Image of Janus Rose, created with Stable Diffusion
To prepare for the spring semester of 2023, NYU professor Winnie Song has done something she shouldn’t have done before: created AI technical guidelines for her students.
Song, Game Center assistant professor of art at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, isn’t the only art educator having this in mind. With the rapid rise of automated systems like Stable Diffusion, Midjourney, and DALL-E 2 over the past year, educators at post-secondary arts institutions are trying to figure out how to bring up the subject with their students while still learning the intricacies of AI art themselves.
“My concern was that they would use AI generators to come up with mood boards and references to things that don’t exist in real life. So I just created a policy where, within the confines of this category, we discourage the use of generators,” Song told Motherboard. “I never imagined it would get to this point where people would be, like, trying to legitimize it as a craft.”
AI-generated art The internet has flooded ever since users started creating elaborate pics with just a written phrase or highly stylized photos by uploading a selfie. Tools have been met Backlash from many artistswho noticed that AI systems then produced derivative images Inclusion of millions of original artwork without permission From the creators.
But while the increasing sophistication of AI generators raises deep questions about the nature of art and the creative process, it also creates very tangible dilemmas for art educators who want their students to develop skills beyond writing a phrase in directed text and turning it into their own work.
“I think we seek to teach them to become independent of the tools and also make sure that they remain kind of agnostic, not reverential and dependent on one thing to get great work,” Song said. “You can learn this, you can think about it, but it can’t be the only major thing to get you where you want to be.”
The ways in which professors introduce the art of AI in the classroom vary between classes and majors. Song said she teaches a painting class in which students are supposed to draw inspiration from nature and the physical world, hence her AI art policy. On the other hand, Kurt Ralsk, professor of digital media and chair of the Department of Media Arts at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University, takes a different approach.
“Personally, I’d encourage students to explore this. I think they should know what the tools are, what their capabilities are, and maybe develop a personal vocabulary for how to use them,” Ralsk told Motherboard. “But it’s really late for us to have a larger discussion within the university about how to deal with these matters.”
Doug Rosman, a lecturer in the Department of Art and Technology Studies at the College of the Art Institute of Chicago, also asks students to explore generators in a machine learning class. But, in the professional practice class, the career-focused course, the art of AI and its impact on working artists is a different discussion.
“In this context, the outputs of DALL-E and Stable Diffusion look more threatening,” Rosman told Motherboard.
Teachers aren’t the only ones who consider AI art generator products. Art students also deal with the effects of AI art saturating the market for artists and what this could mean for their careers.
“The way artists are embracing the culture of crazy capitalism and high-tech is really disheartening,” said Marla Chenpat, an art student at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “I wouldn’t be surprised if AI art really starts to get an edge because of an aspect of the art world that I don’t agree with.”
None of the teachers or students at the organizations Motherboard interviewed said that their department or school had issued AI technical guidelines or a policy for using AI technical generators for projects. Placement of teachers is up to individual teachers depending on the topics and concepts taught in class, said Charlotte Belland, professor and chair of the Animation Program at Columbus College of Art and Design.
“As long as they define what their standards are, this is an open forum for you to be able to use or not use AI technology,” Beland told Motherboard.
However, learning how these programs work and how to help students use them takes time and effort on behalf of the teacher. If the teacher is not familiar with machine learning or computer science, then navigating the ways AI art generators are changing the art world and understanding algorithms can take a little more work.
“Teaching is hard. It’s a lot of work and it’s not well compensated,” Roseman said. “It’s not fair that a small demographic of people in Silicon Valley can throw this thing into the world, and we just have to run to pick up the pieces.”
Even if their teachers don’t teach AI art in classrooms, students still think about how AI creators can impact the art world. Susan Behrides Valenzuela, an art student at NYU Steinhardt, said the topic only came up once in only one of her classes, but she would be interested in more discussions in other classes.
“I wish we had talked about it a little bit more,” she told Motherboard. “But at the same time, I think for that to happen, my professors are going to need to learn more about this kind of technology, and I think it’s not something they’re really focused on.”
Students also think about how they can use these tools as part of their operations. Julia Hames, a drawing student at the Rhode Island School of Design, said she tinkered with using the Wombo AI generator for inspiration.
“For a while, I had no ideas what to draw, so I just put random letters into Wombo to see what generated,” Hames told Motherboard. “I didn’t really like anything, but maybe it can be used for that because the visuals are so silly and they just let you into this uncanny valley that humans sometimes can’t get into.”
Song, Ralske, Rosman, and Belland said they did not ask students to use AI art generators for projects without their knowledge. If a student used AI in a project, it was clear to the teacher how to use it. If a student tries to use AI without approval from a teacher, Beland said, being in a community with diverse perspectives and skills will help catch it.
“The beautiful thing about the education community is that you have so many eyes on a project,” she said. “Even when a student has made the unfortunate decision to copy something in a very traditional way, plagiarism, it is very easy to spot.”
As for Song, she’s also not very interested in her students passing off AI-generated images as their own because she’s already familiar with their work. She’s more concerned about the students she hasn’t caught up in class with yet.
“In admissions, these freshmen come from high school, from another life we don’t know,” she said. “I think it could be possible for them to build a portfolio out of thin air overnight with these generators, depending on how good they are.”