Will AI Displace “Traditional” Artists?

What is it about AI that so easily triggers dramatic proclamations? Take, for instance, the “Art is Dead Dude.” This declaration followed after a first place award was given to a contestant who used an AI program called Midjourney to create a surrealistic and impressive work of art. (You can easily find this image on the web, so I won’t link it here.)

I am a big fan of digital art. I am a Photoshop power user (with over 15 years of experience) and over the last decade I have explored and drawn fractals (using Chaotica). With that, I decided to give Midjourney a shot. It was fairly simple, and takes much less time than Photoshop or Chaotica. I used the /imagine command followed by words that described what I wanted to draw; but as I think about it now, it’s more accurate to say “render.” In any event, the program did not disappoint. My “ninja meditating by a waterfall at dawn” produced some pretty remarkable images in less than a minute. Check them out below. This is impressive and even more so considering I would not be able to draw these images by hand. But this is as far as I am willing to go with this. Again, it is impressive, but by no means does this reasonably amount to the death of hand drawn art. This is an overblown declaration.

In many respects, this debate (and others like it) reminds me of professional photographers poopooing amateur photographers that used Photoshop to process their images. And, yes, there were even those who leapt into much more dramatic claims that Photoshop was destroying the profession. If anyone can take awesome pictures, what will professional photographers do? Well, it turns out that professional photographers did and are still doing just fine, the grave concerns, the vast improvements that Adobe has regularly made to the program and the millions of users notwithstanding.

At the end of the day, Midjourney and other AI program like it, such as DALL-E and Stable Diffusion are simply highly sophisticated tools. They are unlikely to displace non-digital artists anytime soon; in fact, just the contrary may turn out to be the case. A “traditional” artist could use this type of program to enhance, layer it with their hand-drawn creation. Another possibility, and one that I view as more plausible, is that we might just be witnessing the emergence of a new genre. At the end of the day, all the various artistic genres can peacefully coexist.

Unfortunately, however, for those of us who are interested in seeing the discourse around AI advance and stabilize beyond the usual hyperbole, the road is long and uncertain. If you wish to explore this further you will find that this issue is also relevant to the unsettled definition of AI, which I have discussed in previous posts, such as AI and the Corrosive Effect of Careless Definition.

Will AI Displace "Traditional" Artists?