Image by Janus Rose, generated with Stable Diffusion
To prepare for the 2023 spring semester, New York University professor Winnie Song did something she’s never had to do before: she created AI art guidelines for her students.
Song, an assistant arts professor in the Game Center at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, is not the only art instructor thinking about this. With the rapid rise of automated systems like Stable Diffusion, Midjourney, and DALL-E 2 within the past year, instructors at post-secondary art institutions are trying to figure out how to broach the topic with their students while still learning the intricacies of AI art themselves.
“My worry was that they would use the AI generators to come up with mood boards and references of things that don’t exist in real life. So I just set a policy where, within the bounds of this class, it’s discouraged to use the generators,” Song told Motherboard. “I really didn’t ever imagine that it would get to this point where people would be, like, trying to legitimize it as a craft.”
AI-generated art has flooded the internet since users began generating elaborate images with just a written phrase or highly stylized portraits by uploading a selfie. The tools have been met with fierce backlash from many artists, who note that the AI systems produce derivative images after ingesting millions of original artworks without permission from their creators.
But while the growing sophistication of AI generators is raising profound questions about the nature of art and the creative process, it is also creating very tangible dilemmas for art educators who want their students to develop skills that go beyond typing a phrase into a text prompt and turning it in as their own work.
“I think we endeavor to teach them to become independent of tools and also make sure that they remain sort of agnostic, not reverent and dependent on one thing to get presentable work,” Song said. “You can learn this, and you can think about it, but that can’t be your one main thing to get to where you need to be.”
The ways professors have been introducing AI art in the classroom varies between classes and disciplines. Song said she’s teaching a drawing class in which students are supposed to derive inspiration from nature and the physical world, hence her AI art policy. On the other hand, Kurt Ralske, a digital media professor and department chair of media arts at Tufts University’s School of the Museum of Fine Arts, is taking a different approach.
“Personally, I’ve been encouraging students to explore this. I think they should know what the tools are, what they’re capable of and maybe …….