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Is AI art a friend or foe? MSU students and faculty reflect

March 24, 2024

With a few keystrokes and the click of a button, Generative Artificial Intelligence can be used for a plethora of things including creating “art.” Images are designed by entering prompts into AI programs like Chat GPT, which uses all of the pre-existing art work and knowledge that has been fed into it to come up with something new. 

This poses many concerns for artists, especially those who make their living in artistic fields of work. Many artists fear that generative AI is threatening their job security and making them “replaceable” in the eyes of employers. 

Michigan State University Graphic Design Professor Zachary Kaiser worries for the futures of his students, who have expressed their concerns to him about finding jobs in graphic design after they graduate. 

“If you can replace a graphic designer with an AI and it's making bad designs it doesn't really matter because it’s cheaper… and that’s really what counts,” Kaiser said. 

Kaiser explained that his students feel immense amounts of pressure to make their portfolios extraordinarily good in order to get even a low-paying job in the art world. He added that artists aren’t the only ones with their jobs on the line, but also museum and gallery workers, critics and reviewers and everyone else employed in the artistic sphere. 

“I worry about my students’ livelihoods, I worry about the job market, but I also worry about the bigger picture stuff about like who we believe that we are, when we have something that we refer to even as ‘artificial intelligence,’” Kaiser said. “Even that nomenclature has baked within it some really serious assumptions about the human condition and what it means to be a person.”

Emphasizing the broader environmental and societal effects, Kaiser explained that AI impacts many different aspects of our futures and everyday lives. 

“I worry that the conversation brackets the function of the technology from all of the other stuff that it's connected to,” Kaiser said. “I think that is like a massive concern for me is that we're just not asking ourselves a really important question, which is, ‘should it exist in the first place?’”

Zoology freshman Max Taylor, who draws and creates art digitally on a tablet in her free time, dislikes the way that generative AI uses the work of human artists without their consent. She believes some regulations should be placed on AI to make its operation more ethical and fair to human artists. While she doesn’t think it should be banned completely, Taylor doesn’t like the way that AI generated images are being used instead of human-made artwork.

“I just think it takes away from the human creativity of art,” Taylor said. “It's just quickly producing something with no thought behind it.”

There are some artists, however, who are choosing to look on the bright side of generative AI’s presence in the art world. Electronic Art and Intermedia Professor Lorelei d’Andriole uses AI in some of her exercises with her students. It began when she taught MSU’s first transgender studies course, where she had students enter vocabulary words from their textbooks into an AI art generator to see what the results would be.

“Most of the time, when I assign an AI art assignment to my students, it's more about the critical analysis I ask them to do with it,” d’Andriole explained. “It's more like, ‘Hey, see what happens when you use the tool and then write about it,’ and like, ‘What is the meaning of this and the ethics of it.'”

While d’Andriole recognizes the downsides of AI and the threat it poses to artistic jobs, she also strives to complicate these ideas and dig deeper beyond that fear. She emphasized generative AI’s potential as a learning tool for students and, simply, a fun program to interact with to better understand technology as it develops. 

“I think AI… it's as evil as a pencil,” d’Andriole said. “Pencils have created some incredible work… They've also created some very evil documents and books. So I think, like, all technology takes on the morality of its inventor.”

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