learning as humans do; through imitation. Allen adds: “Where did you learn to do your art? You looked at art. Whose art was it? You learned their techniques, you studied their art, you added it to your repertoire” (Washington Post 2022).

Others still have claimed that AI-generated art is not real art and risks replacing human artists. There does not seem to be a universal agreement on what qualifies as “real art” but there is a general consensus that art is subjective. Gregory Denver, an oil painter, argues that the artwork itself does not have to be created out of the human soul as “we the viewers are, in the end, the ultimate artists. We are the ones creating the world that is coming in through our eyeballs. That world is in our mind.” Some believe that AI Art lacks the practical labour, the blood, sweat and tears, that make art as meaningful as it is. Jessica Hair, who also participated in the competition with Allen, says her work took 15 hours to create on an iPad Pro with a stylus. Allen’s work took over 80 hours, making more than 900 iterations of the art before he was satisfied with his product (Washington Post 2022).

Will AI Art replace human artists? Arushi Kapoor, CEO of ARTSop, an art consultancy, and founder of Arushi, a cultural centre and art warehouse in Los Angeles, believes that there will always be a love and reverence for handmade arts and paintings and crafts tend to have an “artistic glory” accredited to them. She asserts that technology is not a replacement but a tool for human artists which broadens the horizons of the art industry (Forbes, 2019). For instance, the camera was initially resisted but has now become an integral part of the fine-art industry, allowing for more anatomically accurate figures and better colour composition and lighting (Washington Post 2022).

But the involvement of AI in the art industry goes beyond producing new pieces of fine-art. At the inaugural Aga Khan Music Awards, on 31 March 2019, in Lisbon, Portugal, His Highness the Aga Khan remarked, “art is a matter of humanity just as much as it is a matter of identity.”

AI becomes increasingly relevant in this regard. Art is delicate and often easily destroyed in times of war, destruction and natural calamities. Losing art can contribute to a loss of our history, culture and therefore, identity. Recently though, AI has been used to restore or reconstruct damaged or lost pieces of art, as well as to authenticate art to prevent counterfeits (Raieli, 2022) and also to recover stolen art (Brown, 2021).


The restoration of The Night Watch by Rembrandt displayed in RIjksmuseum
Photo: Rembrandt TNW Restoration - Smithsonian Magazine

It seems like the interaction between AI and the art industry has the potential to develop in multiple ways. Is more crossover between the two inevitable? Is it for better or for worse? Are the two going to merge to create a new world of possibilities or will the technicalities of AI technology shroud human creativity?