A Good Use For AI Art
AI generated art is extremely controversial right now. I understand all of the reasons why, but the technology behind it is here, and it’s not going anywhere.As it is with any tool, if it is used responsibly, it can add a layer of joy to our lives that we would be denying ourselves otherwise. I don’t feel guilty about generating AI art. NightCafe, MidJourney, Wombo– they all reference existing art and expand upon it in the same way that humans do. The real issue with AI art is an issue with the flow of money. Human artists aren’t getting paid when AI is generating art in their place.
So how do we use AI art responsibly? Well, I can tell you what I do with it. I see AI generated art as a wonderful solution for beautifying spaces that no one would take the time to beautify otherwise. Anywhere it isn’t possible to fund an artist to beautify something, anywhere art is needed but there’s no money to hire someone to make it, that’s where AI art can be used. Not by megacorporations looking to pad their profits and please their shareholders, but by individuals just trying to get by and summon a little piece of personalized beauty into their lives.
So what’s an example of that in action? Well, I think personal use counts. The images in this blog post, (which took my time and energy to write, and which is free to read, as you won’t even find ads on my blog) are earning me no money at all, which means there’s no money here to use to pay a human artist. Writing this post cost me nothing but time, and earns me nothing but pageviews, but that’s not the point of this post. The point of this post is that it allows me to share my words, and the AI generated art within it, simply for the sake of sharing something I find beautiful. If I took time to build a beautiful house in MineCraft, screenshot that house, then posted the pictures on here, it would cost and benefit the same people in the same ways.
I think this is a good place also to point out that these aren’t just any pictures for just any blog post. These are pictures of characters I’ve played in pen-and-paper RPG games and tabletop wargames over the last twenty years, brought to life through NightCafe and Wombo. I love that I have beautiful pictures of these heroes now which I can share with the world. It makes them feel more real, and the pictures aren’t being used to sell anything, so they’re not putting anyone out of a job or taking food out of anyone’s mouth. Additionally, I doubt there are many people who would hire a professional artist to bring their D&D characters to life in this level of color and detail, so there was never a job there to begin with. If anything, AI generated art can save an indie artist from being cajoled and begged and bribed to do a sketch of someone’s elven barbarian. I think that’s worth something.
I’ve seen people use AI generated art as reference material for their sketches, drawings, paintings, etc., and I’ve seen other human artists using AI generated art as a starting point on which to create hybrid masterpieces. I think human artists using AI generated art as a tool in their own creative process is a beautiful and wonderful thing. Heck, I use AI generations to augment my own art. I can’t draw anything better than stick figures, and if I started this post with a big black and white landscape of stick figures, would you have taken the time to read it? People who know my work know it’s enjoyable to read, but it’s always the picture that first brings the readers in. That’s why we have the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover,” because that happens all the time. It’s become expected, as much as we may wish that things weren’t that way.
As with any tool, there are plenty of ways AI generated art can and will be used unethically. It’s our duty as artists, no matter the medium in which we work, to decide, on an individual basis, how to ethically incorporate this emerging technology into our practices moving forward. Avoiding it entirely is totally fine too. Just as the last thirty years has seen plenty of traditional pen and ink artists who refuse to do digital art or use PhotoShop, there’s nothing wrong with refusing to use any AI generated art in your practice. I get it. I understand. I’ll never use ChatGPT to write any part of my books or blog posts purely on principle, but when people use ChatGPT to help them write the adventure or character backstories for their next RPG session, I think that’s innovative and wonderful. I don’t begrudge it. Heck, I might even try that someday, if only to cut down on prep time before a game. I've certainly used my fair share of name generators online over the past twenty years to round out lists of NPCs for RPG sessions.
In short, your best practice is what is right for you. In the meantime, if you get big enough that you can afford to hire a human artist to do a piece of art or writing for you and cut them in for a piece of the pie on a project, you should do that.
That, in my opinion, is the most ethical thing to do when it comes to AI generated art.