Will Artificial Intelligence Replace Artists?

The new AI art generators have everyone obsessed, and asking the same question – will artificial intelligence replace artists? Digital media entrepreneur Shilpa Ahuja discusses the future of artists and how to stay relevant.

Cyperpunk pop art, created by Midjourney, an AI art generator*

This is an AI created art – completely unique, beautiful, meaningful, and created entirely by a bot. Surprising, isn’t it? What’s even more surprising is that this sentence will age badly. In a few years, it may even seem silly to assume that a piece of art was not created by AI. This technology just arrived, and it’s already taking over the world of art.

We’ve all heard of the advancements of AI, or artificial intelligence. So far, it’s been used for speech and facial recognition, winning chess matches and even driving cars. Everybody’s been talking about AI for years, and how it would steal our jobs. But that always seemed like the thing future ‘us’ would have to worry about. It seemed like the problem for someone else, in some other profession – but that future is here now – and it’s affecting those who least expected it – the artists.

AI art generators are here and artists are left confused about the future of their profession. If a bot can create any image just based on simple prompt, where does that leave them? Will human art be valued more now? But which client or employer would want to wait for days to see the results when a bot can generate something equally good, if not better, in a matter of seconds? Who will want to pay the artists? Following your passion, spending all your life practising and getting better at an art style – what will that amount to? Will art be reduced to being a hobby, or will there still be a demand for the ‘human touch’?

Chris Hemsworth: digital painting

Being an artist as well as an employer of artists, I’m in a unique position to discuss this topic. I have employed graphic designers, illustrators, and digital media designers for Shilpa Ahuja Media. At the same time, I am the creator of the Audrey O. comic strip and am currently in the process of developing a handmade NFT collection of Audrey O. cartoon illustrations.

So let’s dive into the topic of AI vs. artists, based on what future hiring needs I anticipate as well as how motivated I’ll be to create art myself, and how much (or less) valuable I imagine it being.

The Future of AI Art is Here

I recently tried an AI image generator, or should I call it ‘AI artist’ (we’ll get back to this definition later). There are already a few of them in the news – Imagen by Google, Dall-E, and the one I’m trying my hand at – Midjourney. Most are still in the beta version, and are currently invite only. It’s only a matter of time before these all are in the market and in everyone’s hands. But even in their beginning stages, it’s almost impossible not to be blown away by their capabilities.

humanoid_futuristic_robot midjourney ai art
Humanoid robot touching a glass screen

So what exactly is an AI art generator? Well, it’s an artificial intelligence algorithm or a bot that can create an artwork, or an image based off of a prompt, which is a set of instructions written in simple language. So basically, you just type in something like, “midnight scene” and it will imagine something like this.

Midnight scene

You can add more detailed instructions to create something specific, like, “midnight scene, full of details, photorealistic” and voila!

Midnight scene, photoreal, full of details

It’s that simple.

This is not a trendy filter or tool. This is a super-artist in itself, which is potentially capable of creating any type of artwork in any style. Well, currently these platforms do have capability restrictions. It’s great at making complex fantasy digital art, mystical scenery or concept art, for instance, but can’t draw a simple comb or a hand to save its life! But as I mentioned, this technology is still in its infancy. I can only imagine what it’ll be able to do within just a couple of years.

So as an artist, is it right to be scared? Yes.

AI vs. Artists: The Challenges

“Be original, be creative, and your jobs will be safe,” they told us. “AI will only replace repetitive, non-creative jobs.” But here we are, asking the million-dollar question, “Can robots replace human artists?” Unfortunately, it’s safe to say that AI can replace some creative jobs, at least. Some types of artists may completely become obsolete, or will they?

Right now, if you read online forums or posts, most artists don’t agree with each other about the extent of change they can expect. This is because it’s not easy to understand the capabilities of AI yet, and anticipate the ways clients or companies will use them. It’s also easy to be in denial.

The biggest challenge for artists is the obvious competition with a super-artist. While for artists, it’s common to master one art style or genre, AI can create art in virtually any style. And it’s not like the industry will get saturated with the “AI art look” – it creates a different result each time a prompt is given. Different style, composition, lighting, characters, interpretations – unique art every time.

Foggy magical garden, fantasy art watercolor

My initial thoughts were that if an artist is creative enough to make original art, they’ll certainly find work. But creating art is challenging, time consuming; and if you knew a bot could do it exponentially faster, many artists won’t have the drive to make art even as a hobby, let alone in an office under the pressure of a deadline. 

Another initial thought I had was that the limitations of AI may leave room for human artists. For example, AI can only create art based on what’s already been created by humans: meaning they can’t generate new art styles or create art movements. But how many artists can really create new art styles every day? It takes a lot of inspiration to develop a whole new art style, and only a few artists ever do it.

And even though AI cannot create new art styles, it can easily replicate them. So even if you’re creative enough to develop something entirely unique, chances are your competitors will easily copy the style within no time.

AI Art – Current Capabilities and Real-World Use

Midjourney gives 4 options for whatever prompt you give it, and among those you can “upscale” or enlarge one or more. It can also create variations of any of those, or upscale an artwork with less or more details, as required.

A scene from harry potter, highly detailed, digital painting

What AI Artists Can and Can’t Do (Yet)

Currently the capabilities of AI art generators include:

  • Creating any art like digital art, photorealistic paintings, 3d renders, pop art, portraits, cartoons, etc. based on a simple prompt or instructions.
  • Creating photorealistic images.
  • Generating an artwork in the style of a famous artist.
  • Creating different variations of the same idea or of an existing artwork (although this may need alterations).
  • Altering an existing artwork, photo or illustration, based on simple instructions.
  • Making art in different styles like surrealism, photorealism, etc.
  • Being creative with translating abstract ideas into art, I’ve tried topics like “divorce”, “toxic relationship” and “loneliness”.
  • They cannot make exactly what’s on your mind, most of the time (you have to give them creative liberty).
  • They cannot exactly replicate a new or lesser known art style, for example it couldn’t make my cartoon, Audrey O. (thank goodness!).

Many users are playing with AI apps to just create art for fun, to channel their creativity and advance their imagination. We’re seeing many Instagram accounts of AI “artists”. But let’s discuss what AI is being used for in actual businesses.

We’re already seeing a lot of videos on YouTube of companies putting their graphic designers up for a “competition” with AI – to see whose art is better rated by unsuspecting viewers. Since this technology is still so new, I haven’t yet seen many companies use AI generated art. At SAM, we have already started using AI art as illustrations in our websites. So far, I’ve used them for replacing stock photos, and am currently in the process for setting a new art direction for the company for AI generated art and human created art alike.

Will AI Replace Artists?

AI art generators like Dall-E 2 will very soon affect the jobs of artists, illustrators and graphic designers, but they won’t completely replace artists. However, it’s likely that a project that needed 10 people may be done by 2 people now. The artists will be expected to use AI as a tool, so the clients will expect results faster in the future. What this means is that freelancers may have lesser work.

Enchanting French villa, classical French exterior with a mystical garden, fantasy animation art

Moreover now, since anyone with enough imagination or aesthetic understanding can create good art, even without years of practice or training; it will also mean more competition. Many artist jobs will still be around, as AI does have its limitations. Art selection, curation, editing, putting it together, and of course, creating the utility and context of art are things that only a human can do (for now).

Can artificial intelligence replace humans in artistic jobs? You have to look at the profession of artists from a new standpoint now. If your work is to create an illustration or art that anyone with enough practice could do, then yes, your job will be replaced.

Why Will Companies Want to Replace Artists?

From an employer standpoint, artists are not only expensive, but also the whole process is time consuming, and difficult to communicate, especially for non-artist clients. Moreover, many managers find it difficult to work with artists, because of their obvious quirks.

According to brand & marketing manager, Abhishek Sareen, “Working with a creative agency and design department is one of the most frustrating parts of my job, as they expect detailed briefs every time, and the deliverables are very time consuming, requiring numerous iterations. I believe an AI art engine like this would be an excellent tool to communicate my thoughts, even if not to replace the artists’ work.” 

To understand the true potential of AI art apps, you have to understand what machine learning is. Usually, when you look at the current tools or filters, they’re able to create a new-ish version of an existing image. They may convert a photo to a cartoon, or change the lighting in an image, etc.

But AI can create entirely new artwork or images. It’s truly like having a person who is learning by looking at existing art and then creating something new on its own. In a human’s case, we learn by slow experience – it takes us years to master an art style, decades to be able to aesthetically and visually represent new ideas. In case of AI, it can do all this in seconds.

Is AI an Artist?

It may sound like a simple question, but it gets complicated when people’s rights are involved. The interesting part is that whatever your take on this is, many other artists won’t agree with it. The global art community is currently at odds about whether to call these AI art generators artists or not.

Some believe that since a human is giving the AI a prompt, the human is the artist, and the AI simply its tool. But others believe that the AI is doing the main job of creating the art, and the human is simply giving it the brief, just like your client gives you a brief, or your friend gives you an idea, but by creating the art, you really are its copyright owner and original creator. Afterall, art is 1% ideation and 99% perspiration, as my friend and fellow Harvard alumna says.

Simply speaking, an artist is someone who creates original art, and therefore owns the copyright to it that can be used to sell or lend it. The AI art generators do create original art, and therefore technically speaking, yes – they are artists in their own right. But of course, they currently don’t own the copyrights to these works, which are retained by the humans who gave them the prompts to create the said works.

The definition of an artist itself is evolving, or will evolve. It needs a serious discussion at this time.

Which Jobs will be Affected the Most by AI in the Art Industry

So whose jobs are safe and whose are not? Let’s look at all this more in detail. Thinking from an employer’s perspective, here are some ideas on who I’d not hire (or hire less of), and why.

“Absurd art”

Junior illustrators

Fresh graduates whose job is to create something similar to what’s already existing, like a sketch, or a basic illustration, may be largely replaced.

Junior concept artists

Interns or junior artists who assist in storyboarding, initial ideas, etc. may be needed lesser.

Freelance artists

Low-budget clients like small enterprises, individuals, entrepreneurs, etc. form a majority of the clients of freelancers, as larger companies have in-house artists. However, since it’s time consuming for such clients to find an artist, give them brief, wait for their work, and also expensive to order alterations, they may prefer to just create something through AI apps. So it may be difficult to make a career for freelance artists like illustrators, graphic designers, etc.

Digital artists

AI art generators are very good at creating certain types of artworks and digital art is one of them. So digital artists may find fewer jobs or evolved job roles. Surely, they’ll have to keep their edge through new genres, visualizing abstract concepts, specific art styles, designs, etc.

Photoshop 2D editing artists

AI art generators make it easy to just create new art to meet specifications, so instead of needing editing work in Photoshop, clients will prefer to just create new art. These jobs will still be around, and I expect their job descriptions will be different in the near future.

2D artists and fine artists

2d and fine artists will find fewer jobs as some (or a lot of) art may become AI generated in the future. Of course, not all jobs will be replaced (more on that later) and many companies will still want to employ artists, and they’ll be expected to use AI as a tool to be faster and better.

Fantasy art, beautiful young magical fairy queen with long white hair

Calligraphy artists

Calligraphy is not yet tackled well by AI, but given its current capability, it’s only a matter of time before people start using it to generate new calligraphy styles, designs or more.

Who is Safe

It’s hard to say which artist jobs will still be unaffected, as this tech still so new and is developing and evolving very fast. Still, here are some of the artist jobs I expect will be around in the years to come:

Art director

There will definitely be the need for someone to set the art direction for a company, and make sure it’s coherent, aesthetic, and gets the results.

I know this sounds like a senior level job, but companies would certainly prefer to do cost cutting in the art department now – either have talented entry level graduates in these positions, taking larger calls or would not pay as much for experienced professionals.

Art curator and handler

Companies will need artists to handle their specific needs, either by creating art manually or through AI apps. However, expect the management staff to be more involved in the artistic process now that everyone’s on a level playing field. So for example, your non-artist boss may come up with concept options herself instead of letting you do it yourself. Basically, the process will become faster and easier, but also a lot of the fun will be taken out of it (for the artists).

Photoshop artist & image editor

Artists may be required to do image editing or manipulations (doing editing work of AI generated art for more precision or modifying it to specific needs) and compilation. They may also work on giving final touches like adding stylized text, branding, alterations & color corrections, etc.

Infographic creators & data visualizers

Jobs involving visually representing data and creating meaningful infographics to represent an idea are complex jobs that still need humans.


AI can certainly make cartoons, but the job of cartoonists is to give meaning to them, and make them relevant or discuss a story, or current trends. That’s still something only humans can do.

Graphic & Web designer

Artists will still find work for really specific needs, like logo design, web design, UI/UX and packaging design.

2D and 3D Artist

AI currently cannot replace animators. And humans will still be required to do character design, costume & set design, storyboarding, designing visual elements in video games, animations and films.

What Other Art-Tech Evolution We May See

Well, the sky is the limit. In the near future, we may have tools for UI, web design, help with art direction & coherence (like Instagram made it easy for anyone to look good).

In times like these, it’s best for artists to develop a penchant for cross-collaboration, develop flexible skills and be good managers too. Think of AI as your assistant, and look further to see what more you can do, now that your time is freed up from making traditionally time-consuming art.

* All art generated by Midjourney

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