Like many of you reading this article, I have recently been overwhelmed by a constant stream of social media posts about AI artwork.  I thought I would share my current thoughts about this phenomenon, what we might see in the future, and what we can or should do about it.

My first thought when I saw AI work was that the work attributed to it had a level of finish and rendering that I hadn’t really seen very often. At first I was intrigued enough to become a beta tester. But after doing a bit of experimenting with it and as  I learned more about it, I turned away from it. I want to paint. I am going to paint.

But shouting into the wind isn’t going to make this go away. It’s important that so many artists are coming forward to call attention to the way this technology could upend the creative economy and the lives of all of us in it- but one thing I think we need to realize is that the argument that “artists need to be able to make a living” is never going to persuade a number of people from using the technology. It’s a problem think that needs to be looked art from more than one direction. The parallels of the impacts of Napster on the music industry (and musicians) are not far off, I suspect. That technology upended an industry before litigation caught up with it- and there was  little sympathy for the plight of the musicians, since they were far out numbered by people who wanted free music and had found a way to get it. The result is the music industry as we see it today. Perhaps there are things we can learn from that situation.

One thing we know is that this will ultimately flow to where the money is, the way water flows downhill.

As was the case in music, here are legitimate copyright issues which I suspect that will ultimately be litigated. As I understand it, “Search engine” use is one of the infringements allowed under “Fair Use” and I imagine that this is an argument that the AI companies will use as a defense against any sort of infringement case brought against them. Yet we have all seen commercial work in the world already being done by AI- the San Francisco Ballet 2024 season posters being a recent example. A search engine can turn up images based on prompts, but AI builds new ones, with no regard to who (or what) created or owns the rights to the source imagery.

A civil, respectful discussion about AI and it’s impact seems hard to find, at least online.  There is a lot of emotion surrounding the issue, if not to be found in the AI work itself. It seems inescapable that there are many dimensions to the story, and many stakeholders in the discussion willing to turn the volume up to 10. It’s a bit disheartening to see artists who fear for their livelihoods getting trolled for having legitimate concerns for their futures- these are people who in many cases have built their entire lives around their art careers.   Social media is, as ever, a two edged sword. I have heard of the pre-internet era- the world as the time “before the world confused fame for mastery”- maybe it’s time to take another look at that .



In the 19th and early 20th  centuries, photography upended the art world. New directions in art came about – if you think about it, would Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon or Guernica have happened without the pressure of photography? If we are at the beginning of a similar revolution, we may need to expand our thinking. It’s just the way it is. Nobody is going to come to your rescue but yourself.

We can’t expect much sympathy from those who want to use AI any more so than painters in the 19th century expected sympathy from photographers. We need to respond by creating work that is beyond the capacity of disruptor technology.  Whatever that means, or whatever that looks like, it’s going to be different than what we were doing yesterday. Wishing isn’t going to make it go away – (lawsuits might), but for now we can’t count on that.  Thinking about what you can do that it can’t might be the one proactive thing we can do. I believe that good  Illustration can’t be done from the wrist down, it takes a brain and a heart, and a sense of empathy and humanity- something you have that AI never will. We need to focus on thise things now more than ever.