ArtStation, a platform that allows game, film, media, and entertainment artists to connect and showcase their portfolios, has been flooded with the same image posted over and over by different users: a large red "no" sign covering the word “AI” paired with a caption that reads “NO TO AI GENERATED IMAGES.”
Starting Tuesday, artists began protesting against the platform by uploading the image onto their portfolios after some users pointed out that AI-generated art was being featured on the site’s main Explore page. To many artists on ArtStation, the juxtaposition of AI-generated images with their own work is degrading and undermines the time and skill that goes into their art. AI-driven image generation tools have been heavily criticized by artists because they are trained on human-made art scraped from the web, and then effectively remix or even closely copy it without attribution.
Illustrator Nicholas Kole sparked the protest, which Kotaku first reported on, after seeing costume designer Imogen Chayes post the "No AI" illustration, which was designed by illustrator Alexander Nanitchkov. “Seeing that made me feel a little hope and solidarity, but it was slipping down the page while the AI post was going strong. I decided to post the same thumbnail in solidarity, and see if I could keep it trending,” Kole told Motherboard.
“I let Twitter know what I was up to and invited anybody who felt the same way about the issue to join in, to see if we could get ArtStation to respond with a policy that actually serves and considers their user base of skilled craftspeople," he continued. "After that it was all organic: the art community is a powder keg of passion for our craft and there's a natural growing consensus against AI.”
Due to the protest, ArtStation released a FAQ on Wednesday afternoon regarding AI artwork on its platform where it defended the inclusion of AI-generated works on its platform. The company stated that its “content guidelines do not prohibit the use of AI in the process of artwork being posted.”
However, it says, “users’ portfolios should only feature artwork that they create, and we encourage users to be transparent in the process.” The company claims it doesn’t want to “become a gatekeeper with site terms that stifle AI research and commercialization when it respects artists' choices and copyright law.”
A spokesperson from Epic, ArtStation’s parent, also told Motherboard that it did not make any agreements with AI companies that would allow them to scrape content from its website and that it is in the process of giving users “more control over how their work is shared and labeled.” The FAQ additionally states that AI companies scraping ArtStation for training images may be an "infringement on the rights" of users.
However, many artists including Kole are unhappy with this statement—some want the company to ban AI images altogether, and others want the platform to at least require artists to label and distinguish their AI-generated content from other art.
“While I am glad to see ArtStation acknowledge our protest, their response strikes me as inadequate and evasive,” Kole said. “The main thing we are asking for in doing this is for a positive policy against the proliferation and presence of AI-generated images on a site intended to showcase the portfolios of professional and aspiring-professional artists. This is clearly something Artstation is, at this time, unwilling to do in clear terms.”
Kole believes that ArtStation’s response is contradictory because he believes AI images are not inherently original or “work that either you own, or have permission to publish." Instead, he says that AI art is “work generated by a machine, using data mined from the labor of real humans.”
This pushback from artists against AI art has been widespread lately, as AI-art generators and AI art grow in popularity. According to TechCrunch, the viral Lensa AI app, which uses AI to turn users’ selfies into various characters through its “Magic Avatars” feature, holds the number one spot in the U.S. App Store and was directly followed by two other AI photo editors on Monday.
Lensa AI, which uses the open-source image-to-text model Stable Diffusion, has faced severe backlash from artists who say that their work has been stolen to generate the AI images. Artists claimed that the AI was trained on their artwork without permission, which was confirmed when many artists saw aspects of their work appear in the AI-generated art, including their own mangled signatures. Artist David O’ Reilly spoke up against another AI text-to-image model called Dall-E, which is a competitor of Stable Diffusion, saying in an Instagram post, “Paying for it benefits a tech company on the back of a century of human effort—a bullshit deal. Dalle-E undermines the work of creators of all kinds, most obviously photographers, illustrators, and concept artists who shared their work online, and never asked to be included in a proprietary learning model.”
As a result, many artists are calling on the public to boycott AI art and AI art generators, to avoid the temptation of quick gratification and image personalization, in order to support the ethics of artists. Meanwhile, eager technologists, venture capitalists, and even some creatives—the Marvel-affiliated Russo brothers, for instance—have embraced the technology as being an important and even inevitable step forward for easy-to-use and cheap creative tools.
“I believe art is something inherently and intrinsically human, even corporate art made-for-hire is meticulously crafted by experts in their fields," Kole said. "When we sit down to draw, design, sculpt or paint, each mark is made with an intention. Each step of the process is an opportunity to ask new questions, tune the piece to the precise context it's intended for, to add expressiveness and even a point of view. The result—movies, shows, games—are intended to connect that intricate craft with an audience who appreciates and enjoys it.”
AI does none of this, he explained, and he sees "a world filling up with meaningless, regurgitative cardboard cutouts that remind us of real art."
Stock image websites such as Shutterstock and Getty Images have already banned the upload and sale of AI images due to copyright concerns. However, as AI innovation speed surpasses lawmakers’ ability to keep up with copyright policies, artists have taken it upon themselves to warn the public of the ethically murky territories of AI art. Many artists agree that AI art is a powerful tool and can be used as a reference or inspiration, but shouldn’t be used for profit or lauded in the same way human art is.