is the AI the artist?

If you feed a prompt into an AI image generating system such as Midjourney, who is the artist? Most people seem to want to give the credit to the AI, but, depending on how you go about it, I believe that the Prompter can claim to be the artist.

At first glance, it does seem that all the Prompter does is to give a description of an image to the AI, but that the resulting image arises entirely from the ‘imagination’ of the AI; it would seem that the strongest claim the Prompter can make is that they are acting as an art director.

Like an art director, the Prompter gives a brief to the AI and, like an artist, the AI returns an image for inspection. If the Prompter were a typical art director, they might ask the artist to make some changes, but no art director would expect an artist to make dozens of images, as they reject one after another, giving the artist an evolving brief each time.

A better fit might be that the Prompter is acting like a film director. A film director may work on a script, may even act in their film, but mostly the actors do the acting, the camermen operate the cameras, lighting men light the scenes, specials effects people craft the special effects. Nor does the film director make the sets, nor the costumes, or carry out all the other myriad tasks that are required to make their film. Instead, they make their team go through as many takes as necessary to achieve their artistic vision—revising scenes with the actors, asking for the camera angles to change, to have the scenes relit, to ask for new scenery and new costumes—until they are satisfied. Even though they do so little themselves directly, do we deny that a film director is responsible for the artistic vision of their film?

With the endless ‘takes’—the endless finessing of the ‘script’, the endless choices of which image to vary to find another, the choices of which contributors to reference, which style to follow—the process of arriving at an AI-generated image seems more like a film director at work than it does an artist. Is it then unreasonable that a person should claim artistic credit for the image that emerges from this exhaustive process, a process that is directed by them using their artistic vision?

Posted by Ricardo

writer and blogger

6 Replies to “is the AI the artist?”

  1. Ha, ha, yes, images of two asian women. We haven’t achieved replicant technology… yet:)

    I guess it depends on your perspective. The guy behind MJ recently stated in a BBC interview that artists were mere tools and that he didn’t care about putting them out of work. If that’s your point of view, then there is nothing different between pulling a plough and replacing an artist… except I feel this goes to the core of our humanity in a fundamentally different way. I suspect most people wouldn’t equate toiling in a field to creating a work of art. Most artists actually enjoy what they do:)


    1. I imagine that at least some of those hand weavers, who were put out of business by power looms, enjoyed what they were doing. This does go to the core of our humanity in a different way, but it is only particularly biting for those of us who are being replaced; the people without artistic training or talent, who are playing with Midjourney, may feel that putting artists out of work is a price worth paying for them to be able to now make pictures


      1. In the first time of history people without talent and skills can claim to be an artist without having the talent and skills to be THAT artist.
        It’s like driving a car for 42 km and shouting: See, I can run a marathon, too!
        What a time to be alive…


        1. Your analogy is perhaps apt, Marcus, but I am moving towards seeing that the ‘being an artist’ and the ‘craft skill’ that has hitherto been necessary to become an artist are separate. Historically, they were just about indivisible. I have another blog post in the works that will explore this issue in some depth. If you’re interested in being notified about that, you may want to join my mailing list below


  2. I’m not convinced by the artist as film director analogy. Yes, the director gets most of the credit for the final thing, nevertheless, they are artists in their own right, having done their 10,000 hours or more and moreover, everyone else gets a credit, especially the production designer and cinematographer, who often get almost the same level of credit. A lot of film directors did their apprenticeship on the shop floor as it were, and could probably do all the jobs on set. Ridley Scott and James cameron are supposedly two. Contrast that with the average MJ-er who generally has no clue and wouldn’t know where to start if he or she had to originate an image from scratch. There are a few exceptions, like the two asian girls you sent me, but they are a minority and even they have an uncanny valley feel once you get used to the look. If you follow your film director analogy through, all the artists whose work has been assimilated should get a mention. At any rate, I find it hard to equate someone working with a team of humans, with their competing egos and opinions, to an individual working with a passive generator like an AI. The best movies I’ve worked on have been the ones where everybody gets a say, even if the director is the final arbiter. Contrast that with films where the director has become so powerful that no one can offer an opinion. I think you know which films I mean:)


    1. It was the 10,000 hour artist, using the AI image generation systems, that I was making a case for—perhaps not clearly enough. I do agree that artist’s whose style you use in your prompt should be credited; perhaps we may develop a protocol for that? As the “team of humans, with their competing egos and opinions”—this is exactly what it seems to me that the AI systems are replacing; but consider: is this not what industrialisation always does? Industrialisation increases productivity by mechanising human workers, it’s just that, here, we’re talking about human minds being removed from the equation, not human brawn. That is: how is this different from replacing horses pulling a plough and countless field hands gathering in the harvest with a tractor and combine harvester?

      PS To be clear, it was ‘images’ of two Asian women that I sent you *wide grin*


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