The Rise of AI in Art and Code in 2024

Last modified February 28, 2024
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Around 7 years ago, I was joking around with my colleagues about no-code tools. Apps like Webflow, Squarespace, and Wix were gaining traction, and the question had come up- would there ever be a good way to automate building websites? I think I’ve always been an idealistic humanist when thinking about the creation of art and visual design, so of course I said ‘nope’. As good as visual editors were at the time, I just couldn’t see how it would be possible for computers to reason as well as humans do, not just with cold hard logic, but with the human conceptualisation of ideas.

Now, I’m kind of eating my words. I did not see this AI advent coming, and now I’m wondering if anyone is seriously thinking about what it means for future generations of creatives.

A few years ago, I remember Mark Zuckerberg announcing on Facebook that they were working on AI, and I was thinking ‘oh that’s nice, good luck with that’. I don’t think I could have imagined it would be like this, much less in the space of a few years.

I think it probably is curiosity and power that is driving tech companies to innovate and improve out capabilities, but think about what it means for the everyday person. What happens when computers actually get to the point where they outperform humans? My natural assumption is that people’s motivation to outdo each other will lose it’s appeal, because I don’t think humans are motivated by computers. We are motivated by our peers.

I have to admit, when AI art generators were first released to the public and artists were complaining about it, I was thinking ‘well, it’s inevitable and it is what it is’. I had tried apps like DiffusionBee and the early version of Adobe Firefly and thought it would be decades before anything remotely commercially viable possible. The images they generated were just so bad, low resolution, and virtually unusable. This was only 1-2 years ago.

Today, I tried DeviantArt’s AI generator called DreamUp, and while it isn’t perfect by any means, it is incredible to see what it can actually produce now, from so little. As I was browsing the gallery, which has a mixture of AI and human made art, I was genuinely impressed at the compositions and the art styles and I second guessed many AI generated images. if you go to the home page of DA today, many of the popular images have the ‘Made with AI tools/ label’. The question is…how much of it is AI, and how much is human? Just clicking on any one of the most popular artists of the day has a high probability of revealing a gallery with a mixture of vastly different styles, and while they are all beautiful and impressive in their own right, are they really valuable at all if they were generated with AI?

Generating the below image in a matter of minutes, it made me think, ’this is art someone would have spent hours and hours working on just a few years ago’.

Girl walking under a heart shaped cloud

Years ago I would spend hours drawing at night, in to the early hours of the morning because I got so wrapped up in it. I remember reading other artist’s journals, and sharing art as a means to document my progress…I remember when I first attempted to draw digital art for the first time. I was probably in my early teens, and my first attempts were awful. I posted my drawing attempt on a forum and just about everyone scoffed at it, except for a kind person who took the time to give me some actual feedback and help. I remember reading about what people did to get good at drawing….the hand injuries they sustained, the knockbacks, the criticism and imposter syndrome, the work they put into their folios to apply for work at studios…it wasn’t glamorous at all.

And I remember the groups on DA, the daily deviations, the genuine comments from other people who admired other people’s artistry and the technique that made their point of view so unique. I remember people commissioning art, and buying unique adoptables because they just wanted art in an artist’s particular style. I remember the encouragement and the motivation to continue, even when I knew what I was producing wasn’t as good as other people’s.

I think this aspect of art is lost on so many people. Seeing an incredible art piece at a gallery is nice I suppose, but I think you really do appreciate art more when you realise the story behind the person who made it; the amount of work and toil and struggle to get to a particular point, while also realising there is always room for improvement. When it comes down to it, it is our own unique style and point of view that makes what we create so valuable, even though we may want to try to emulate other people.

If an AI is trained on what is popular and pleasing, based on the amount of likes on an artist’s painting, or constraints like the golden ratio, how will artists in the future navigate finding their own style and voice? How will artists learn how to break the ‘rules’? I think this also applies to how we code.

When ChatGPT was released to the public, I think many people were like ‘oh that’s cool’. But could anyone actually have imagined that we would be where we are now, where apps can code whole complex functions and refactor code for you in the blink of the eye? And that is just scratching the surface of it’s potential. It is INCREDIBLE to see this improving in real time every single day, because a few years ago, I don’t think many people could foresee it impacting the way we build things this much. But, AI also has the potential to stifle innovation and lateral thinking, and that is a pretty ironic thing to imagine.

I have to make this point, around four years ago I remember Stripe launched their website and everyone was marvelling at how they implemented the fancy effects. From the gradient header to the cool spinning interactive globe…I think people in the dev industry would remember the many tweets, the blog articles, the newsletters, the conferences, and press they were getting from it and still do. And deservedly so, might I add. Their work on it and how they built it is still, so impressive.

I also remember the days of complex design systems, where teams like Lyft would spend months working on their colours and developing complex tools just to pick shades which were just right in terms of accessibility and aesthetic. Again, I repeat, this was only a few years ago. Companies were spending a tonne of manpower and money on creating these systems to outdo their competitors, and very soon this culture will likely change with AI. Actually, it’s probably already started happening.

Of course, we’re still at the stage where humans are still needed to analyse the output, especially if it is to do with code efficiency or art generation particularly with hands, and feet, and faces. But in the very near future, how and what actually would motivate people to work tirelessly at the innate talents they have, when machines can do it faster, and objectively ‘better’ than someone striving for years to attain the same level of understanding and foundational experience?

As I said before, in my opinion, humans aren’t motivated to work because of what machines can achieve. We strive because of others, but perhaps with the wrong motivation. I can’t help but think of this verse from Ecclesiastes:

“Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.” (Ecclesiastes 4:4)

We should build each other up because everyone has unique talents that need nurturing and encouragement. Machines are simply tools that hopefully make our jobs easier. But when it comes to creating, whether that is art, or code, or otherwise, that is what humans do. We create.

Regardless of how impressive AI seems to be, we all inherently know the human touch is valuable. But if we rely on AI in the future for everything from app creation to game development, will people have the same motivation that we do now to create? Would people even bother investing the time and energy into creating, if machines will be able to do everything faster and ‘better’?

I know we humans like shortcuts, and people’s attention spans are already low and getting lower still. Maybe people had the same questions when calculators were invented, but I think these are serious considerations to be had. If people don’t even have to think too hard about generating a new drawing, or game, or even a blog post title, well …what else is there for us to do?