Is AI art a threat to airbrush artists?


What comes to mind when you think about the arts? Is it a work by Michelangelo or Monet? Or how about a book by Jane Austen like Pride and Prejudice? It might be a Beatles record. Whether we're discussing performance art, music, literature, or visual art, they all have one thing in common: they were all created by humans. And while AI may have lately defeated humans at chess, it hasn't yet been able to generate physical paintings (although some people worry that it will soon). But there are reasons why artists think AI art poses a threat.

Airbrush artists feel AI art threatens their livelihoods. 

You may have heard the term "AI art" thrown around in the news lately. It refers to works of art produced by artificial intelligence, and it implies that robots may replace people in some occupations. This technology has recently made headlines since many artists fear it would endanger their careers and devalue their work.

Airbrush artists are worried about losing their jobs for two reasons: 1) because AI could replace them and 2) because their art could be replicated by machines. If AI can paint a photo that looks exactly like something Picasso painted, what would stop an art collector from buying one instead of a painting by Picasso himself? And if you're an airbrush artist who has spent years honing your craft and perfecting your skills, how would you feel if someone who hadn't invested years into studying your craft was able to replicate your exact work?

Because they worry that this kind of technology will completely replace them, and that it would take over their professions and push them out of business entirely, artists who create paintings, sculptures, or other works that need human expertise frequently feel threatened by AI art. Additionally, they are concerned that if people start to value AI art more than more conventional forms of artistic expression (such as traditional paintings), they will begin to support less-established artists whose services are no longer required by galleries or institutions.

What actual danger exists here?

Although the technology used to do this type of work has been present since the 1990s, it has only recently improved enough to provide truly convincing results (and even then, there are limitations).

Where AI does threaten artists is in conceptual art and design. It excels at generating conceptual images, and abstract compositions. It can create hundreds of new images; in a fraction of the time it would take a human.

So far there aren't many examples of AI generating artwork with commercial value, it could soon change how and why people purchase art.

Where AI cannot compete with humans

 AI art is not as good at representational or realistic artwork. For example, AI  can create images that are more detailed than human artists, but it doesn't yet have the ability to draw a tree or a face as well as an artist can. Observe its attempt to render a panther at the beginning of this article. This is because AI systems are trained on datasets that contain millions of images from thousands of artists and photographers, and this means that they have been taught what people consider 'good' art based on what humans have created. Will it get better. Most certainly.

And then there's copyright.

 AI art relies on existing images, which are often copyrighted. An ongoing debate surrounds the fair usage of copyrighted works which have been appropriated by AI companies without the consent of the artists who created them. Copyright law should protect against appropriation in derivative works, and this certainly will be an issue to be settled in the courts.

The future of creativity and the arts.

Even while AI will advance, it will probably never be able to produce art as well as a human. In the same manner that a human artist cannot create art or music on the same level as another human. Machine learning systems are ultimately less creative than people since they have their own set of limits and biases. 

In the same way a photograph is valued less than a photorealstic painting, AI will never be as embraced to the degree of original hand-painted art.

Because they are what make us human, artists will always have a place in the world. I don't think we'll ever completely replace creators with computers, even if AI is able to produce more original content than any one person could do on their own (which is implausible).

Should we be concerned?

While the thought of a robot making art can seem weird and even creepy, it's important to keep in mind that the art world has always been in flux. Look at how the camera impacted the art world, or how digital creations affected it. Many of us embraced the technology and used it as a tool, rather than reject it. It's inevitable that AI will be used as we continue to break down barriers and look for new ways to create and present art. While some people might worry that AI would replace them as artists, many others see it as an exciting chance for artists to work creatively with robots.

Some people argue that AI could increase access to art by bringing down prices or creating new marketplaces outside of traditional galleries or institutions (think street art). Others believe it could result in higher-quality work because algorithms would be able to analyze millions of images simultaneously rather than relying solely on the preferences of human curators. In the end, this might mean that we receive images that are more diverse and come from more viewpoints than ever before. But in the end it will be what collectors value. At this time collectors still value things originally made by the human hand.


While it’s true that AI art may pose a threat to some airbrush artists’ careers, it mostly has the potential to expand them. A new generation of airbrush artists is already embracing AI art and making use of its tools and techniques in their own work. If we look at the history of art and creativity, we can see that this isn’t anything new—from surrealism and conceptualism in the 20th century to pop art in the 1950s, many movements have challenged our understanding of what constitutes ‘art’ through innovative approaches such as collage or appropriation. Each time there has been a shift like this one, humans have found a way to adapt their skillsets so they could continue creating great works without fear of being replaced by machines. Contemporary airbrush artists will do the same.

Just as the advent of photography did not eliminate the airbrush artist, AI is also just a tool, to be used by the artist in new and innovative ways.

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1 comment

Ryan Barkley

March 11, 2023

Great article as always Dru. I’m glad that you addressed this topic.

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