A couple weeks ago, DeviantArt announced a new AI art tie-in setup, including a “My Art Is/Is Not Authorized For Use In AI Datasets” option that you could toggle for all your art.
It’s not clear this will do much, since there’s no way to force non-DA art-scraping bots to respect your setting. But the basic framing of “this is an issue that artists deserve to have a say in” is good! Having a major art-hosting website stand behind that framing is valuable!
…They originally auto-set everything to “authorized”, and didn’t have a bulk way to switch the settings. Meaning that anybody who wanted a blanket opt-out would have to set it one-by-one for everything in their gallery. And if an artist has died, all their work would be marked as up-for-grabs permanently. Oops.
After a hot wave of backlash, DA reversed course. All your art is auto-set to “not authorized” unless you actively say otherwise.
Honestly, this is the stuff that keeps me on DA. How many other websites out there will acknowledge “this decision, which was made by staff/stakeholders/the CEO/venture capitalists, is unpopular with our actual users, therefore we’re changing it”?
Tumblr? No. Facebook or Instagram? Heck no. Twitter? No, even before it got bought out by an egomaniac with unhealthy amounts of money. Patreon? …Okay, Patreon did it once, kudos to them.
Sometimes you’ll get a situation like Kickstarter, which announced their Totally Awesome Hypothetical Future Blockchain Protocol almost a year ago, and hasn’t developed a single thing since. I wouldn’t be surprised if, on the inside, they’ve quietly admitted it’s nonsense and given up on it. But that’s in response to “finding out the hard way over a series of months that they can’t actually wring a profit out of it,” not “listening to users who vigorously told them it was a heap of BS from day one.” And they’re not saying a word about it in public.
But DA has a quiet pattern of listening to users, and, when their big excited announcements don’t go over well, retooling their plans to address user concerns. Which I appreciate. It’s hard to find.
Look, here’s how I feel about AI art in general…
Hatsune Miku made her first stage appearance in 2009, and has been a wildly popular singer ever since. Here she is commanding the love and attention of a massive crowd in 2016, in a concert that lasted nearly 2 hours. She’s released chart-topping albums in Japan, and her adoring fanbase is international; she was booked for Coachella in 2020. (Canceled due to COVID, but I bet they’ll get her back.)
And if you explained this to anyone who’s not in the right nerd circles, they would assume Miku is a human.
She’s not! She’s a digital voice-generating program! You enter the text you want her to sing, set the pitches and the timing, and the software outputs a vocal track. Her concert appearances are in the form of a CGI anime girl, with a pre-programmed set of dance moves. She, and the rest of the Vocaloid franchise, are basically Animusic with a massive upgrade in processing power. (Also, thigh-highs.)
Kids who are currently in middle school do not remember a time when “humans pack stadiums to see a holographic robot singer” was a fanciful sci-fi premise. It’s literally just the world they live in.
And you know what we still have? Concerts with live human singers!
Computer-generated music hasn’t replaced human musicians. They have different strengths and abilities. They’re good in different ways. The one doesn’t make the other obsolete. Millions of songs produced with the Vocaloid software, over more than a decade by now, and they still haven’t put all the human singers out of their jobs.
Same deal with AI art.
Some of it is terrible. Some of it is pretty cool. It’s not as precisely controlled as Vocaloids, a lot of it is “turning the algorithm loose and having no idea what’s going to come out,” which is sometimes a drawback and sometimes the fun part.
Look at this robot’s best attempt to paint “Moon Knight drawn by Lisa Frank” and tell me that isn’t fun:
If you want a very specific image, AI art isn’t a great option. If you want to consistently reproduce the same character or setting across multiple images, it’s not great either.
Ursula Vernon — of Digger fame — has been making experimental comics with the MidJourney AI. it works! The reason it works is, she’s not a random non-artistic person who started with “here’s a comic I want to make” and tried to get the robot to produce it. She’s a brilliant comic artist with multiple series and at least one Hugo award under her belt, who put a lot of thought upfront into presenting the robot with “here’s a comic setup that takes advantage of your strengths, and doesn’t stress your weaknesses.”
In that link, for instance, you can see right away how it’s mostly disconnected vignette panels. (It also has human post-production touch-ups, and the art is tied together by human-written narration. More notes on her process at the end of the thread.)
So yeah, it’s gonna be fine. AI art makes cool new things possible, will lead to the creation of a ton of art that never would’ve happened without it, and some of it will even be good and worthwhile. It also won’t replace human artists. It won’t be the best option for every art-related job. Sometimes it’ll be a good-enough option — other times it just flat-out won’t cut it.
Anyone who thinks “just have an AI draw it” will be a magic answer to everything art-related needs to appreciate artists more. (Some of y’all are illustrators, who need to have more confidence in your own skills and potential! Others are just hacks. Probably the same hacks who thought “just put it on a blockchain” was a magic answer to everything finance-related, even.)