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Updated: Oct 12, 2022


“AI is often seen as a threat to humanism. But we can have both. We can have humanistic interpretations and explanations at the same time. And we can look at art appreciation from the AI side and see what comes out from there.


Dr Mark Coeckelbergh believes that AI can help us understand art better, with the help of big data. But the worries about using AI cannot be shaken off, as its presence will change many existing conventions and even prevalent laws that will become harder to apply.


Copyright is a good example. Who owns AI-generated art, and how far can one use those images? The current answer is that users of applications such as DALL-E or MidJourney have “certain rights” to the images they ‘create’ with their prompts.


For example, trial users of MidJourney are given rights to use the images as long as they don’t sell or make a profit off them, and give proper credit to MidJourney. If one subscribes to its paid services, MidJourney clarifies that users “basically own all assets they create using Midjourney’s image generation and chat services.” In DALL-E 2, users will receive full usage rights to the images they generate, including rights to reprint, sell, and merchandise.


However, a prompt that allows any user to generate images mimicking the style of any specific artist and subsequently masquerade and profit from them will have copyright laws changing.


The question of artist authenticity is vaguely addressed in how DALL-E 2 advocates for its ability to ‘take an image and create different variations of it, inspired by the original.’





Whose original is the software referencing from?


Most examples of artworks referenced on DALL-E’s website are registered in the public domain, and essentially free from copyright. But how do we know if the data model is learning from only legal, copyright-free artists? After all, the software that generates the images must learn from a big set of images, to react to artist names, styles and imagery prompted.


If the generated artwork mimics a style of a living artist, can one claim Intellectual Property over software-generated work? Will users own rights to the prompts they use and each variation they work on? What happens when another user uses the same prompt?


Dr Mark Coeckelbergh suggests that “many applications have been more like imitating humans, and that's not so interesting. Beyond imitation, there will be creation through pattern recognition, for example. Machines also do things that we don't expect. I believe that there needs to be some human input. It will have to be collaborative between man and machine.”


Artificial Intelligence and image generators are not new. What is new is the surprisingly extensive ability of the software and its accessibility. The need to discuss ways of protecting authenticity is now at the forefront of conversations, as such programs become integral to all forms of creative processes, including art.


We also spoke to Prof. Dr Mark Coeckelbergh who shared some insight on the future and potential of AI. To read the full interview, click here.





Digital Art Gallery, generated by MidJourney


How far can AI take us in the world of art making? What does it mean for artists, collectors and companies to adopt AI? These are some of the reoccurring questions with the rise of AI image generators. We had the privilege to discuss AI's future and its potential with Prof. Dr Mark Coeckelbergh.


Interviewer: Etienne Verbist (EV), Chief Curator Officer, Block Meister.


Interviewee: Mark Coeckelbergh (MC), Vice Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy and Education of the University of Vienna, High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence for the European Commission and the Austrian Council on Robotics and Artificial Intelligence.


EV: What do you see as the most interesting and promising application of artificial intelligence in the art market?


MC: The first opportunity is AI as a part of the artistic process. AI as a creator of art. We are just at the very beginning of that. I do not see AI taking over from the artist, but more of a collaboration between the artist and the AI. We are just at the beginning and can expect surprising results there.


Another opportunity is AI used in natural language processing. For the art market, it could be interesting if people could talk with an AI, and use it as a guide. AI could help collectors find the right platform or artwork because the time to just go to a city to view a few galleries is over. The digital environment is so complex, and we lack the right kind of gateways to find what we want. There is just too much. It's overload. AI could help us navigate to where we want to go.


EV: When an AI creates, what does it do that hasn't been done or cannot be done by a human?


MC: So far, many applications have been more like imitating humans, and that's not so interesting. Beyond imitation, there will be creations through pattern recognition, for example. Machines also do things that we don't expect. I believe that there needs to be some human input. It will have to be collaborative between man and machine.

When we're talking about the art market, I can imagine that there could be some input from the public or the community of art buyers in the process. The role of AI will be to make sense of big data and then have a model from which it can produce something aesthetically pleasing. AI is about working within parameters or surprising us, which is coming up with something that goes out of this parameter, on purpose.


EV: Do you think we will reach a point where human artists become unnecessary?


MC: Well, they're not necessary for a technical sense but I think it's good to involve them because I still think that great art needs some human creativity. At the same time, the traditional model where the artist is seen as in control of the artwork has been questioned since ancient times. Philosophically it doesn't make sense to see the artist in full control, the “master” so to speak. He is more of a participant in a creative process. And so will be Artificial Intelligence, a co-participant in the creative process, in which the art becomes what it becomes.


EV: Could AI help us understand why do people like certain artworks more than others?


MC: It is already happening in the music industry for example, and it is not so different in the visual arts. But it comes with a warning: We should try and let ourselves be surprised by what kind of things AI comes up with. We could let an AI discover the parameters about us that we are unaware of, and be open to see what is recommended.


Of course, AI is often seen as a threat to humanism. But we can have both. We can have humanistic interpretations and explanations and at the same time, look deep inside ourselves through all kinds of methods that we have, including psychoanalysis and philosophical reflection. In addition, it could be interesting to look at art appreciation from the AI side and see what comes out from there.


EV: What about ethical issues? What is it that we haven't considered yet about applications of AI in art?


MC: The concern is that we could see AI as an artist that just wants to please people. When the art market is reduced to that kind of pressure, it becomes a bubble, when everyone is to sell, not to surprise and not make something new and creative. One could say like social media platforms have become echo chambers. Aesthetically and creatively, it will reduce art to a commodified commercial product. It will just be about the money.

This will be an important ethical problem that will affect the future of art and therefore humanity.



This is an exclusive interview with Prof. Dr Mark Coeckelbergh. If you have questions you would like to ask, do not hesitate to contact us.



We’ve seen the news about DALL-E and MidJourney. Type in a few keywords about anything and everything, and you’ll get a generated image that does not disappoint, and even surprises.


Haven’t heard of them yet? These “AI” image generators are essentially machine learning models and artificial intelligence programs that generate digital images from textual language prompts (or natural language descriptions).





The Economist’s June 2022 Issue Cover


To start, you type a command ‘/imagine’ and a few keywords such as ‘a chicken painting in Chinese calligraphy style’, and the MidJourney bot on Discord will generate a set of images.


/imagine ‘a chicken painting in Chinese calligraphy style’


Next, you can choose ‘Upscale’ or ‘Variation’ with each image.




Generated image, upscaled


Fancy something else? Try something different such as ‘multiple faces in one head, pop art Andy Warhol and cybernetic’.



/imagine ‘multiple faces in one head, pop art andy warhol and cybernetic’


Generated image with selected variations



Its ‘imaginative’ abilities are expansive. From a world of traditional art techniques to the style of Andy Warhol’s Pop Art, Andreas Gursky’s photographs, and anything you can imagine, this AI bot does it well, efficiently and with surprising artistic flair.


Artists were once thought to be completely immune to job automation. And indeed, such AI programs will change the way we approach and even necessitate the need for artists, photographers, designers and probably many more. Just imagine the disruption when MidJourney or Dall-E adds the option to generate a video or animation in addition to static pictures…


But before the creative world completely shuns such developments due to fear-mongering, pioneer Computational Artist Frieder Nake has something to say about the intelligence of AI.



He concludes the role of the artist succinctly:




This is the end of Part 1. In Part 2: Artist and AI, we explore its implications on copyright and more.



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