Note: For the sake of this article, when I say artist I mean all creators - be they artists, designers, musicians, or craftspeople. When I say art I mean anything traditionally created by these artists, but also include simulacra created by LLMs.
This is not my weigh-in on the AI vs art debate. That debate will rage for many years to come. There is, however, a third side to the argument that nobody is arguing about.
Any good or service, any content, requires a consumer to consume it. It might be easy to forget amidst the hype, but this consumer fundamentally needs to be human.
Humans don't fit into large language models.
They don't fit into patterns.
Humans are in fact, very random.
As a consumer, I've just about stopped caring about AI-generated anything. I'm not interested in seeing stupid Oreo commercials, or The Rock eating rocks. If I see a post on LinkedIn with a clearly AI-generated image, my eyes glaze over even if their discourse might be sound.
Surely I'm not alone.
There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth (by artists) around the rise of AI art, yet who is predicting that we as consumers will just wake up one day and stop caring.
My prediction is we'll see a polarisation. A widening gap between the 'junk' products we don't care about, and the products we love and connect with. And it'll have little to do with the products itself.
In many ways, the AI synthesis of art is a natural progression of the democratization of art itself. Everyone warned 'desktop publishing' would kill graphic design by making it available to everyone (showing my age yet?). Instead, what it did was enable a lot more rubbish graphic design, yet simultaneously increased the value of designers that knew what they were doing. It also empowered many to get into graphic design who perhaps had the talent but not the means.
AI may do the same again. It will make the production of art available to anyone. It will make it accessible to those without means or talent. This will increase the volume of art produced by an order of magnitude again. But by definition it will be average.
In all creative industries this may be the art-as-commodity end-game. The last avenue of cost cutting, when all other more traditional means have been exhausted. Limited only by the number of GPU cores you have. But as with all commodities, people don't care about them. Consumers will want these commodities to serve their purpose and nothing more.
It will happen sooner or later in every creative industry. Graphic art and writing are already seeing it happen. Industrial Design (and the need to directly interact with those weirdly shaped and unpredictable humans) may see it happen much later. Regardless, assume it'll happen and assume you won't be able to tell the difference between man or machine made.
Art will be cheap and abundant.
I expect the other end of this spectrum to expand and grow too. As I said at the beginning of the piece, humans are unpredictable. Consumers may just wake up one morning and realise AI art is not enriching their experience, and will seek out alternatives. This may become especially true as the mega-corps that control the AI platforms become increasingly more enshittified.
We may see somewhat of a renaissance of cottage industries. Products created by people for people, through skill and years of experience. Perhaps not for all things, or even most things, but people will start to care about the provenance of what they consume, like they care about ethically sourced coffee beans or where their truck is made.
They will value these goods and services, and they will pay more for them.
That's not to say that AI won't be used to create art in this way. AI is still only a tool, in the same way Photoshop is used by graphic art professionals as much as it is weekend hacks.
Not What, But Why.
So why would consumers care about one and not the other? What if art in its traditional sense is indistinguishable from AI-generated art? Either because the artist has decided to leverage AI synthesis, or the synthesis is so good the two are entirely indiscernible?
In the not-too-distant future, I could easily see Spotify streaming endless Eurorack beats, synthesised in realtime, to people who just want some background music to listen to. Spotify never having to pay a cent in royalties. I could simultaneously see small decentralised communities that coalesce around Eurorack artists, and pay them good money, to listen to what could on the surface amount to essentially the same music.
It will be the same reason some spend 10x the price for vinyl records and a player, over Spotify on the phone they already have. The same reason some want a manual Mazda MX5 over an Tesla Model S. The same reason some keep incinerating money in Logan Paul's crypto 'projects'.
The answer is not the what, but the why.
Consumers will gravitate to art, and goods and services, they connect to. Not because of the things themselves, but because of the context. All three above examples are objectively inferior options to the alternatives, but humans are not rational.
It will be the emotional connection we will have with the artists, with their stories and their journeys. How they come to produce these works or these goods. This will drive the connection we have with products (and to some extent the companies). It will be the intangible elements surrounding the art that cannot be synthesised.
It will be the love of the human experience.
So as creatives shifting into a new era of abundant artist-free art, the question won't be whether it's stealing your work or not. The question will quite literally be who cares. Be authentic. In a world of commodities those who do care will seek out your authenticity.
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