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‘Enough’: Artists Go Viral After Firing Back at ArtStation’s New Policy on AI Art

Screencap on 12/23/2022 showing artist protest AI artwork on Artstation feed. Image: Alyssa Shotwell / Artstation artists.

As AI art—which is built on stolen art and data—has rapidly become more accessible, numerous art-centered platforms are widely adopting the generated content. While many artists expected Adobe and other widely criticized companies to accept the AI-generated art (which it did), when other, more creator-focused spaces did so, it was a surprise to many. This is causing all-out wars between the platforms and their users, akin to the siege on Elon Musk’s Twitter. The most impactful of which is what’s happening at ArtStation.

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Founded in 2014, ArtStation is a portfolio platform and community space so well-known that industry professionals pluck and contract out talent from the site for TV, film, games, and more. The platform almost exclusively consists of different types of digital art, and in addition to the possibility of employment, it offers a space for artists to share feedback with one another. It’s so tied to the industry that Epic Games bought the platform in 2021. In December 2022, ArtStation officially started to allow AI-generated art on the platform, and that’s where the current and most disruptive backlash begins.

Artists and users are overwhelmingly against the adoption of AI art on ArtStation and other social media. Many have canceled their subscriptions to ArtStation, and some went viral for calling attention to it. However, the cancellations of premium memberships and account deactivations or deletions were just the beginning.

Artists on ArtStation begin to organize

Within a day or two of the December 13 announcement from ArtStation, many artists began to organize on and off the site to protest the platform’s decision to allow AI art. An official artist/creative Discord was created (an increasingly common thing now that Twitter is free-falling) to share protest resources and information. They (and others unaffiliated) also began uploading the “No AI Art” image (designed by Alexander Nanitchkov) that you may have seen shared by artists on TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

This resulted in ArtStation changing its policy a bit and encouraging users (and clients who were expressing frustration online) who didn’t want AI art on the site to use a tag on their profile and artwork. This is intended to prevent the AI art-generators from using their artwork, but it doesn’t really do much, and still fails to recognize the core issues artists have with this content: It’s stolen.

Anti-AI artists venturing into the AI-friendly forums and Discord channels (like the official MidJourney group) are already finding people looking to replicate specific artists. For weeks, there have been examples of Lensa and other AI art-generators (all using stable diffusion) producing art in which a warped version of the artist’s signature can be seen. Some AI art users are looking to scrape the artists’ work offsite as the original creatives depart from ArtStation.

On December 22, ArtStation updated their FAQ on AI-generated art, switching course a bit by saying art will be auto-tagged as “not AI” art. Again, that is not the core issue, but okay. ArtStation posted a statement on the page that said, “We want to give artists more control over their publicly posted work,” only to admit later that the enforceability (even on their own platform) was basically unknown.

We take copyright infringement seriously and it is our goal to provide a professional environment for artists to show their work. 

The next day, ArtStation also began to more aggressively filter out art protesting the usage of AI-generated art, once again choosing AI art over art made by real people.

This is just causing more artists to make protest art with “no AI art” emblazoned on the image clearly, but not so much as to get filtered out. This artwork has existed since the wider adoption on the site began, but soon it will be the only art left from the resistance, as artists altogether leave the platform or just upload these images and use another site for their portfolio.

Bigger implications

ArtStation’s parent company, Epic, has consistently found itself in hot water for cutting out creatives for maximum profitability. Take Fortnite, for example. For years they’ve monetized dances made and popularized by the Black community and particular Black creators without compensation. Earlier this month, artist Deb JJ Lee revealed how a game worth over five billion dollars tried to take advantage of artists by offering them about 20% of industry commission rates for the project. ArtStation, which has its own marketplace, is already profiting from this stolen art.

While ArtStation canceled its NFT rollout due to community backlash in 2020, I’m not sure if they’ll do the same here. It doesn’t help that deviantArt—another major artists’ site with less prestige but a lot of value—is doubling down with the same sort of attitude: People “must accept it” or opt out. What’s worse with deviantArt is that the platform actually put an AI art-generator on its site, welcoming people to participate.

Again, I can’t help but view this like Twitter because, like the users leaving that platform, artists of all types are trying to flock together to new, possibly less popular though still anti-AI art platforms—platforms that may be against this now, but which also don’t have the public trust or security infrastructure to protect users with this new attention. As artists are trying to protect their world (which is already difficult online), they’re adding bigger watermarks, uploading lower-quality images, and locking as much art as they can behind paywalls, and preventing their fans, student artists, and potential clients from looking at the work. While the recent PETA/Naruto case may provide legal respite in this country for a moment, something has got to give.

(featured image: screencap)

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Alyssa Shotwell
(she/her) Award-winning artist and writer with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. She began her career in journalism in October 2017 when she joined her student newspaper as the Online Editor. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 & Oxygen Not Included.

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