Is AI Really an Art and Design Killer?

Is AI Really an Art and Design Killer?

8 min read

If you’re worried about artificial intelligence coming for your job, read on . . .

This year has seen an explosion of interest and hype around AI art. The release of a number of new artificial intelligence tools for generating art has made it more accessible than ever, and the power and capabilities of these tools is increasing all the time. It’s raising a lot of existential questions, and some people are quite frankly freaking out.

Will AI eventually replace human artists altogether? Who owns the copyright of artworks created by AI? Will designers be forced to work with AI or risk being left behind? The future is uncertain and no one can predict for sure what long term impacts artificial intelligence will have on the art industry. We do know one thing though—the AI genie has been let out of the bottle and it’s not going back in. The problems will come if it turns out to be more of a Pandora’s box.

If you’re an artist or designer, you might be worrying about the future of your job or what impact AI might have on your work, so let’s explore the possibilities and see what it could mean for you.

What is AI-generated art and how does it work?

When we are talking about art that is created by artificial intelligence, we are talking about programs that have been trained through a process of machine learning to produce images on command. The programs have been trained using millions upon millions of images, and you can make them create new images by giving them prompts.

Dall-E is probably the most well known of the new wave of image generators. After it was released in mid-2022, you likely noticed Dall-E generated images popping up in your timeline. People love to give Dall-E ridiculous prompts to create silly images like ‘Trail cam footage of gollum eating watermelon’ or ‘Angry cat sitting on a pile of gold in a goblin cave, realistic photograph’.

The other most popular of the current AI technologies are Midjourney and Stable Diffusion. As a user, all of these digital technologies work in the same way—you input natural language descriptions and then the AI generates a number of images based on your prompts. You can then further refine this image or make new iterations of it.

The method feels deceptively simple and anyone can get to grips with it fairly quickly. In a matter of minutes, anyone can get the AI to produce incredible artworks with ease. The versatility and power of these image generation digital technologies is quite incredible. They can produce photorealistic images, or paintings in the style of Van Gogh, or any number of other artistic styles.

The speed, accessibility and quality of the output that is what is now making professional artists and many people in the creative industries pause for thought. And panic. If someone with no artistic skills can so easily produce high quality pieces of art, then what does this mean for the future of artists?

Has this type of thing happened before?

Advancing technology is not a new phenomenon, nor is artificial intelligence. When the camera was first invented, people thought that it was going to spell the end of painting. If you can accurately capture the beauty of a landscape with a camera, why would you need to paint it? Of course, painting didn’t die, and photography emerged and evolved as its own artform.

But, photography probably did put a big dent in the work of portrait painters. Before the arrival of the camera, the only way to capture your image was to have a portrait artist paint you. Once photography entered the game, the ease and accuracy of creating a portrait in this way quickly displaced painting as the method of choice. It may be the case that AI-generated art will displace some modern artists in the same way that photography displaced portrait painters.

Artificial intelligence has also been having a big impact in other areas for quite some time. In chess, AI has evolved to the point where human intelligence can no longer compete with it. Even the best human players in the world crumble in the face of AI. This hasn’t stopped humans from playing chess though, and if anything humans are now learning from AI and using it to improve their game.

It is extremely unlikely that humans will stop creating art just because a piece of technology can make AI-generated artworks. The way in which contemporary artists operate might be influenced by AI, and the creative sector might incorporate AI into its workflows, but human-created art will not disappear.

What dangers might AI present for designers and illustrators?

It’s only a matter of time before AI becomes commonplace, so it is best to be prepared for any eventualities and know how to adapt. The greatest danger of AI for designers and illustrators is that laypersons will use AI-generated art instead of employing a human artist.

Right now, there are plenty of memes circulating about how bad AI is at drawing hands and faces. This is true, but progress is being made and every new iteration of software brings marked improvements. People messing about with Dall-E and Midjourney for fun and creating their own art is one thing, but what if newspaper editors, magazines, and website owners start using these services instead of professional artists?

AI art discussion on pinterest
A discussion about AI art on Pinterest

At the moment, if you want a current political cartoon, an illustration for an editorial feature on the decline of the Amazon rainforest, or fun drawings for a kids book on eating healthily, you need to get an illustrator or designer to create them for you. But what if you can create accurate images that you want just by using AI and some prompts?

From a business perspective, this will be much cheaper and more cost-effective, and could result in many illustrators and designers losing work. If this seems far fetched, think again—it’s already happening. A writer for The Atlantic used a Midjourney created AI image for an article, and The Economist used an AI-generated image for its magazine cover in June, 2022. These examples could be just one-off responses to AI being a trend, or they could be the shape of things to come.

Don’t panic, AI might have upsides

We might have been painting a dystopian picture so far, but there is no need to immediately panic. In fact, AI might turn out to be an amazing tool for your creative process. Here are some ways in which AI could be a positive development in the foreseeable future.

AI could become just another tool that illustrators and designers use

Yes, people might suddenly be able to create a great looking piece of art without ever going through a day of art school, but there is more to illustration and design than just generating images based on prompts. The creative decision-making part of the design process is always going to be better when it is undertaken by someone who has been trained in the creative fields.

It will probably be the case that designers and artists will be the ones who work with the AI to generate the right images by understanding what prompts to use, and being able to refine the results and carry out any necessary changes or touch ups at the end of the artistic process.

AI can be used to generate sketches and ideas

At the start of an illustration project, it is always a good idea to create sketches for your client or the job before jumping into creating your final piece of work. Producing these sketches could prove to be an excellent use case for an AI tool. Instead of spending a few hours working up different sketches and ideas, you could use the AI image generator to quickly produce the rough ideas to present to your client.

The versatility of the AI means that you could quickly try out many different styles of illustration and sketches without having to create the artwork from scratch yourself each time.

AI can be your brainstorm buddy

Coming up with new ideas and concepts can be a challenging part of the artistic process for designers and artists. In the same way that artificial intelligence has led humans to think about and play chess differently, AI could do the same for art and serve as a creative spark. You could input your prompts and ideas into an image art generator, and then use these as starting points for coming up with new ideas of your own. Machine creativity could turn out to be very different than human creativity, and it could result in some fresh approaches and concepts.

Could AI really replace artists?

The really big question people are asking right now is: ‘AI will eventually overtake humans and render artists obsolete?’. The thinking here is probably the fact that AI is able to outperform humans on most tasks that it is assigned. AI is unbeatable at chess, so what’s to stop AI becoming unbeatable at art?

There is of course disagreement about how art is defined, but a big drawback that AI faces is that it can only draw from art that humans have already created. AI art generators might be able to imitate the style of renaissance painters, but it couldn’t come up with this style all by itself. A neural network is trained on images that have been made by human creators, and it can come up with twists on these images, but it will never create its own artistic movement.

The other big hindrance that AI faces in making art is that much of art is reflective of the human experience. Humans use art as a way of understanding each other and the world, and as a medium to relate to each other. A super intelligence might be able to mimic art that reflects the human condition, but it will have had no real life experiences that could be authentically translated into art.

Humans will continue to use technology and AI in the creation of art and there may be new synergies and developments, but AI will never replace human created art entirely.

AI art of poeple drawing
Creating a designer-free cover for this post using Craiyon

What next?

If you’re an designer, illustrator or artist, our advice would be to familiarize yourself with the new wave of image generating AI programs, now. They’re a lot of fun, and they are likely to keep improving at a rapid pace. It’s highly unlikely that AI will replace humans entirely, but it will probably be the case that those who are utilizing AI in their own work will have an edge on those who don’t. Technology doesn’t move backwards, so you try not to get left behind.

Explore more content on digital art in our blog, and to boost your design skills, be sure to enroll in our academy.

Download Vectornator to Get Started

Take your designs to the next level.

What to read next

Press ESC to close.