Artificial Intelligence Meets Digital Art

Image Credit: Courtesy of: Andrea Beyer Fraile via Midjourney

Andrea Beyer investigates the growing wave of artificial intelligence generated art and whether it poses a new threat to digital artists.

When we envision a future in which artificial intelligence (AI) is capable of anything, we may experience a sense of excitement alongside an unshakeable fear. The capacity to understand and value art is still regarded as being exclusively human, a form of expression strictly limited to person-to-person interactions. One can appreciate an artist's originality by attempting to infer the meaning behind their work by looking at the colours and patterns used, the aesthetic, and technique. However, when we come across AI-generated art, it is difficult to believe that a computer program is responsible for such creativity and detail. 

How does AI-generated art work? Essentially, in order to make AI art, creators design algorithms that learn a particular aesthetic by examining a large number of images from databases including popular art collections. The software learns from the sample base that is fed to it rather than following a set of rules. The program then strives to produce fresh images while conforming to the aesthetics that it's been exposed to. The main reason AI was able to penetrate the field of digital art is that most art collections have recently been digitised. These softwares learn and analyse artworks by performing ‘close readings’ and ‘distant viewings’. Close reading refers to concentrating on certain elements of a single piece of art or artistic collected-works, typically addressing issues like computational artist identification and visual stylometry. The majority of research on such topics  primarily focuses on brushwork and textural characteristics. Analysis of big databases via distant viewing typically entails focusing on specific features or similarity relations and creating relevant statistical representations.

AI programmes don't all work the same as they are designed by different creators, some of these softwares require you to provide a base image and then choose an aesthetic limiting the creative freedom of the AI. Other programmes are much more advanced and simply require the user to provide a written prompt as detailed as they desire. These sophisticated programs have the potential to master intricate artistic techniques that most digital artists find difficult to grasp, in addition to producing original works of art. For example, the illustration provided alongside this article was the product of the following prompt using Midjourney: “a majestic lion, fine and detailed, silk, film lighting, rose gold, 4k, hyper-realistic, octane number rendering”. Midjourney is an AI that operates through Discord, a social platform for instant messaging, and people have continuously been amazed by the quality and precision of the art work that it produces. 

The danger of Ai is much greater than the danger of nuclear warheads, by a lot. Mark my words, AI is far more dangerous than nukes.

The majority of AI art generators give you a choice of images based on the prompt you entered, and you can decide to upgrade the selected few pieces you are most happy with. It's also fascinating to play around with the AI as the program will produce different results each time even if you type the same command numerous times.


As scary as it may sound, AI is advancing at an incredible speed in all fields, and as Elon Musk has stated “The danger of AI is much greater than the danger of nuclear warheads, by a lot. Mark my words, AI is far more dangerous than nukes.” Although Musk's perspective of AI is rather dramatic, when we look at AI in the field of digital art, we can see why these machines may eventually replace illustrators. Jason Allen's Théâtre D'opéra Spatial took first place in the digital art division of the fine arts competition at the Colorado State Fair. The piece is a grand sci-fi fantasy scenario where it appears like women dressed elaborately are peering out of a large circular vortex. It was only after Allens had been awarded the prize that it came to light that the artist had used Midjourney, to produce the winning piece. That a trained panel of art judges couldn't detect the artworks’ lack of a human touch is both fascinating and frightening and raises the important question of whether AI is capable of emotional creativity. 

If we give it some thought, the way an algorithm learns isn't all that different from how toddlers mimic adults and everything they see. The algorithm draws inspiration from the images it has been fed to create a unique piece and hone its artistic abilities. 

Is there any emotional intelligence in these AI art generators? The short answer is that the AI softwares that are being developed and used to create artworks are not capable of mimicking human emotional intelligence. This means that they are unable to develop past the features that are hard-coded into their programs. Their ‘intelligence’ is limited by their creators ability to code and to the databases they are familiar with. 

Professor Marcus du Sautoy, author of The Creativity Code, stated that AI serves as a “kind of catalyst to push our human creativity." When a machine and a human work together, unique ideas and combinations are created that are likely to never occur if one were working alone. Without prompt input and the user's knowledge, the software won't be able to produce anything without human assistance. On the other hand, the AI is able to use complex artistic techniques and create original outstanding digital art in a matter of minutes, which is impossibly fast for any human digital artist. According to du Sautoy, digital artists can use AI to help them save time and ignite their creativity. These artists can then alter and tweak the artwork produced by the AI to better suit their tastes and meet their desired standards.


The growing wave of AI-generated art is unlikely to slow down anytime soon, so our best advice is to ride it and make the most out of it. If we stop viewing AI as a threat and start using it as a tool to help us optimise our work we may find that there are endless possibilities as to what we can create leading to a new generation of digital art. 

If you are feeling up to the task we recommend checking out Midjourney and DALL-E as they are two of the most renowned and loved AI art generators.