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Exploring the Intersection of AI and Art: Is Traditional Art Dead or Can It Thrive Alongside AI?

We're quickly entering a time where we can generate almost anything we can imagine with a few words and a click of a button. Right before the end of 2022, I decided to try out Mid Journey AI. I needed some cover imagery for my latest blog post and the images I was generating with DALL•E just weren't to my liking. The wonder I experienced from using the platform for just one time quickly turned into an entire weekend with my head in my laptop, thinking up prompts to feed the machine. And now that I've started using Mid Journey, there's no going back.

a dark-skinned black man in a yellow hoodie types on his laptop in his living room. AI illustration
art via Mid Journey. notice deformation in hand and laptop placement

Similar to DALL•E, Mid Journey is an AI art generating tool that turns text prompts into stunning visuals. But unlike DALL•E, it runs on the front end of a public discourse server. By purchasing a monthly plan, you can privately "communicate" with the Mid Journey bot and manage your art generation in a calmer environment. It didn't take long for me to do just that.

Unlike DALL•E, which is known for creating photo-realistic images, including those of human faces, Mid Journey is more adept and wildly successful at creating artistic, stylized works. However, this has not been without controversy, as it has been revealed that a large portion of the data sets fed into the Mid Journey learning model were taken from artists who were not only not compensated for their work, but also unaware that their work was being used.

Although I believe artists should be fairly compensated, the reality is that these technologies are here to stay and are only getting exponentially better as more and more people - now numbering in the millions - use and train these data sets to understand what humans find aesthetically pleasing.

With Mid Journey, I've found that the only limit is your imagination, but there is a fine line between being too detailed and not detailed enough when crafting your input prompts. Anything you don't specify will be randomized by the machine, and things are often left out if not expressly mentioned. Furthermore, text that appears in images is often rendered misspelled or deformed as shown in the set of vintage African City Travel posters in the slideshow above.

If that weren't enough, misspellings, syntax, and grammar mistakes in the input prompt can yield some pretty unwanted, and sometimes terrifying, results. Still, I feel that my satisfaction rate with Mid Journey's results is leagues better than what I was getting with DALL•E, and the results are far more aesthetically pleasing.

Is art dead?

Many artists are rightfully fearful that the new age of AI art is taking over the role of traditional artists, rendering their hours of work useless and their earning capacity virtually zero. However, I see a more nuanced story.

In our capitalist society, artists need to make money to survive. We sell our art in exchange for the ability to pay rent, buy food, and occasionally enjoy the pleasures of life. But at its core, the purpose of art is not for income generation, but for self expression. With the advent of AI art and its ability to generate hundreds, if not thousands or even millions, of commercially viable images in mere moments, we need to take a hard look at our values, ethics, and ever-changing reality.

To start, I'm a fan of universal basic income. In addition to potentially taking the role of artists, AI will certainly take on many of the more monotonous, mechanical roles in society. It's even likely that AI will render most programming jobs useless in a very short time. With millions of people unable to work in a traditional sense for money, we need to think about how we, as humans, can make sure everyone is taken care of.

In the interim, I see the possibility for a short-term solution where artists can opt into AI systems and receive compensation when generated art references their styles. I'm not well-versed in blockchain and non-fungible tokens, but I'm sure there is a tech solution to this in theory.

But at the end of the day, aside from art generation and design, there are myriad ways that AI is already impacting the art world, from curation and criticism to gallery management and marketing. It's natural to be concerned about the impact of AI on the art industry, but it's also important to embrace the new possibilities it brings and find ways to adapt and thrive in this changing landscape.

Ultimately, I believe that AI art can coexist alongside traditional art and that both can thrive. While AI may make certain aspects of art creation and dissemination easier, it will never be able to replicate the unique perspective and emotion that comes from a human artist. Art, at its core, is a reflection of the human experience, and as long as we have that, we will always have art.

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