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  • Rainey Knudson

The Artists A.I. Is Leaving Out (324 words)

There's a class-action lawsuit of artists against A.I. developers who have used copyrighted artworks without permission, as reported by Los Angeles writer Carolina Miranda:

"The list... features the names of more than 16,000 artists — and it was allegedly used by developers at Midjourney to help refine its generative AI program. (So that users can command [it] to do things like “create a landscape in the style of Ed Ruscha.”)"

The list of artists whose work was scraped (link here) has created a stir among some of them, as they've realized their works were used to train programs to mimic their style without their consent.

I'm not interested in the lawsuit, but I am interested in the list. Specifically: what if you're not on it? Should you be insulted? Does your work matter? Does it even exist, or will it in the future?

I'm reminded of looking at old Whitney Biennial catalogs from decades ago, where you haven't heard of (or you've forgotten) at least half the artists in the show. Will these A.I.-synthed artists—these 16,000 lucky enough to have been in the zeitgeist in 2023—be cemented into future art history because they just happened to be in the first A.I. scrape? Is their legacy ensured in a way it wouldn't be otherwise? Surely many of them, like those old Biennial artists, would have been forgotten 40 years hence.

The list is a spreadsheet with multiple tabs. Along with artists' names, it includes one tab (Sheet12) with a detailed list of obscure genres—all with the suffixes "punk" or "core"—that was clearly assembled exclusively from social media.

And I have to laugh: oh boy, centuries hence in the next Renaissance, what gems will be discovered! Just think of all those artists who are being lost in this moment of artificially intelligent curating. Think too more soberingly, what mountains of art are disappearing, churned back into soil. And how future people will marvel, as we do of the ancients, over how much has been lost.

Image is not—I think?—A.I.-generated: Balthasar Denner  (1685–1749), Portrait of an Old Woman, c. 1720-1749, oil on copper. Hermiatage Museum.

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