One of the primary arguments that comes up in relation to the overwhelming tide of AI-generated art is the way these programs are trained. Some skim the web based on pre-determined restrictions, while others are fed specific artists to copy throughout their training—but the pressing issue has to do with the lack of consent of the artists. In this first week of January, a list of artists has come to light that were used to train Midjourney AI.
Midjourney is a text-to-image generator that has been at the forefront of this boom of individuals churning out images, often aping the styles of beloved artists such as Van Gogh or Hayao Miyazaki. What seemed like a new digital toy to many at first was quickly understood to be a tool for corporations to devalue artists, utilizing a cheap program instead of paying a creator a suitable wage, and has even resulted in individuals selling works specifically generated to look like real artists’ work.
The list that began circulation this past week has over 16,000 names on it, from legendary masters to iconic modern artists to prolific designers and illustrators in popular culture. One such segment is the works of Magic The Gathering artists, and bizarrely enough, the work of children that was commissioned as part of the Extra Life fundraising campaign for children’s hospitals.
Online artists are being urged to check for their name on the list to train Midjourney and encouraged to seek legal representation in the matter. While some still claim that the scraping of these programs and their utilization is no different from a human seeking inspiration, it is apples and oranges wherein this machine mind cannot help but at times verbatim reproduce the work of non-consenting artists. Legal battles continue in this strange field of modern art, but a tool has already been given to show a profound lack of care towards artists, and unfortunately can’t easily be put back in the box.