AI-generated images receive high acclaim

AI is now making inroads into the art world, thanks to major advances in computer deep learning.

In 2018, an AI-generated artwork sold at auction for about USD432,500, which made headlines.

In 2022, there was news that an AI-generated artwork won an art competition.

The judges of the competition said that although they were not informed at the time of judging that the work was AI-generated, the fact that it turned out to be so did not change the outcome of the judging, which recognized the artistic merit of the work itself. In other words, AI-generated images have reached a level of value as a work of art.

AI image-generation programs, such as the open source DALL-E, are now available for anyone to use.

It is easy to use. You simply enter your image as text, and the AI will retrieve suitable images from the Internet and combine them to create a single image.

For example, if you enter “dancing girls,” “bright colors,” and “impressionistic style,” AI will generate a number of images that match those criteria.

The user can select from among the many images generated by AI the one that best fits his or her image, or can add more text to the image to make it better fit his or her image.

With AI, even those who are not skilled painters can get a picture that matches their own image.

The fact that works created in this way can be sold for high prices at auctions or win competitions means that anyone has the potential to create artwork that will be appreciated. However, this has been met with controversy.

Questions surrounding AI-generated artwork

Many people may question whether AI-generated images can be called art in the first place. This is because historically, paintings created by artists have been evaluated based not only on the concept of the painting, but also on the skill with which the artist painted it.

For example, in the age of realism, an important factor in evaluating a painting was the skill with which it depicted reality as it was.

Each painter explored how to produce color as if he or she were a scientist, and this led to the Impressionist paintings that attempted to depict light.

As photographic technology spread and the value of realistic paintings declined, painting found a way to express the artist’s feelings and intentions.

With the use of AI image-generation programs, even those without expressive skills can create high-level works of art. So, as in the path taken by contemporary art, it will be important to be strategic about what instructions (text) to give to AI and which of the AI-generated images to choose.

Another question that arises in the context of AI-generated art is whose work the AI-generated images are. There are many people involved in various ways.

The person who has AI generate the image and selects it is the person involved in the final step of the sequence of work, but before that, there is the person who created the AI program. Even if it was open source, when the work generated by that AI program sells for a high price, does the programmer have to be paid?

In the case of the work sold for USD432,500 mentioned above, the AI programmer was a boy who had just graduated from high school, but his name was not listed in the credits of the work, and he did not receive any share of the sales of the work.

In the first place, the boy did not create the program from scratch. He too created the program by referring to and modifying programs that had been created before him. If we give him the sales proceeds, do we also need to allocate them to the creators of the programs he used as references?

Also, each image collected by AI has its own creator. The creators of the underlying images are no doubt also involved in the finished work.

It is not easy to define who the creators of AI-generated works are. If AI-generated works are bought and sold, this is a legal issue that needs to be resolved.

Analog to be revisited, digital to be developed

As image-generating AI becomes more widespread and even those who are not good at drawing find it easier to create their own images, painting may come to function as a tool to supplement verbal expression and make communication smoother and more comfortable.

If this happens, how will painting as an art change in the future? Image-generating AI may be the catalyst for a new surge in painting.

On the other hand, the development of digital technology may cause a backlash.

For example, instant cameras are being revisited, especially by the younger generation of digital natives who have fully embraced smartphones. They have no experience with instant cameras, so it is not just a nostalgic hobby. There is also a growing interest among the younger generation in records and other media.

The characteristic feature of those old media is that they leave a trace of a person’s action.

While digital media can easily be copied and become the same information that can be shared by anyone, the traces that have been engraved are highly individualized, and this one-time nature may be attractive to them.

For a generation that perceives music as data streamed from a device, the act of picking up a record as a tangible object and listening to it on a player is very special.

The attraction they feel for old media may be the intensity of communication that can be felt by holding an object that has the imprint of a specific person. For example, in a handwritten letter, the writer’s handwriting makes the reader aware of the writer’s physical presence, but digital culture to date has neglected this aspect of media.

I believe that digital technology, including AI, will evolve the expression of such media while incorporating the value of one-time occurrences, which has been overlooked until now.

I believe that a variety of new means of expression will emerge in the future, so when you encounter a new medium, I recommend that you actually try it out and enjoy it.

This may lead to your work receiving high recognition, and it may also change the way you look at works of art by giving you a chance to feel the creativity of professional artists. I believe this will lead to a richer life for you.

* The information contained herein is current as of March 2023.
* The contents of articles on are based on the personal ideas and opinions of the author and do not indicate the official opinion of Meiji University.
* I work to achieve SDGs related to the educational and research themes that I am currently engaged in.

Information noted in the articles and videos, such as positions and affiliations, are current at the time of production.