An artist was banned from a popular Reddit art community based on accusations that his artwork was an AI-generated design — or looked too much like one.
Ben Moran, an artist based in Vietnam, posted an image of his work “A Muse in Warzone” (2022), which he says was created using Photoshop, on r/Art, a subreddit with nearly 22 million members. The piece depicts Elaine, the protagonist of the Beneath the Dragoneye Moons fantasy series. Shortly after, the image was flagged by r/Art’s moderators, and Moran sent a complaint, offering to provide the original .PSD file of the artwork for review. “I’m not using any AI supported [sic] and the punishment is not right,” Moran said.
Along with the hashtags #SaveHumanArtist and #NoAI, Moran tweeted screenshots of the response he received. “I don’t believe you,” the moderator, who remains anonymous, wrote. “Even if you did ‘paint’ it yourself, it’s so obviously an AI-prompted design that it doesn’t matter. If you really are a ‘serious’ artist, then you need to find a different style, because A) no one is going to believe when you say it’s not AI, and B) the AI can do better in seconds what might take you hours. Sorry, it’s the way of the world.” Moran told Hyperallergic that he was completely banned from the Subreddit and heard nothing more from its moderators.
Over the past week, Moran has seen an outpouring of support from digital artists online, who have re-posted “A Muse in Warzone” in solidarity and protested the ban on social media and on other Reddit communities. The moderator’s closing line — “Sorry, it’s the way of the world” — quickly became a meme mocking the seemingly arbitrary decision, and some Reddit users say they have been temporarily muted from r/Art for speaking out.
As of Thursday morning, the subreddit was closed to the public, with a message on the page that read, “This sub is currently private because we have been brigaded for the past week, with no significant help or response from the admins.” It has since been reopened.
Moran told Hyperallergic that he follows an “old art style” and that his process involves, quite simply, drawing. “The development of AI is good for the industry, not for the art community or artists,” he said. “AI, of course, is stronger than our brain. It’s a mix of a thousand, or a milion human brains of artists all over the world … There’s no passion if you can create an artwork that way.”
The removal of Moran’s art and the controversy that followed encapsulate many of the concerns plaguing the rise of increasingly sophisticated artificial intelligence-generated art. Some creators fear that apps like Midjourney and Stable Diffusion, which can produce realistic images in seconds using a simple text prompt and even finish your art for you, allow their original work to be scraped and repurposed without their consent — and without payment. Outrage ensued when artist Jason Allen won the blue ribbon at the art contest of the Colorado State Fair last September with a digital painting created using Midjourney, with some calling for AI to be prohibited from competitions altogether.
User rules for the r/Art subreddit leave no room for ambiguity as to the moderators’ stance on such designs: “No ‘AI’ art, ever, and absolutely nothing ‘NFT,’ or anything similar.” And they’re not alone. The largest anime conventions in the US, held in New York and Los Angeles, have both announced that they will not display work created using AI generative models. The supplier of stock photography Getty Images also banned the content, referencing pending questions surrounding the copyright status of the images that the models are trained on.
When it comes to Moran’s art ban, some have pointed to a much simpler problem entirely unrelated to AI: the difficulty of holding Reddit moderators to account, given that their identities are often unknown. Users can report a moderator if they believe them to be in breach of Reddit’s content policy or code of conduct. But according to r/Art’s Rules page, “moderators have final discretion and may remove posts for any reason, regardless of whether any rule is broken.”
Editor’s note 1/11/23 6pm EDT: This article has been updated with additional comments from Ben Moran.
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