AI-Generated art vs. our attitude

Unless you’ve been living off the grid or you actively avoid social media, you’ve probably noticed AI-generated art making waves all over your LinkedIn feed. I’ve noticed some designers are absolutely giddy about sharing their new creations, while others are refusing to jump on the bandwagon, fearing for their jobs.

Nearly every day, it seems a new company emerges with its own version of AI-powered art, creating imagery that captures our hearts and blurs the line between computer-capabilities and human imagination. Midjourney, DALL-E 2, NightCafé, dream, and Stable Diffusion are just a few of the players with their hat in the ring. Want to see a Cubist representation of Hercules riding a bike through the woods? How about an avant-garde painting of Ariana Grande bungee jumping from your local sports stadium? Or do you fancy a dog driving a motorcycle across a tight rope in the style of Neo-Impressionism? Boom.


I was especially shocked to find out that a portrait of a man, developed entirely using AI, was created more than four years ago in 2018 by the Paris-based arts-collective, Obvious (Image 1). It sold for a whopping $432,500—proving that AI can serve beyond conceptual work and actually deliver a finished product.


Image 1

And the technology is available to the masses. This ease of access brings forth some uncomfortable questions. If people can create high quality images on their own, with little technical knowhow and little cost, are they going to need to hire a professional? Who is allowed to participate? Does it no longer take a degree or years of experience to develop a craft that has value? As the industry navigates these questions, one thing is certain, the more people talk about it, the more people will use it, and the more ubiquitous it will become.


First impression? Magic.

With all the fanfare, I decided it was time to try Midjourney for myself. “Dash from The Incredibles, wearing a lightning hat, glowing.” After I typed my first sequence into the Midjourney bot, I let out an audible squeal of excitement. Within ten seconds, I was presented with four options based on my input. I chose the bottom right option, and Midjourney began to up-res my image instantaneously. I was blown away by both the quality of the image and the speed of its output. It really does seem like magic. How can an algorithm create something so expressive and polished without the hours of painstaking work that a human would devote to creating a similar painting? This question raises many eyebrows and produces a mixture of emotions among casual and professional artists alike.

There is an ongoing debate about whether or not this content can be considered real art. And that’s a good point, isn’t it? What is art? And do these AI-generated images fall under that category, or not? Fascinated, impressed, and terrified all at once, I was dazzled by what I was able to make by simply typing a few sentences. I was presented with visuals that perfectly captured what I was dreaming up in my head. I even found myself wanting to frame many of the images in my apartment for guests to see.


Useful? Incredibly.

Some of my colleagues have already started using AI-generation to enhance the ideation stage of a project. Every creative endeavor begins with an idea, but in order to fully formulate that idea, we need inspiration. Typing a few commands into Midjourney can yield quicker and more diverse images than spending hours scrolling through creative bulletins. You can refine those visuals to reflect exactly what you’re thinking and bring your ideas to life in fewer steps. And when it comes to presenting a concept, AI once again flexes its utility. AI-generation tools aren’t perfect, but they can be more useful than stock photography or mood boards to convey an idea. More examples, quicker iteration, and quality illustration; AI-generated art can greatly enhance a pitch.

This image was part of a concept exploration generated from the prompt, “Buildings shaped like a pill bottle.”


But is it ownable? Good news there.

Naturally, the utilization of AI-generation for ideation and pitches brings up legal implications and content rights associated with these renders. By using these tools, are we really “making” anything? Yes, it’s my idea that I feed into the algorithm, but it doesn’t necessarily feel like I’m doing any of the work. And if I don’t feel a sense of proprietorship over the end product, then can I in good conscience pass that along to the client as a completed job? The answer comes down to what we, as the creative agency, bring to the table. If we utilize these tools to quickly render assets for use within a broader context or campaign, what we’re really doing is accelerating the timeline to produce content—we aren’t replacing the concept formulation itself. In other words, the ideation, client engagement, and creative refinements still require human effort. After all, the machine can’t output any content without an idea—in this case, the string of text we feed into the algorithm. And the way I see it, that makes the content ownable.

The value of the work is really coming from the ideas themselves that we bring to fruition. And Midjourney’s Terms of Service tend to agree, with all content completely ownable to the user through a monthly subscription, even commercially. So maybe a jumpstart on the creative process is not necessarily a bad thing, but rather a new approach to artistic workflows than we’ve previously experienced.



Verdict? Creative is as creative does.

New methods are often met with hesitancy and hostility. Despite some potential negative consequences, there are plenty of positives. If we can agree that art is subjective—and so is creativity—then who are we to judge the process? We can leverage these tools to our advantage to inspire our creative juices and enhance our work. Popular illustrator Scott Detweiler, for example, shared a one-hour live stream (Video 1) where he discussed the unique ways he utilizes Midjourney to supplement his live photography.


Video 1


Even the massively popular video creation crew at FilmRiot shared a tutorial (Video 2) on how they use Midjourney to augment their visual effects that would normally take a Hollywood-sized budget to achieve.


Video 2


It’s equally important to note, at this point in time, AI cannot replace human intuition or the ability to refine the work like your team can. Even if AI bots offer stunning results, there’s often unforeseen variables that arise in the finishing process. Imagine, for instance, an art-deco portrait of a middle-aged woman produced by DALL-E 2. The prompt may correctly put her in a green blouse and accurately capture her blue eyes, but the shades are just a touch off. A seasoned artist can easily go in and color grade or even replace these portions of the image and dial in the desired look.


Art is pro accessibility.

Generated from the prompt “Santa Claus giving you a Commodore 64 painted on a brick wall in the style of street artist Banksy.”

It is impossible to pretend that this doesn’t increase accessibility to making art, making it easy to imagine smaller companies and new creatives leveraging AI to create what they otherwise weren’t able to. With new types of people entering the creative scene, we’ll benefit from seeing new perspectives and new ways of thinking.

If you’re wary of this technology or you look down on it with disdain, you might want to double check your biases. To draw a line between real art and subversive attempts at art is not progressing; it’s diminishing. And that’s the real doomsday scenario for artists. After all, every line ever drawn can be erased. Every process can be reimagined.

We as creators must continually invite and adapt to new viewpoints and new ways of doing things. AI-generated art is an impressive tool we can use to inspire fresh ideas. If our job is to bring new inspiration to the table, then to me that settles it.

AI-generated art is a gift from Santa. In the style of Banksy. Boom.