Here’s how art schools are coping with the rise of AI generators

Here’s how art schools are coping with the rise of AI generators
Here’s how art schools are coping with the rise of AI generators

To prepare for the 2023 spring semester, New York University professor Winnie Song did something she’d never had to do before: she created art guidelines on AI for her students. .

Song, an assistant professor of art at the Game Center at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, isn’t the only art teacher thinking about it. With the rapid rise of automated systems like Stable Diffusion, Midjourney, and DALL-E 2 over the past year, instructors at post-secondary art institutions are trying to figure out how to broach the subject with their students while learning the intricacies of AI. art themselves.

“I was concerned that they were using the AI ​​generators to create mood boards and references of things that don’t exist in real life. So I just set a policy that within the limits of this class it’s not recommended to use the generators,” Song told Motherboard. “I really never imagined it would get to this point where people would try, for example, to legitimize it as a craft.”

AI-generated art has flooded the internet since users started generating elaborate images with just a written sentence or highly stylized portraits by uploading a selfie. The tools have drawn strong reactions from many artists, who note that AI systems produce derivative images after ingesting millions of original artworks without permission from their creators.

But while the growing 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 that go to the beyond typing a sentence into a text prompt and turning it into their own work.

“I think we’re trying to teach them to become tool independent and make sure they kind of stay agnostic, non-respectful, and dependent on one thing to get presentable work,” Song said. “You can learn that, and you can think about it, but that can’t be your one main thing to get where you need to be.”

How teachers have brought the art of AI into the classroom varies across classes and disciplines. Song said she teaches a drawing 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 Ralske, professor of digital media and head of the media arts department at Tufts University’s School of the Museum of Fine Arts, takes a different approach.

“Personally, I encouraged students to explore this. I think they should know what the tools are, what they are capable of and maybe develop a personal vocabulary of how to use them,” Ralske told Motherboard. “But we’re really overdue to maybe have a broader discussion within the university about how we should handle these things.”

Doug Rosman, a lecturer in the Department of Art and Technology Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, also has students explore generators in his machine learning course. But, in its Professional Practice course, a more career-focused course, the art of AI and its impact on working artists is a different discussion.

“In this context, the releases of DALL-E and Stable Diffusion look more threatening,” Rosman told Motherboard.

Instructors aren’t the only ones thinking about AI art generator products. Art students are also grappling with the effects of AI art saturating the artist market and what it could mean for their careers.

“The way artists are embracing the crazy, hyper-technological capitalist culture is really disheartening,” said Marla Chinbat, an art student at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “I wouldn’t be surprised if AI art started to have merit because of a side of the art world that I don’t align with.”

None of the instructors or students at institutions interviewed by Motherboard said their department or school had published AI art guidelines or a policy for using AI art generators for projects. . Charlotte Belland, professor and chair of the animation program at Columbus College of Art & Design, said setting the parameters is left to individual instructors based on the topics and concepts being taught in class.

“As long as they establish what their parameters are, it’s an open forum for whether or not to use AI technology,” Belland told Motherboard.

However, learning how these programs work and how to help students use them takes time and effort on the part of the instructor. If an instructor is not already familiar with machine learning or computer science, navigating how AI-art generators are disrupting the art world and understanding algorithms might take some extra work.

“Teaching is hard. It’s so much work and it doesn’t pay well,” Rosman said. “It’s not fair that a small demographic of people in Silicon Valley can just throw this thing out into the world, and we just have to run around picking up the pieces.”

Susan Behrends Valenzuela, art student at NYU Steinhardt. Photo courtesy of the artist

Even though their instructors haven’t covered AI art in class, students are still thinking about how AI art generators affect the art world. Susan Behrends Valenzuela, an art student at NYU Steinhardt, said the topic had only come up once in one of her classes, but she would be interested in further discussions in other classes.

“I wish we talked about it a little more,” she told Motherboard. “But at the same time, I think for that to happen, my teachers would need to know a bit more about that kind of technology, and I just think it’s not something they really focus on. .”

Students also think about how they might use these tools in their processes. Julia Hames, a painting student at the Rhode Island School of Design, said she played with the Wombo AI generator for inspiration.

“For a while I had no idea what to paint, so I just put random prompts into Wombo to see what it created,” Hames told Motherboard. “I really didn’t like anything, but maybe it could be used for that because the pictures are so absurd and it just lets you into this weird valley that humans can’t even reach sometimes.”

Julia Hames, painting student at the Rhode Island School of Design. Photo courtesy of the artist

Song, Ralske, Rosman, and Belland all said they didn’t ask students to use AI-art generators for projects without their knowledge. If a student was using AI for a project, how they were using it was clear to the instructor. Belland said if a student tries to use AI without an instructor’s consent, being in a community with diverse perspectives and skills will help catch them.

“The great thing about an educational community is that you have so many eyes on a project,” she said. “Even when a student makes the unfortunate decision to copy something in a very traditional way, plagiarism is pretty easy to spot.”

As for Song, she’s also not too concerned about her students passing off AI-generated images as their own, as she already knows their work. She’s more worried about the students she hasn’t even had in class yet.

“In admissions, these new students come from high school, from another life that we don’t know,” she said. “I think it would be possible for them to have created a wallet from scratch overnight using these generators, depending on how good they are.”

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