DeviantArt is a website that has survived multiple generations of the internet because it does one thing and does it well: It lets artists upload and share their work. That’s it! So it’s both funny and more than a little tragic to see the site try something new last week—allowing AI art—only for it to be the worst thing imaginable, implemented in the dumbest way possible.
AI-generated art is something that sounds cool in theory, but in practice has been little other than a chance for tech goons and grifters to steal art, kid themselves into thinking they’re artists, and deprive working artists of work.
While popular with the kind of people who will talk to you unsolicited about how now is the best time to buy crypto, actual artists are generally horrified by the practice. So artists, the actual users and entire point of the site, were rightly upset last week when DeviantArt published a blog post that led with, “Introducing DreamUp, an image-generation tool powered by your prompts that allows you to visualize most anything you can DreamUp!”
That blog post, ostensibly an introduction to a service that lets users “create” their own AI art on DeviantArt, has to spend most of its time saying “actually it’s fine this isn’t terrible,” because it knew in advance a huge number of users would take one look at the legal and ethical complications involved and say, “This is terrible!”
But it went and did it anyway. And, after just one day in the open, was forced to make changes to it after artists protested at the ease with which AI art systems could so easily scrape their own works without accreditation, or even their active consent. The most egregious example being that every single piece of art on the whole website had been flagged to be made available for AI systems to learn from, and that users were going to have to manually go into their accounts and opt out of every single image.
Also contentious was the way in which prominent artists had to opt out of having their style stolen (people entering prompts into AI art use a bunch of keywords like “fantasy,” but also artist names to imitate their style), but to do so had to submit a form which would take days to process:
While the bulk opt-out system was quickly changed (too late for many, since the damage would already have been done!), the entire thing as an idea still sucks (they can’t even guarantee it works!), and deep down DeviantArt knows it. It published an update which is still mostly about addressing user’s concerns which, you know, might suggest there are underlying issues with the whole point of the exercise, not just individual examples of its implementation.
AI art is from the same grifting, de-humanising, tech-first-ask-questions-later wheelhouse as crypto and NFTs, and you can see that at work in DeviantArt’s system, which isn’t here for the casual enjoyment of existing users, but as a way to make money. DreamUp allows for a certain number of free “prompts” before users are locked out...unless they’re paid DeviantArt members. And if you do decide to pay, what are you getting in return, aside from the satisfaction gained from undermining the very community you’re supposedly a part of? DeviantArt was kind enough to provide some examples of llamas:
These look like shit. Like something a bot account would have tried to sell me as an NFT in 2021. Throw this all straight in the bin.