AI Is Blurring the Definition of Artist (2023)

AI Is Blurring the Definition of Artist (1)

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January-February 2019

Volume 107, Number 1
Page 18
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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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How is AI affecting artists? ›

Undoubtedly, AI tools are having a major impact on the art world. For example, they allow artists to create more complex and intricate works than ever. They are also helping artists to experiment with new styles and techniques. AI tools are also being used to create new types of art.

Is AI art a threat to artists? ›

Artificial intelligence art is not comparable to human-made art, backed with stories and emotions, but the real threat is the lack of compensation towards ill-credited artists.

Is AI going to replace artists? ›

The reality is that AI art won't replace artists.

Researcher Anne Ploin, of the Oxford Internet Institute, argues that the creative decision-making part, which is critical in art will not be replaced by AI technology.

Why is AI-generated art problematic? ›

Well, to sum it up real quickly, it's just this: artists have been rallying and condemning AI artists and their so-called “artworks” for the following reasons: One, it's belittling their line of work. Two, it's discrediting all the works they've done by hand. Three, the one making the “art” isn't even human.

What are 3 negative effects of artificial intelligence? ›

Disadvantages of Artificial Intelligence
  • High Costs. The ability to create a machine that can simulate human intelligence is no small feat. ...
  • No creativity. A big disadvantage of AI is that it cannot learn to think outside the box. ...
  • Unemployment. ...
  • 4. Make Humans Lazy. ...
  • No Ethics. ...
  • Emotionless. ...
  • No Improvement.
Jan 27, 2023

What are 5 disadvantages AI? ›

The cons of artificial intelligence: A detailed look
  • Creating unemployment.
  • High costs to implement and use.
  • AI bias.
  • Making humans lazy.
  • Being emotionless.
  • Its environmental impact.
  • Lack of regulations.
  • Security problems.
Aug 30, 2022

Why are artists against AI art? ›

Many artists consider AI-art generation tools unethical as they're often trained using datasets that contain artwork scraped from the internet without their creators' permission — in some circumstances, you can even see traces of a watermark or signature.

Is AI art the end of artists? ›

AI-generated art is an interesting and rapidly evolving area, and it is still very much in its infancy. While it has the potential to change the way that art is created and consumed, it is unlikely that it will completely replace human artists or the role of art in society.

Why are artists scared of AI? ›

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. In a sense, AI art is copying or replicating art made by humans.

What jobs AI Cannot replace? ›

These are some of the jobs that are near-impossible that AI will be able to replace them in the coming years.
  • Teachers: ...
  • Lawyers and Judges. ...
  • Directors, Managers and CEOs. ...
  • Politicians. ...
  • HR Managers. ...
  • Singers. ...
  • Psychologists and Psychiatrists. ...
  • Priests and other spiritual figures.

What skills can AI not replace? ›

Here are the top 8 skills that robots and automation can't replace:
  • Creativity. Humans are still superior at creativity to machines, no matter how many there are. ...
  • Collaboration and Teamwork. ...
  • Interpersonal Communication Skills. ...
  • Critical Thinking. ...
  • Empathy. ...
  • Adaptability and Flexibility. ...
  • Moral Awareness. ...
  • Leadership Skills.
May 27, 2022

What kind of jobs Cannot be replaced by AI? ›

Psychologists, caregivers, most engineers, human resource managers, marketing strategists, and lawyers are some roles that cannot be replaced by AI anytime in the near future”.

What is the bad side of AI art? ›

However, there is a dark side to AI art that is often overlooked. This dark side includes the potential for AI art to be used for political propaganda, to create fake art, and to infringe on copyrights. In recent years, AI has become more and more involved in the world of art.

What are the flaws of AI art? ›

Given that the AI models used to generate the art are trained using pre-existing images which may already be covered by existing copyrights, unauthorized reproduction of the images may occur. There are also possible liability issues if the image generated by the AI resembles copyrighted characters or trademarked logos.

Why is AI art so controversial? ›

The first AI art controversy

Aside from the fact that this piece of art wasn't the product of a human, its production flared another controversy because the art collective Obvious didn't credit the creator of the algorithm they used to create the image.

What are the biggest dangers of AI? ›

The tech community has long debated the threats posed by artificial intelligence. Automation of jobs, the spread of fake news and a dangerous arms race of AI-powered weaponry have been mentioned as some of the biggest dangers posed by AI.

What is the biggest problem in artificial intelligence? ›

One of the biggest artificial intelligence problems is that the sophisticated and expensive processing resources needed are unavailable to the majority of businesses. Additionally, they lack access to the expensive and scarce AI expertise required to utilize those resources effectively.

How is AI hurting society? ›

Others argue that AI poses dangerous privacy risks, exacerbates racism by standardizing people, and costs workers their jobs, leading to greater unemployment. For more on the debate over artificial intelligence, visit

What are 4 risks of artificial intelligence? ›

These concerns include the risk of bias, lack of clarity for some AI algorithms, privacy issues for data used for AI model training, security issues, and AI implementation responsibilities in clinical settings.

What are two negative impacts of artificial intelligence? ›

This paper sheds light on the biggest dangers and negative effects surrounding AI, which many fear may become an imminent reality. These negative effects include unemployment, bias, terrorism, and risks to privacy, which the paper will discuss in detail.

How does AI make humans lazy? ›

Automating everyday work is one of the ways AI has made people lazy. Machines that can carry out the same duties more rapidly and correctly have taken the place of many jobs, especially in the industrial and service sectors. As a result, there is no longer a need for human labor, giving people more free time.

Why are so many people against AI art? ›

One reason may be that they are concerned about the potential impact of AI on the art world and the role of artists. Some people may worry that the use of AI in art could lead to a decrease in demand for human artists, or that it could devalue the art created by humans.

Why do people not accept digital art as true art? ›

That's when digital art caught some of the traditional artists' attention. Their argument is that using a computer to draw is considered “cheating,” and that it doesn't require any effort. Therefore, digital art is not considered real art. Of course, not all artists had the same opinion on the subject.

How do artists feel about AI art? ›

Artists can view AI not as a threat but as a tool, similar to how art transitioned to digital tools from traditional methods. It can be a means to augment the creative process in novel ways and act as a creative guide through the process of idea generation or concept development.

Will graphic designers be replaced by AI? ›

AI isn't going to replace graphic designers but what it can do is complement and enrich their work. And it's already begun. Design work can be time-consuming, especially with small tasks that pile up.

Why do artists hate AI generated art? ›

AI-driven image generation tools have been heavily criticized by artists because they are trained on human-made art scraped from the web, and then effectively remix or even closely copy it without attribution.

Why do artists self sabotage? ›

Artists are often very sensitive and feel emotions deeply. Sometimes they use self-sabotage as a cover up for hurts and wounds. Other times they simply need an objective party to let them know practical ways to stop sabotaging their own artistic success.

Why is AI bias unethical? ›

One of the main areas for concern is bias in AI systems. Bias can inappropriately skew the output from AI in favor of certain data sets; therefore, it is important that organizations using AI systems identify how bias can creep in and put in place appropriate internal controls to address the concern.

Which jobs will disappear by 2030? ›

5 jobs that will disappear by 2030
  • Travel agent. It amazes me that a travel agent is still a job in 2020. ...
  • Taxi drivers. ...
  • Store cashiers. ...
  • Fast food cooks. ...
  • Administrative legal jobs.
May 30, 2022

What jobs will survive AI? ›

The list is based on my 38 years of work in AI research, products, business, and investment.
  • Psychiatry. ...
  • Therapy. ...
  • Medical care. ...
  • AI-related research and engineering. ...
  • Fiction writing. ...
  • Teaching. ...
  • Criminal defense law. ...
  • Computer science and engineering.

What jobs Will AI take away? ›

Cashiers, drivers, and translators are among the jobs most likely to be replaced by AI according to our respondents. Cashiers (63% of respondents), drivers (51%), and translators (42%) were named as the professions most likely to be taken over by AI technology.

Can AI ever be truly creative? ›

While each of these are impressive, it still takes actual human creativity to let AI “create” on its own. All of this work was created by using past artwork created by humans, based on human emotion and consciousness. It is doubtful AI can ever replace the true creativity the human brain can.

What is the weakest type of AI? ›

Weak AI is both the most limited and the most common of the three types of AI. It's also known as narrow AI or artificial narrow intelligence (ANI). Weak AI refers to any AI tool that focuses on doing one task really well. That is, it has a narrow scope in terms of what it can do.

What AI can humans not do? ›

Answer puzzled question

Artificial intelligence is well known for solving problems and providing data-driven answers. Humans might take days and months to figure out the solution, but machines can easily do it in real-time.

What is unethical in AI? ›

Another huge issue in AI ethics is data privacy and surveillance. With the rise of the internet and digital technologies, people now leave behind a trail of data that corporations and governments can access. In many cases, advertising and social media companies have collected and sold data without consumers' consent.

Is AI art plagiarized? ›

Yes — if someone builds and trains an AI art model specifically on an artist's work, that's plagiarism. But such conduct was a problem long before anyone even conceived of building these tools.

Is AI being overhyped? ›

Yes, of course, it is; in the same way as VR and blockchain are. For the last few years, the power of AI is demonstrated by its advances into different areas and how it is transforming them in every possible way.

Why should we not fear AI? ›

Smart people all over the world are working to solve the puzzle of intelligent machines. The basic fear of AI taking over the world and enslaving humanity rests on the idea that there will be unexpected consequences. When you unpack the thought process behind that fear, it's really quite irrational.

How is AI helping artists? ›

We can see AI as an instrument of creation, as an assistant for the artist as the brush is to painting and the guitar is to music. AI helps artists into creating new forms, subjects and styles.

What is the controversy with AI art? ›

Style appropriation and copyright controversy

Some critics argue that the most remarkable feature of the current generation of AI tools is not simply the fact that they can create stunning works of art with little human input but rather how they accomplish this.

Should AI-generated art be considered art? ›

As artificial intelligence becomes increasingly popular for generating images, a question has roiled the art world: Can AI create art? At bitforms gallery in San Francisco, the answer is yes.

Can AI generate original art? ›

In fact, today's AI systems can create any image in any style — from impressionism to cubism to pop art. All they need is a detailed prompt. The creative world is abuzz with potential.

Are artists more emotionally intelligent? ›

The results revealed that the artists and non artists significantly differed on emotional intelligence in which non artists possess high emotional intelligence than artists. The findings of the study help to provide an insight about the need for the emotional efficacy among artists.

What is the biggest threat of AI? ›

The tech community has long debated the threats posed by artificial intelligence. Automation of jobs, the spread of fake news and a dangerous arms race of AI-powered weaponry have been mentioned as some of the biggest dangers posed by AI.


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