Calling AI Art A Photo Or A Painting Is Fraud!

artificial intelligence ai art
Credit: Adobe Stock

AI “art” is a popular topic in the world of photography and painting. AI (artificial intelligence) is also getting a lot of attention in the news media. Photography and art sites are being flooded with AI “art” pretending to be photos or paintings. This is because it is a fast and easy track to likes and internet fame. In reality, it is a misrepresentation; a fraud. AI “art” is not a photo or a painting. It is a different method of creating an image.

Some simple definitions can help explain this.

  • Painting is the practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a solid surface. [source: Wikipedia].
  • Photograph – an image created by light falling on a photosensitive surface, usually photographic film or an electronic image sensor. [source: Wikipedia] The image may be further processed (post-processed) via darkroom or digital editing techniques.
  • AI art – any artwork, particularly images and musical compositions, created through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) programs, such as text-to-image models and musical generators. [source: Wikipedia] AI images may also be post-processed via Photoshop, etc.

Clearly, these 3 methodologies are very different. Despite these differences they can yield similar looking results. Sometimes, it can be difficult to tell whether an image is a painting, a photograph or an AI image.

Looking Like A Photo Doesn’t Make It A Photo

Implicit with calling an image a photo or a painting is that you are affirming the method used to create that image. The methodology is what defines it as a photo or painting. The fact that something looks like a photo or painting is not the defining characteristic. To be clear, not being able to call an AI image a photo is not a judgement on the merits of the image. It doesn’t mean the image is good or bad. It simply means it is not a photo; nothing more. An AI image can be a beautiful and captivating image which is great. But it isn’t a photo or painting.

Perhaps more importantly, when submitting photos to a website where I want to stand out from other people’s photos, or websites that have a curation or selection process, or to a photography competition, or when selling a photo, I expect a level playing field that all the “photos” are truly photos. This is also true when I want to buy a photo. If I’m spending money on a photo, it better be a true photo.

Why Has This Become An Issue Only Recently

For quite some time there have been paintings that look like photos and vice versa. Despite this, there hasn’t been a lot of photos that claim to be paintings or paintings being called photos. I think there are a number of reasons for this.

  1. Both photography and painting involve a investment in equipment, practice, skill development, and time to become good at it. As a result, both types of artists are proud of their work in their chosen field and therefore tend to “stay in their lane”.
  2. There are plenty of sites to post dedicated to either photography or painting. Some have sections for both. This gives them ample opportunity to display their work within their field.

AI images are relatively new development and have quickly become popular. It is with this rise in popularity that we have seen AI Images invading other sites by impersonating photographs or paintings. The reasons I see for this are:

  1. There aren’t many sites dedicated to AI Images or photo/painting sites that have a separate category for AI images. So where can people that create AI images share them? They have limited valid options.
  2. The investment to create AI images is small. It takes little equipment (which most people already have) or time to learn. The siren song of fast and easy likes and internet popularity is very strong. It’s there for the taking. All you have to do is call your AI image a photo or painting and post it everywhere.

An Egregious Example

Artnet News recently published a story about Instagram “artist”, Jos Avery. In October, 2022 Avery began posting primarily black-and-white portraits with sharp facial features and blurred backgrounds. He initially insisted these were taken with a Nikon D810 camera and even included fictional backstories for some of the subjects. Many of the images are quite good.

Avery’s followers have now quickly grown to over 34,000. This popularity eventually made him feel guilty. He now admits that the images were made with the AI image generator, Midjourney. He does fine-tune them with Photoshop. Previously, Avery denied that they were AI images.

Some may be inclined to be lenient in accepting Avery’s images as photos due the their quality. AI images are not photos or paintings regardless of how much they may look like them. It’s not an issue of quality; it’s an issue of misrepresentation. And misrepresentation is fraud. It’s as simple as that!

“AI images are not photos or paintings regardless of how much they may look like them. It’s not an issue of quality; it’s an issue of misrepresentation. And misrepresentation is fraud. It’s as simple as that!”

While I’m glad that Avery came clean, there are still a lot of people out there that haven’t. Unfortunately, that simple needless dishonesty will always taint Avery’s reputation and work.

Instagram And Other Sites

Instagram is a good example of how many image sharing sites operate. Some of the specifics of Instagram are:

  • Instagram describes itself as a “photo and video sharing app”. It does not explicitly address the issue of AI images.
  • The Instagram Community Guidelines state:
    • Share only photos and videos that you’ve taken or have the right to share.
    • As always, you own the content you post on Instagram. Remember to post authentic content, and don’t post anything you’ve copied or collected from the Internet that you don’t have the right to post.
  • The Instagram Terms of Use state:
    • You can’t do anything unlawful, misleading, or fraudulent or for an illegal or unauthorized purpose.

There are a lot of gray areas in here as the rules haven’t kept pace with the technology. For example, ownership and copyright issues in regard to images being used by AI art generators are currently being debated. It will take some time to sort all this out.

One site, 1x*, has taken an explicit stand on AI images on their site. On the photo submission page, they state: “1x is a photography website. Usage of any kind of AI software (like Dall-E or Midjourney) to generate photographs is strictly forbidden and such images will be deleted without warning. Repeated violations may result in account suspension.”

What Does The Future Hold?

I think Instagram and 1x may represent the extremes of how sites will handle AI images. Although a “photo site”, Instagram isn’t really about photography. It’s a social media site with the aim of generating traffic to generate ad revenue. As a result, Instagram isn’t concerned with image standards and quality but rather images that drive traffic. Frankly, I doubt if Instagram will make any changes in regard to AI images.

At the other end of the spectrum are sites like 1x that make money by selling curated photographs. Since their customers care about the difference between photos and AI images, they have to take steps to protect the integrity of their product.

It’s hard to tell how all of this will shake out. My hope is that both the people generating AI images and websites will recognize AI as a methodology to create images that is separate, distinct, and different from painting and photography. It’s a big world out there – can’t we all just get along?

Are AI Images Art?

You may have noticed that I have sometimes used the term AI art or even AI “art”. However, I haven’t addressed the big question of “Are AI images art?” As this post is already longer than I would prefer, I’m going to defer addressing this question to a later time. So, stay tuned.

Leave A Comment And Share

How should AI images be handled relative to photos and paintings? I’d love to hear your comments and feedback.  Please leave a comment in the comment box below.


* In the interest of full transparency I should note that I serve as Senior Critic on 1x providing photo critique (not curation) to members to help them improve their photography. This is an unpaid position. I am not an employee of 1x. The opinions expressed in the post are solely mine. Furthermore, 1x did not review, edit, or approve of this post. This post does not necessarily agree with any position on this subject by 1x.

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