Will A.I. Replace Artists? Some Art Insiders Think So

While some prominent artists have embraced the rapidly-changing technology as a new medium, others have expressed concerns about the future of art.

Japanese contemporary artist Takashi Murakami has shown his colorful and psychedelic art at global exhibitions in some of the most prominent museums, galleries and art fairs. His is a career dotted with eight-figure auction sales and high-profile collaborations with the likes of Louis Vuitton and Kanye West. But even Murakami is concerned about the impact artificial intelligence will have on his occupation.

Black and white photo of Takashi Murakami, Japanese man with long beard and wearing headdress
Takashi Murakami at Gagosian Gallery in Le Bourget, outside Paris, on June 8, 2023. AFP via Getty Images

“The generational change will be dramatic,” he told the Japan Times earlier this month. Although he acknowledged that the technology will likely be unable to match the creativity and wacky ideas of artists like himself, he nonetheless expressed reservations about A.I.’s future. “I myself work with a certain kind of fear of one day being replaced.”

And he is far from the only creative expressing these concerns. In the past few months, the emergence of A.I.-driven tools such as ChatGPT has led to a rising sense of uneasiness on how A.I. will affect jobs in industries like healthcare, finance and journalism. Its potential to cause disruption in the art world, in particular, has led to responses from all types of artists, both established and lesser-known.

Is A.I. an attack on art or the future of art?

Hayao Miyazaki, an artist who helped co-found animation behemoth Studio Ghibli, has called AI-generated artwork “an insult to life itself,” adding that he “would never wish to incorporate this technology into my work at all.” Others view the technology as a direct attack on the industry. “This thing that wants our jobs, its actively anti-artist,” tweeted RJ Palmer, a digital artist, in response to the emergence of A.I. art-generating tool Stable Diffusion. “As an artist, I am extremely concerned.”

The debate has even reached litigation. In January, artists Sarah Anderson, Kelly McKernan and Karla Ortiz filed a lawsuit against Stability AI, the company behind Stable Diffusion, and other A.I.-art generators like DeviantArt and Midjourney. The trio claimed their artwork had been downloaded by the companies to create A.I. images without their permission and without sharing profits of the appropriate work.

SEE ALSO: Federal Judge Rules A.I.-Generated Art Isn’t Copyrightable But Questions Remain

But on the other side of the spectrum, some artists have embraced the technology and begun incorporating it into their own work. Earlier this year, an installation from new media artist Refik Anadol used A.I. to transform two centuries of artwork was shown at the Museum of Modern Art, while British conceptual artist Damien Hirst recently earned $20 million from works created by his newly launched A.I. art generator. Some A.I. artworks have gone on to win competitions, such as the annual art competition at Colorado’s State Fair. “Art is dead dude. It’s over,” Jason Allen, the artist behind the winning piece, Théâtre D’opéra Spatial, told the New York Times. “A.I. won. Humans lost.”

Which artists are most likely to be impacted?

A.I.-generated artwork won’t replace all artists, according to intellectual property (IP) lawyer Kate Downing, but it will have a significant impact on people in specific sectors of the art world. Stock images, marketing materials and generic mass-produced works will be the first to go, she told Observer. Which isn’t to say there hasn’t been pushback. Stock image supplier Getty Images has already barred A.I.-generated work from being sold on its website, in addition to filing a lawsuit against Stability AI for allegedly utilizing millions of its copyrighted images without consent. “That’s where you’re likely to see upheaval,” said Downing. “This is a really attractive alternative to hiring a graphic designer or a marketing firm.”

Artists who make a living off a particular style or genre of illustration may also be more susceptible to their work being replaced by A.I., according to Derek Curry, assistant professor of art and design at Northeastern University. Quantity is also a factor, as the more works available online by a particular artist increases the likelihood they will be used by an A.I. art generator. But artists with established reputations in gallery and museum contexts “are in no danger,” he told Observer, adding that the emphasis on provenance and original work for collectors of high-profile art will prevent them from seeking similar A.I.-generated pieces. He predicts that in the field of “high art” or “art with a capital ‘A’,” the technology will become its own medium, one that could lead to a “wing of the MoMA for A.I.-generated art.”

Conceptual-based art is also safe, said Curry, as artists incorporating concepts like A.I. as a form of social commentary are now thriving off the current discourse. “We’ve been making A.I. art for quite a few years,” Jennifer Gradecki, another assistant professor of art and design at Northeastern University and Curry’s artistic collaborator, told Observer. While discussions about A.I. and artists have exploded recently due to the attention paid to tools like ChatGPT, she said the topic has been prominent in the industry for some time. “A lot of artists have been dealing with this and working with these algorithms for a while.” In 2018, the first A.I.-generated artwork to sell at a major auction house fetched $432,000 at Christie’s. And AICAN, an A.I. system, hosted its own solo show at HG Contemporary Gallery in Chelsea a year later.

Does A.I. pose a risk to established artists?

Both Curry and Gradecki say students have expressed fears about the rapidly changing pace of A.I. evolution. “Most of my students are terrified,” said Curry. But younger artists are actually at an advantage, according to Gradecki, because they can begin shifting their work in preparation for changing tides in the industry, as opposed to older artists who have already established careers in a particular area. “That’s a great position to be in,” she said. “Older artists who can’t adapt will be impacted.”

But the fast-moving nature of the new technology also makes it difficult to make solid predictions. Curry emphasized the fact that A.I. art-generating systems are still unable to understand context or how particular meanings shift. An A.I. that can handle and understand context is unlikely to emerge anytime soon, although its creation is conceivable, said Curry. And while generators have been the primary subject of A.I.-related discourse in the art world, people should be keeping an eye on A.I.s that work on problem solving, planning and analysis, according to Downing, the IP lawyer. “That’s the earth-shattering stuff.”

Will A.I. Replace Artists? Some Art Insiders Think So