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The Great Debate: Andy MacDougall on How AI Image Generation Will Hurt Skilled Artists

The MacDougall Take: My view of takers, fakers, and makers. 



JUST SO READERS KNOW, I got roped into this article to present some kind of counter argument to Marshall Atkinson’s devotions to Midjourney and the cult of AI, one of the newer crop of prompt-based art production tools. Read his article before or after you are done here (The Marshall Plan, “Point Counterpoint: AI Image Generation Pros”). The podcast is better than both, because…Two words: Jeral Tidwell. Give him a Google if you don’t know his work.

This piece was started as a sketch on paper, then finished on an iPad. Jeral uses the computers and graphic programs as tools to enhance ideas. But the ideas are his. And creating the art is part of the challenge and reward. To shortcut that process through a computer program is a dis-incentive to the user to develop actual art skills and shortchanges future artists.

I’m no designer or artist, but I know one when I smell one. Many of my friends and associates are involved in creative endeavors — in print, in art, in design, in music, in life…the makers in our world. I love them all. These are the people who create. They invent and drive the look and feel of our surroundings. Or have, for millennia. Now we’re seeing the devaluing and theft of their creativity and ability, and the years putting the time in to develop their skills in whatever area they work in. A couple of prompts, a bit of editing, done!

Let’s be clear: This conversation involves more than a designer job in the local T-shirt shop. It turns out this guy Tidwell has worked since his teens as an artist on T-shirts, posters, and he’s been featured on the covers of magazines. He even has a line of pin-striping brushes. He’s an artist, he’s a human, and he definitely has opinions on AI in the art world.

I was delighted talk to this Kentucky-based creative about Midjourney, AI, and how that’s looking to humans who work in the creative world. Hear the whole interview here. He expands on the idea that we are turning into voluntary cyborgs, and wonders where this type of technology is taking us. In the interview, he likens it to driving while being distracted by the phone, meanwhile there’s no brakes. 

Is Midjourney going to make our printing and graphics world better? Maybe for some businesses, sure. Many have a crappy designer or production artist with no creative spark and minimal training in print production (which unfortunately describes a lot of graphic designers these days — sorry). To certain people obsessed with the bottom line, the ability to feed in a client’s design ideas and graphic wants and get something quick to show the client — that’s a perfect solution!

Automated clip art! Now your mom can be a graphic designer! Get her off the CriCut! But it begs the question…Will it also separate a print job? Stand out from generic? It’s been my experience there’s a lot of junk out there passed as print-ready design. Does any production shop owner know this story? Does Midjourney just mean more of the same…. only cheaper?


Although he has a style or look, he’s always trying new ways to create and push things in new directions. “The one of me at the easel painting the skull with roses was part of a series I did with a really sketchy painting,” says Tidwell. “I did not get super detailed on them, and that was kind of the point — paintings that look like sketches.”

On another level, it is an automated plagiarism program, carrying on in the visual world what it did and continues to do in music, writing, movies, and more. It replaces and devalues trained and skilled people with regurgitated appropriated art and content. And it’s making that normal, to use technology to do what a human creative would do. But at way less cost, time, effort, and skill. 

I have a sneaking suspicion reproducing the newly created artwork on anything other than a cell phone or a DTF transfer actually may require some advanced skills. By the time you read this, I’ll have found out at the New England Printfest, but that’s a story for another time. I wouldn’t mind hearing from some production managers on how easy the AI generated files are to use, or if the “designers” using the program know if the art files they are sending will rip and print.

Jeral has his opinions, and he doesn’t hold back. “The only people who argue that AI is real art are people who lack the skills to make real art. These are the same people who argue that digital inking and airbrushing are exactly the same as the real thing. Absolutely absurd.”

He continues, “As a person who can use nearly any art medium, both real and digital, I can assure you they are nothing alike. Granted, using something like procreate with the Ipencil does mimic drawing and even uses many of the same motor skills but there’s still a difference. At least with something like that the input still must be based off your own thoughts, creativity, and hand skills.” 

The artist in his studio with his tools — pencils, paints, brushes, airbrushing. It begs the question…are his clients, who include General Motors (Chevrolet), Kawasaki, Intel, Activision (Guitar Hero), Carlex Design (Poland), Mack Brush Co., Interscope Records, and a zillion others, going to go with some artist who brings creativity and skill and a unique style? Or someone with a computer and an AI art program? There’s more to art than pushing a button.

“Typing in prompts and allowing a computer to generate whatever it wants from those prompts eliminates the human creativity,” he adds. “Well, except for the fact that human creativity is stolen as a learning tool for AI. I honestly think that AI would even say the same, it’s not creating anything new it’s simply blending up things it can find to match your prompts.”

In the interview, we get further into it. Jeral is no stranger to having his art ripped off by individuals and corporations. He shares some stories about his own exploits in the courts, along with the observation that companies like Midjourney are getting sued by the copyright owners of the work the program accessed to build its back files. Clever humans have made a couple of websites that actually will track stolen images used by AI graphic programs — Others have started burying hidden tags to identify IP theft. 

The reality? It’s here. It is worming its way into everything and is casting off jobs. It’s also giving easy ways out for a growing class of humans who get everything from their cell phone, or at least what it wants to feed them, and seem happy with that. 

“Just” pencil on paper. Tidwell’s lifelong fascination with custom car and truck painting and pinstriping has not only led him to developing a line of brushes, but his work has been featured in 62 magazines, 23 books (not counting his own), art shows in 11 countries, and a dozen in the States.

Hopefully AI-produced art, writing, and other things will require a tag to identify, and human creatives and their various arts will rise above the mediocrity and sameness and be sought out by thinking humans who value it. And maybe, just maybe, the creators of plagiarism programs get sued.

But of course, we know that won’t happen. These tools, and the “tech-bro” corporations who unleash them in waves on the general population, give very little thought to where they will take us and what they leave in their tire tracks. But the fear should be that we end up abdicating everything to the machine. Isn’t that the premise of most sci-fi? The irony is that the graphics people who are advocating for adoption are, in essence, contributing to their own replacement. Voluntary Cyborgs indeed. What do you think?




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