Is AI-Generated Art really Art?

Today I would like to share my thoughts on a very controversial and yet interesting topic: the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in art. There are already countless articles and opinions on this topic, so I have had plenty of time to form my own opinion. And I am curious to know what you think about it.

It’s amazing how far technology has come in the last few years. I still remember an event from 10 years ago where an artist had developed an AI for himself. He “fed” it with his own artworks to get inspiration for new works. At the time, it was incredibly fascinating and innovative.

And today reality. Platforms like Midjourney, DALL-E, and others enable anyone with a click to generate images beyond our imagination. But this raises many questions: Is AI art really art? Who is the creator of such works? What ethical, legal, and creative challenges does it pose?

In the past 1.5 years, I have observed completely different reactions. Some are perfectly fine with it and accept it as a new reality, while others are downright outraged and offended when they see an AI-generated image. I also regularly generate images with Midjourney for articles like this one. And here, too, opinions are divided when I post these images on social media. Some find them emotionless or reject them because they believe that AI-created images are not “real” art. At the same time, I encounter enthusiasm and curiosity – I have even received some inquiries whether the posted “artworks” could be purchased.

The Issue with Copyright

A major problem that cannot be ignored is the use of copyrighted material by companies such as Midjourney without the express permission of the copyright holders. This has justifiably led to negative reactions. Images in the style of renowned photographers, architects or artists can thus be reproduced with the appropriate prompt. A more ethical approach would certainly have been to use only works provided voluntarily. But would this be beneficial for the AI data set? Unfortunately, I can’t answer that.

Abstract Painting created with Midjourney by Aesence
An abstract, minimalist artwork, created with Midjourney. For articles like this one, I also regularly generate images with AI.

So let’s imagine that I generate an image of an artwork as shown in this article. Who is the author now? Is it me, since I provided the AI with the necessary input? Or is the company Midjourney the author, as they provided me with the necessary technological means? Or is it perhaps the AI itself? The US Copyright Office ruled in a case from 2023 that images generated with AI are not subject to copyright. In India and Canada, however, the participation of AI in the creation of the work of the same case was recognized as worthy of copyright protection.1

So, who is the author? Or phrased differently: Who should be the author? How do we handle situations where an artist sells AI-generated art? Or even wins a competition (as in this case)? What feelings does this evoke in me as an observer? Or in you as an artist?

Art in Transition

The last time art and creativity were called into question was with the invention of photography. When is something art? And when does someone become an artist? The one who creates something or the one who conveys meaningful experiences and emotions? Today, it is clear to everyone that a camera is merely an artist’s tool. But can we compare photography with AI? Is AI-generated art also just a tool, a means to an end?

While programs like Midjourney and others can deliver astonishing results, do they still lack the ability to develop entirely new artistic movements or innovative ideas? In this context, I should mention the so-called “Lovelace Objection.” Named after Ada Lovelace, the first mathematician and programmer from the 19th century, it is the assertion that machines – or in this context AI – are merely instruments in the hands of their creators. She argued that machines are capable of executing instructions and performing complex calculations, but cannot ‘invent’ anything new.2

However, technology has advanced so much in recent years, particularly in the field of machine learning, that these developments call “Lovelace’s Objection” into question. They show that computers and artificial intelligence can develop skills through learning processes that even the programmers cannot always predict. They can recognize patterns, make decisions and, to a certain extent, act creatively without being explicitly programmed by the developers.3

So, who is the author of AI-generated art? Or phrased differently: Who should be the author?

So, does this mean that an AI can also be creative? The idea is not that far-fetched, after all, our human creativity is also based on large amounts of data that we call memories, experiences and knowledge. However, whether and how we answer this question depends on the context:

Simone Natale and Leah Henrickson investigated the factors that lead people to perceive machine performance as creative. Whenever people perceive the behavior or output of a machine as creative, they refer to this as the “Lovelace effect”.4 In their research, they found that various elements play a role, including cultural notions of creativity, the functionality of the software or hardware used, and the way in which the results are presented. Our assessment of whether an AI can be creative therefore depends on geographical, social and cultural factors. The answer to whether an AI can be creative is therefore as subjective as the aesthetic perception of art. (Because this also depends on cultural and social factors, see here.)

The topic raises so many questions that cannot be answered at the moment – and perhaps shouldn’t be. Because considering the rapid developments in this field, answers that are found too quickly could already be outdated. In any case, one thing is certain: AI will not go away – on the contrary, it will become an integral part of our lives. So what can we do to make the integration of AI in the art world meaningful and ethically responsible without losing the essence of what art means to us?

What do you think about this topic? I look forward to your thoughts on this!

Further Reading / Resources

  1. https://haerting.de/en/insights/usa-no-copyright-for-ai-generated-images/
  2. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ada_Lovelace#Lady_Lovelace%E2%80%99s_Objection
  3. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/358218893_The_Lovelace_Effect_Perceptions_of_Creativity_in_Machines
  4. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/14614448221077278

About Exploring Aesthetics:

Sarah loves asking questions and exploring the things she engages with on a daily basis. Exploring aesthetics is her column which discusses art, design, and aesthetics to explore, inspire, and question the status quo.

  1. Another very interesting essay, thank you. Exciting topic. I have to admit that I find it fascinating what AI can do today, but I have to say that I am still skeptical… For me, art is always an expression of human creativity, emotion and individuality and will always remain so… AI can generate amazing images, no question, but it cannot feel or have an individual style. It can only reproduce and recombine what it has learned…

    1. Thank you very much for your feedback and your honest opinion. I find it very valuable that you share your perspective – that is exactly what makes this topic so exciting and complex. I can fully understand your skepticism. Human creativity and emotion are aspects that make art so special and touching for us. I am very curious to see how the topic will develop!

  2. Thank you for another interesting essay!

    The question about AI being art or not can’t be solved in my opinion, as the definition of ‘what is art’ generally depends on its definition and hardly (if ever) can’t be done in a purely objective manner.

    Anyhow. The question about ownership is not easy to handle, but pretty clear in my opinion. The person using AI to create a piece of art is a co-author (nothing more), and so is the AI and all the creators whose works has been used by the AI to learn and produce the piece (often just copy and past simply spoken).

    Therefore the ownership of an AI based piece of art should legally belong to all co-authors, what can’t be solved (otherwise the AI companies should pay all the sources accordingly). Not to mention that AI companies didn’t have all the permissions to use the original creator’s works.
    As AI grows the amount of ‘sources’ grows too and the crowd of co-authors becomes countless. This makes the piece to a sort of ‘global heritage’.

    In consequence AI art belongs to all and no-one and shouldn’t be able to be protected in any way.

    1. Hello Thoth,

      Thank you for your comment and feedback! You raise some very interesting and also complex points! I like your thought that AI-generated artworks could be considered as a kind of “global heritage”. That would certainly be an interesting approach to dealing with the challenges of copyright issues. I believe that the discussion about the legal status and authorship of AI-generated art is far from over. It will probably take a while before we find a generally accepted solution – if that is even possible.

  3. Very interesting read! Regarding the copyright question: I believe it is a modern dilemma because you cannot undo what has already been done. As you mentioned, AI models have sometimes been trained with copyrighted material. Perhaps the whole concept of copyright and the value of digital reproduction need to be rethought.

    For the question about creativity: I believe AI will be as creative as a human in future versions. We, as humans, have to accept that we might not be the smartest beings on Earth anymore. In my opinion, this is a good thing because it might teach our species to treat our environment with more respect. Viewing humans as the pinnacle of evolution has led to many of the problems we are currently facing.

    1. Thank you for your comment and thoughts, Gerald!

      I agree with you that copyright law urgently needs to be reconsidered in the age of AI. It is a complex issue that requires new approaches. Global approaches, in my opinion.

      I find your perspective on creativity exciting. Perhaps the growing role of AI could actually help to develop a more respectful attitude towards our environment. Through AI, the need arises to redefine our role in the world and perhaps also to let go of some of our ego. Even though I believe that it will be difficult for humanity to accept this.

  4. A really interesting article on the topic of AI in art, Sarah. I think that AI is bringing a new dimension to the art world, similar to how photography did decades ago. It is a tool that artists can use to realize their vision. In terms of copyright, I think it is the artist who controls the AI and gives it input that should be considered the creator of the artwork. Nevertheless, the legal and ethical discussion about AI in art should continue in order to create clear and consistent guidelines.

    1. Yes, I agree – consistent guidelines should be the ideal because what is the point of having authorship in the USA being questioned, but not in Europe? We should think much more globally because AI affects us all.

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Aesence is an independent art and design publication dedicated to minimalist aesthetics. Founded out of a deep appreciation and fascination, Aesence aims to promote awareness and appreciation of minimalism in art and design.