To create this cover image for his story, reporter Victor...

To create this cover image for his story, reporter Victor Ocasio used this prompt in AI art generator Midjourney: "Cover photo of the impact of AI art on the employment of artists, no text, vibrant colors, robotic aesthetic, Long Island, New York." Credit: Created by Midjourney

Just as artificial intelligence programs like ChatGPT can write essays, articles and poems in seconds, similar AI programs can create works of art, a development that has Long Island artists worried. Some digital artists are embracing it as a "magical" tool, but many worry that it could threaten their livelihoods. 

Experts in Long Island's art community said it's unlikely that AI art  will have any immediate impact on those working in traditional mediums like paint on canvas or sculpture. But for those commercial artists who sell their digital work to businesses and other clients, the advent of instantaneous art is concerning.

Many in the digital art and design industry fear a loss of jobs due to AI art’s wide availability and adoption, a pain point for a population of workers who often struggle to eke out a living in a highly competitive field.

Local artists said the new technology poses philosophical questions about the nature of art and what creative endeavors will look like in a world of AI chat tools that write entire books, and generators that can illustrate them in a matter of minutes.  

“Technically, these systems are amazing and the images they create are often very interesting,” said Steve Skiena, distinguished teaching professor and director of Stony Brook University’s AI Institute.

Several AI art generators, such as Midjourney, DALL-E 2, Stable Diffusion, and mobile app Lensa AI have become popular among online users in recent months. All offer free or low-cost subscriptions to access their tools, which can generate an array of  technically impressive images in a matter of seconds using only a typewritten prompt.

While computationally complex, the way the AI art and chat generators operate is fairly straightforward, Skiena said.

When composing words or prose, "ChatGPT works by having trained on basically all the texts available on the internet,” he said.  “Everything from Wikipedia or web pages to millions of books. And it’s trained to basically do one task, which is to try to predict what the next word in a sequence is.”

Similarly, AI art generators, in response to user-written prompts, attempt to come up with the most logical sequencing of image components, ultimately creating an original digital art piece using available images on the web as reference.

But exactly where AI finds its image references remains a sore spot for artists.

And although technology experts said these tools do not simply copy or plagiarize existing works, local artists, worried that their art is being used without their permission to train AI algorithms, say there is both a moral and legal question as to what is happening on the back end of these systems.

“It’s a huge concern for me,” said Amanda Reilly, 32, a fine artist and digital illustrator living in Ronkonkoma. “There’s nothing stopping somebody from going on my website and feeding my art into Midjourney.”

Reilly, who graduated from Farmingdale State College in 2013 with a degree in graphic design, likened AI art to a “get-rich-quick scheme” that cuts trained professionals out of the process of creation while stealing their work.

Despite the low- to no-cost instant image generation AI offers, Reilly said she feels that artists will still be able to provide a curated service a machine can’t. At least for the time being.  

“A commercial artist does research to understand your brand. AI doesn’t do that,” she said. Still, she worries what will be possible as AI models continue to evolve with the backing of large tech firms and industry investors.

“It’s only going to grow from here,” she said. "I hate acknowledging it, but it’s the tech industry. Tech doesn’t stop growing.”

For many artists, making a career of their skillsets requires a persistent drive to land freelance opportunities and cultivating a revolving door of repeat customers looking for commissioned work.

Median wages for graphic designers and multimedia artists and animators on Long Island range from $64,213 to $65,933, respectively, with entry-level wages below $50,000 a year, according to state Labor Department figures.

Given the high competition for work among  digital and commercial artists, some said AI art represents an existential threat to the already tenuous livelihoods of artists.

“I don’t want to sound dramatic, but there is no going back,” said Bay Shore artist Juan Sigcha, 31.

Sigcha, who does freelance work as a digital illustrator, photographer and videographer, said as AI art tools improve and adoption spreads, it’s a foregone conclusion that commercial opportunities for artists are going to suffer.

“AI art is a beautiful tool for business people,” he said. “If you give a tool to these people where they can just type whatever they want, and it can just pop out on the other end, it’s kind of dangerous for artists. For [business owners]  it’s perfect.”

Even among those in the local digital arts community who see AI as another potential tool for working artists to master in a changing marketplace, there is little doubt that it will hurt opportunities for some.

“There’s this huge panic because they’re afraid it's going to take away their livelihood,” said Jack Harris, department chair of Farmingdale State College’s visual communications program. “It will take away some people’s livelihoods,” he said, namely those selling their services commercially to businesses for quick turnaround freelance projects.

Harris said the ease with which AI can generate images that are "absolutely finished in 45 seconds," makes it more than likely that "there will be places where we lose opportunities."

At the same time, he said, for commercial artists able to master these new tools and incorporate them into their creative process, there is a real chance to stay ahead of the game. 

“I think we’re just going to have to relax a little and stop acting like Chicken Little,” Harris said.

While artists wrestle with the ramifications of AI on their jobs, experts  say the legalities of AI art are murky at best.

“It’s always been an issue of authorship and ownership of work,” said Atreya Mathur, director of legal research at the Center for Art Law, a nonprofit research organization connecting issues of art and law based in Brooklyn.

Mathur said a slew of recent legal challenges to the companies behind AI generators has the potential to reshape the thinking about copyright law.

Microsoft, its subsidiary GitHub, an internet hosting service for software development, and partner OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, are in the crosshairs of a class action lawsuit alleging that the companies violated copyright law by reproducing open-source code using AI. 

Open-source code refers to software released under an open license in which the copyright owner gives others the right to use, modify and distribute their coding to anyone. While those open licenses can give users broad freedoms, they can also come with stipulations. 

In the ChatGPT class action case, it's alleged that the original copyright owner was not credited for the code used in OpenAI's generation software. 

Midjourney and Stability AI, the creator behind Stable Diffusion, along with online artist portfolio platform DeviantArt, developer of its own AI art tool, DreamUp, are being sued by a trio of artists who allege the organizations’ tools violate copyright law by scraping artists’ work from the web without consent.

One of the core problems that keeps popping up, Mathur said, is the way in which AI generators must have access to and train on huge numbers of images on the web in order to function the way they do.

“They can take this data and feed it into the engine without notifying the owners of the work,” she said.

Some artists on the Island said that while they understand the angst of others in the industry, AI tools have already become part of their creative process.

“I definitely see where those concerns are coming from, but I don’t have them myself,” said collage artist Jason Jenkins, director of arts programming at the Babylon Citizens Council on the Arts. “Maybe at first there could be people that won’t get a quick design job, but a lot of the times those are jobs the artist or designer don’t like taking on or doing.” 

As a working artist, Jenkins, 31, of West Babylon, said he’s already been using AI tools and generators in his work for some time.

Even though the images generated are created by AI algorithms, writing the prompts that set the program on its way still require an understanding of artistic language and concepts in order to generate something specific. That’s where he said artist training becomes invaluable.

“We can look at any type of AI generator as a feedback of our own language,” Jenkins said.

Longtime working artists said  they have been pressured to incorporate new technology in their work or face potential obsolescence for decades.

Cynthia Wells, 66, a Southold artist and digital illustrator, said she started her career animating for Walt Disney Animation Studios decades ago when the entertainment giant still did animation frame by frame using film.

Wells, who has worked on animated films such as "The Fox and the Hound," "Anastasia" and "Space Jam," said when Disney moved to digital animation in the '80s, she made the jump to integrating computers into her workflow.

It’s the kind of rapid upskilling artists have needed to go through with each passing technological advancement.

“Artists have always been vulnerable,” Wells said. “I look at AI warily, but it’s not a new wariness.”

And though she has concerns about the copyright issues that AI brings, she said the tools themselves may just end up as another arrow in the quiver of commercial artists.

“I find it a really interesting medium that obviously needs to have controls on it,” she said.

Even those most immersed in the world of automation technology say there are real issues to consider about how these tools should be used.

Skiena, head of Stony Brook’s AI Institute, said even as AI art technology becomes more sophisticated, it may always be hindered by its lack of humanity. 

Skiena, who has spent the last year in Florence, Italy, meeting with other experts in his field while on sabbatical, said being immersed in the art and architecture while exploring the birthplace of the Renaissance has given him some perspective on AI art and its possible limits.

“Walking around and seeing all of the Renaissance art in every church and art museum you feel like there is some communication between you and the artist, and this is part of what makes art, art,” Skiena said.

“This presumably isn’t there in these AI models,” he said. “How important that really is, that’s one thing that the world will find out.”

Just as artificial intelligence programs like ChatGPT can write essays, articles and poems in seconds, similar AI programs can create works of art, a development that has Long Island artists worried. Some digital artists are embracing it as a "magical" tool, but many worry that it could threaten their livelihoods.

Experts in Long Island's art community said it's unlikely that AI art  will have any immediate impact on those working in traditional mediums like paint on canvas or sculpture. But for those commercial artists who sell their digital work to businesses and other clients, the advent of instantaneous art is concerning.

Many in the digital art and design industry fear a loss of jobs due to AI art’s wide availability and adoption, a pain point for a population of workers who often struggle to eke out a living in a highly competitive field.

Local artists said the new technology poses philosophical questions about the nature of art and what creative endeavors will look like in a world of AI chat tools that write entire books, and generators that can illustrate them in a matter of minutes.  

Technically, these systems are amazing and the images they create are often very interesting. 

Steve Skiena, director of Stony Brook University’s AI Institute

“Technically, these systems are amazing and the images they create are often very interesting,” said Steve Skiena, distinguished teaching professor and director of Stony Brook University’s AI Institute.

Several AI art generators, such as Midjourney, DALL-E 2, Stable Diffusion, and mobile app Lensa AI have become popular among online users in recent months. All offer free or low-cost subscriptions to access their tools, which can generate an array of  technically impressive images in a matter of seconds using only a typewritten prompt.

While computationally complex, the way the AI art and chat generators operate is fairly straightforward, Skiena said.

When composing words or prose, "ChatGPT works by having trained on basically all the texts available on the internet,” he said.  “Everything from Wikipedia or web pages to millions of books. And it’s trained to basically do one task, which is to try to predict what the next word in a sequence is.”

Similarly, AI art generators, in response to user-written prompts, attempt to come up with the most logical sequencing of image components, ultimately creating an original digital art piece using available images on the web as reference.

But exactly where AI finds its image references remains a sore spot for artists.

And although technology experts said these tools do not simply copy or plagiarize existing works, local artists, worried that their art is being used without their permission to train AI algorithms, say there is both a moral and legal question as to what is happening on the back end of these systems.

AI 'a huge concern'

Artist Amanda Reilly likens AI art to a “get-rich-quick scheme”...

Artist Amanda Reilly likens AI art to a “get-rich-quick scheme” that cuts trained professionals out of the process of creation while stealing their work. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

“It’s a huge concern for me,” said Amanda Reilly, 32, a fine artist and digital illustrator living in Ronkonkoma. “There’s nothing stopping somebody from going on my website and feeding my art into Midjourney.”

Reilly, who graduated from Farmingdale State College in 2013 with a degree in graphic design, likened AI art to a “get-rich-quick scheme” that cuts trained professionals out of the process of creation while stealing their work.

Despite the low- to no-cost instant image generation AI offers, Reilly said she feels that artists will still be able to provide a curated service a machine can’t. At least for the time being.  

“A commercial artist does research to understand your brand. AI doesn’t do that,” she said. Still, she worries what will be possible as AI models continue to evolve with the backing of large tech firms and industry investors.

It’s only going to grow from here. I hate acknowledging it ... Tech doesn’t stop growing.

—Amanda Reilly, 32, a fine artist and digital illustrator living in Ronkonkoma

Credit: Newsday/ J. Conrad Williams Jr.

“It’s only going to grow from here,” she said. "I hate acknowledging it, but it’s the tech industry. Tech doesn’t stop growing.”

For many artists, making a career of their skillsets requires a persistent drive to land freelance opportunities and cultivating a revolving door of repeat customers looking for commissioned work.

Median wages for graphic designers and multimedia artists and animators on Long Island range from $64,213 to $65,933, respectively, with entry-level wages below $50,000 a year, according to state Labor Department figures.

Given the high competition for work among  digital and commercial artists, some said AI art represents an existential threat to the already tenuous livelihoods of artists.

'There is no going back' from AI

Artist Juan Sigcha works on a painting at Argyle Park in Babylon. He...

Artist Juan Sigcha works on a painting at Argyle Park in Babylon. He says “AI art is a beautiful tool for business people,” but "it’s kind of dangerous for artists." Credit: Alejandra Villa Loarca

“I don’t want to sound dramatic, but there is no going back,” said Bay Shore artist Juan Sigcha, 31.

Sigcha, who does freelance work as a digital illustrator, photographer and videographer, said as AI art tools improve and adoption spreads, it’s a foregone conclusion that commercial opportunities for artists are going to suffer.

I don’t want to sound dramatic, but there is no going back.

—Juan Sigcha, 31, a Bay Shore artist and freelance digital illustrator

Credit: Newsday/ Alejandra Villa Loarca

“AI art is a beautiful tool for business people,” he said. “If you give a tool to these people where they can just type whatever they want, and it can just pop out on the other end, it’s kind of dangerous for artists. For [business owners]  it’s perfect.”

Even among those in the local digital arts community who see AI as another potential tool for working artists to master in a changing marketplace, there is little doubt that it will hurt opportunities for some.

AI images 'finished in 45 seconds'

Jack Harris, chair of Farmingdale State College's visual communications program, says commercial...

Jack Harris, chair of Farmingdale State College's visual communications program, says commercial artists who master the new tools can stay ahead of the game.  Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

“There’s this huge panic because they’re afraid it's going to take away their livelihood,” said Jack Harris, department chair of Farmingdale State College’s visual communications program. “It will take away some people’s livelihoods,” he said, namely those selling their services commercially to businesses for quick turnaround freelance projects.

Harris said the ease with which AI can generate images that are "absolutely finished in 45 seconds," makes it more than likely that "there will be places where we lose opportunities."

At the same time, he said, for commercial artists able to master these new tools and incorporate them into their creative process, there is a real chance to stay ahead of the game. 

I think we’re just going to have to relax a little and stop acting like Chicken Little. 

—Jack Harris, department chair of Farmingdale College’s visual communications program

Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

“I think we’re just going to have to relax a little and stop acting like Chicken Little,” Harris said.

'An issue of authorship'

While artists wrestle with the ramifications of AI on their jobs, experts  say the legalities of AI art are murky at best.

“It’s always been an issue of authorship and ownership of work,” said Atreya Mathur, director of legal research at the Center for Art Law, a nonprofit research organization connecting issues of art and law based in Brooklyn.

Mathur said a slew of recent legal challenges to the companies behind AI generators has the potential to reshape the thinking about copyright law.

Microsoft, its subsidiary GitHub, an internet hosting service for software development, and partner OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, are in the crosshairs of a class action lawsuit alleging that the companies violated copyright law by reproducing open-source code using AI. 

Open-source code refers to software released under an open license in which the copyright owner gives others the right to use, modify and distribute their coding to anyone. While those open licenses can give users broad freedoms, they can also come with stipulations. 

In the ChatGPT class action case, it's alleged that the original copyright owner was not credited for the code used in OpenAI's generation software. 

Midjourney and Stability AI, the creator behind Stable Diffusion, along with online artist portfolio platform DeviantArt, developer of its own AI art tool, DreamUp, are being sued by a trio of artists who allege the organizations’ tools violate copyright law by scraping artists’ work from the web without consent.

One of the core problems that keeps popping up, Mathur said, is the way in which AI generators must have access to and train on huge numbers of images on the web in order to function the way they do.

“They can take this data and feed it into the engine without notifying the owners of the work,” she said.

Incorporating AI tools

Artist Jason Jenkins, arts program coordinator at the BACCA  Arts...

Artist Jason Jenkins, arts program coordinator at the BACCA  Arts Center in Lindenhurst, prepares for an upcoming show. He says he has embraced the new AI tools. Credit: Danielle Silverman

Some artists on the Island said that while they understand the angst of others in the industry, AI tools have already become part of their creative process.

“I definitely see where those concerns are coming from, but I don’t have them myself,” said collage artist Jason Jenkins, director of arts programming at the Babylon Citizens Council on the Arts. “Maybe at first there could be people that won’t get a quick design job, but a lot of the times those are jobs the artist or designer don’t like taking on or doing.” 

I definitely see where those concerns are coming from, but I don’t have them myself.

—Jason Jenkins, 31, West Babylon collage artist and director of arts programming at the Babylon Citizens Council on the Arts

Credit: Danielle Silverman

As a working artist, Jenkins, 31, of West Babylon, said he’s already been using AI tools and generators in his work for some time.

Even though the images generated are created by AI algorithms, writing the prompts that set the program on its way still require an understanding of artistic language and concepts in order to generate something specific. That’s where he said artist training becomes invaluable.

Both of these collage works were created by local artist Jason Jenkins, but the one on the right uses AI technology.

“We can look at any type of AI generator as a feedback of our own language,” Jenkins said.

Not the first challenge

Digital artist and animator Cynthia Wells of Southold says artists...

Digital artist and animator Cynthia Wells of Southold says artists have been confronted with technological challenges before and been able to adapt to them.  Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Longtime working artists said  they have been pressured to incorporate new technology in their work or face potential obsolescence for decades.

Cynthia Wells, 66, a Southold artist and digital illustrator, said she started her career animating for Walt Disney Animation Studios decades ago when the entertainment giant still did animation frame by frame using film.

A sampling of work by Cynthia Wells, a digital artist...

A sampling of work by Cynthia Wells, a digital artist and animator who started her career as an animator for Disney. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Wells, who has worked on animated films such as "The Fox and the Hound," "Anastasia" and "Space Jam," said when Disney moved to digital animation in the '80s, she made the jump to integrating computers into her workflow.

It’s the kind of rapid upskilling artists have needed to go through with each passing technological advancement.

Artists have always been vulnerable. I look at AI warily, but it’s not a new wariness. 

—Cynthia Wells, 66, an artist and digital illustrator living in Southold.

Credit: Newsday/ John Paraskevas

“Artists have always been vulnerable,” Wells said. “I look at AI warily, but it’s not a new wariness.”

And though she has concerns about the copyright issues that AI brings, she said the tools themselves may just end up as another arrow in the quiver of commercial artists.

“I find it a really interesting medium that obviously needs to have controls on it,” she said.

Concerns over lack of humanity

Even those most immersed in the world of automation technology say there are real issues to consider about how these tools should be used.

Skiena, head of Stony Brook’s AI Institute, said even as AI art technology becomes more sophisticated, it may always be hindered by its lack of humanity. 

Skiena, who has spent the last year in Florence, Italy, meeting with other experts in his field while on sabbatical, said being immersed in the art and architecture while exploring the birthplace of the Renaissance has given him some perspective on AI art and its possible limits.

“Walking around and seeing all of the Renaissance art in every church and art museum you feel like there is some communication between you and the artist, and this is part of what makes art, art,” Skiena said.

“This presumably isn’t there in these AI models,” he said. “How important that really is, that’s one thing that the world will find out.”

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