In this fascinating start to the semester, my Philosophy of Art class recently covered several readings on the morality of imitation and the line between inspiration and forgery. I always find this discussion to be very interesting, so I figured we should apply this thinking to the recent hot controversy surrounding AI Art. However one may feel about the morality of using any AI art generation, we have to admit that what was initially a great tool with potential for assisting artists has been muddied by its current use for grifting/theft.
As someone who wishes to move forward in the Arts Administration field, I’m used to being asked what constitutes art. After reading Denis Dutton’s “Artistic Crimes” I found that I agree with his assertion that the human performance component of a piece makes it art. He also states that forgery not only misattributes origin but also misrepresents achievement. If we apply this to AI Art, we see that it does lack the human performance in its actual creation. Many argue that typing in the keywords counts, but that’s a process that could also be fully automated and there are bigger concerns regarding the source of the machine learning.
As for forgery, these databases and generators scan works posted by artists who have not consented to the reproduction of their art. For someone to post or sell an AI generated image would mean that they misattributed the style’s origin and misrepresented the achievements of the original artists who spent time honing their skills. Some “A.I. Artists” are very blatant with their imitation as well. Some take a piece directly and run it through a generator to repost, some outwardly ask how they can copy a certain artist’s style, and sometimes viewers catch remnants of an artist’s signature or other original facets of the piece.
This is not to say that all A.I. is inherently bad, but there should be special notice taken when it is unethically sourced. Overall, this is a tough issue to gauge for many reasons, but we can begin to sort out the lines of imitation and theft by thinking critically about the pieces we see online.