Midjourney, creates art by learning from a vast collection of human-produced images. Some argue this process diminishes the authenticity or originality of the resultant art since it's derived from pre-existing human works. They say it's a form of plagiarism.

However, others say to this - human artists also learn and draw inspiration from the works of others, nothing can be created from nothing, suggesting that the AI's process is not fundamentally different. That humans are also neural networks, just biological ones.

This raises some philosophical questions.

  • What distinguishes an AI's learned creation from a human artist's work, if both are informed by pre-existing art?

  • Can we consider AI-generated art as 'original' or 'authentic'?

  • Should we change our definitions when AI art becomes even better (it's already pretty damn good)?

  • Why Art created by biological neural networks is Art, and electronic neural networks is not art? Are we just protecting our world from AI, cause we are biased?

  • Related to plagiarism concerns, derivative art is copyright violation whether or not "all art is theft" where it produces duplicates of clearly identifiable products. That is to say, if I produce a portrait of Mickey Mouse in the style of Rembrandt, I have not violated Rembrandt's copyright, but I may have violated Disney's, and if I produce a portrait of you, I may have violated yours. (Copyright is law, not philosophy, but still, I thought it was relevant.)
    – g s
    Aug 4, 2023 at 17:01

1 Answer 1


Trying to figure out what kind of art AI art generators generate is a category mistake. They don't generate any kind of art if one uses the standard definition for art.

MW's definition is adequate: Aesthetic objects produced by the conscious use of skill and creative imagination. (Definition 4, rephrased for brevity.)

It is somewhat weak, because aesthetic object is underdefined. Objects or processes produced by the conscious use of skill and creative imagination for the purpose of evoking aesthetic experiences would be identical but more clear.

AIs do not have consciousness, skills, creativity, imagination, or intent. Therefore AI art generators do not generate art, they generate things that look like art. This is not a new phenomenon. Natural environments look like naturalistic art. People look like portraits. The Smile Nebula looks like a crude smiley face. Nebulae make an especially good example because most of them don't look like anything until you input the right inputs into an expensive, complicated machine (a space telescope and its image-enhancing, color-magnifying software).

Nor do humans using AI art generators generate art in the first instance: they discover things that look like art in their environment. They do create art if they do anything skillful, creative, and aesthetically intended to the generated picture (like cropping it and putting it in a frame), exactly as one can create art by drilling a hole in a pretty shell and putting a string through it to wear it as a necklace.

Imagine that we lived in a time and place far from the sea with no trade to the sea, where experience has taught us that pretty baubles that you drill a hole through and wear as a necklace must always be crafted by human artistry. Then making your shell necklace is still art, but telling people that you made your shell necklace yourself, without explaining that the shell is just something you searched for on a beach, is a lie.

Since AI art generators are labeled as they are and advertised as a way for the user to be an artist, I suspect that in the very near future, the definition of art will have changed to include "or machine-generated objects or processes evocative of the above". I predict that we will soon have a new word denoting art of conscious origin to distinguish it from new-definition "art" in general - almost all of which will be generated by machines. (As with music vs live music, in which the original stuff gets the compound word, while the recorded stuff swiftly usurped the original word because it's much more common.)

  • "AIs do not have consciousness, skills, creativity, imagination, or intent" - anyone who rejects or doubts dualism would probably raise an eyebrow at that claim. None of those terms are well-defined enough to have any amount of confidence that AI does not have some amount of that (except intent, probably, if we're talking about prompt-based AI, although we have created plenty of AIs that explore and interact with their environment). If consciousness emerges, we should theoretically be able to create a conscious AI.
    – NotThatGuy
    Aug 4, 2023 at 20:27
  • "they discover things that look like art in their environment" - I'm not sure what you meant by this sentence, but this clause raises a good point: we have years and years of near-non-stop sensory input, and the art we produce often has many similarities to real-world objects. It's interesting to consider whether a mind would be able to produce any art with no sensory input to transform. This suggests that we might just transform input we receive in various ways to create art (or think, even), much like AI does.
    – NotThatGuy
    Aug 4, 2023 at 20:27

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