How to compete against AI: Future-Proofing your Art Career Part 2

Ways to survive the coming paradigm shift

Written: 
January 17, 2023
Last Updated: 
January 17, 2023
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AI is only your competition if you try to match it and beat it at its own game. Instead, here’s a list of ways to make yourself a more competitive artist in a world that can generate cheap, high-quality imagery in seconds.
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This article was originally published on ChristopherCant.com

This is part 2 of my series about AI art, and future-proofing your art career.

Part 1 was an overall look at what the potential threat of AI art might be to the working artist, and an overview of the different solutions an artist might use in order to continue a sustainable income in an uncertain future.  If you haven't read it, it's over here.

After writing that article, I wanted to look a bit deeper into alternative solutions, and figure out a list of ways to make myself a more competitive artist in a world that can generate cheap, high-quality imagery in seconds.  This is as much a letter to myself as it is to anybody else.

We've all heard the comments that AI is a tool, and that artists should just adapt and use our artistic skills to paint over AI outputs - but I don’t think many of us would be happy with that.

We became artists because we have a personal vision, and enjoy creating - I expect few of us would find joy in handing over our creativity and vision to something else, and relegate ourselves to cleaning up what it makes.  In that situation, it seems more to me like we are the tool, and the AI is the artist.

So let's dive into the many ways to remain competitive, without resorting to giving up the most enjoyable part of an art career to a robot!

Compete against AI by being yourself

AI is only your competition if you try to match it and beat it at its own game.  Instead, concentrate on doing your own thing, and become something that AI will never be able to imitate.

Become yourself

Stop chasing the big freelance gigs in the hopes of getting hired.  Stop trying to make your art look like the Blizzard art style, a Magic the Gathering card, or League of Legends splash art.  These styles are sought solely by companies looking for art to help sell their products, and they are the things that the AI art is learning to make.  In all honesty, I think these companies will bite at the chance to replace 90% of their artists with AI and reduce their expenses drastically; I just think they are going to try to transition to that as quietly as they can, so they don’t get a mob after them.

Now is the time to chase YOU, to dive into your own vision. When AI is churning out masses of the same stuff, you should be creating the things you love.  Of course, still learn your fundamentals - good art is still good art, and a good idea can still be undermined by bad execution.

Developing a distinct, recognizable style is key to standing out as an artist, and will become even more important.

My work - more over on my Artstation

Developing a style isn’t so much about finding some obscure trick that clicks with your tastes, or about learning from the right sources, or purposefully doing something a little bit unorthodox in your work to make it stand out.  It’s more about removing all of the expectations about what your work ‘should’ be, and unburying what it really, truly is that you like to make.  Underneath all of the expectations that your work should have dynamic perspectives, that it shouldn’t be just black and white, or should have painterly yet controlled brushstrokes, or that you should be a master at male, female, and all other forms of anatomy.

Beneath all of that is what you actually like to make.  Don’t try to do things with your art to make yourself purposefully stand out - just figure out if there are things like colour palettes, compositions, or subject matters that appeal to you more than others.  Embrace the things that appeal to you most and reject that which doesn’t appeal to you; you’ll make the art that really matters to you, and standing out will just be a byproduct of this process.

Experiment and explore

AI is able to generate a large number of variations of a piece, but it can be challenging for AI to come up with truly original, creative ideas. An artist can set themselves apart by focusing on creating new, unique pieces of art that push the boundaries and introduce new ideas.

Try out different mediums and techniques, explore completely unrelated disciplines and incorporate what you learn into your art, integrate your own personal history into your work, try out telling personal stories with your pieces.  These are things that AI will struggle to imitate.

Use randomness, chance and improvisation to your advantage - so called ‘happy accidents’. These don’t exist in the same fashion in AI art; though you can certainly find mistakes and random noise, there is a distinct and recognisable pattern to it.  It’s not truly chance, like the happy accidents you or I might find in our works.

Taking that further, art that is heavily abstract or non-objective in nature can be challenging for AI to recreate because it lacks the ability to understand the emotional or conceptual elements of the work.  If you enjoy abstraction to any degree, try out leaning into it and see how it affects your art and its reception.

A landscape by Victoria Rose Park, a successful abstract artist

In a similar vein, humor, satire, and irony is also a struggle for AI; it’ll never be on the cutting edge of comedy, because it lacks the ability to understand the nuances of human humor and irony.  If it suits you to include comedic aspects into your work, that's one way AI will really struggle to compete.

Build a strong personal brand

Building your personal brand is important for any artist in this day and age, as it helps to establish an artist's reputation and reach potential buyers and collectors.  In the AI age, it’ll be more important than ever.

Use social media platforms, a personal website, and other online platforms to showcase your work, connect with your audience and build a community around your art.

Include a bio on your website that lets people get to know you, and highlights your personal background, influences, and the themes and concepts in your work.

Create a strong and publicly broadcasted narrative around your art, such as a backstory, or the process behind the work.

Create blog posts and youtube videos that share your thoughts about your work - about anything at all.  Just by saying what you think about things, you’ll be building rapport with people.  Hell, you’re getting to know me better just by reading this very blog post!

Importantly, be as authentic and true to yourself as you can be.  People can tell when someone is being honest and sharing with them, and most will appreciate it, and want to support your openness.

Compete against AI by showing your humanity

I mentioned this in part 1 of this series, that one of the key advantages of human-made art is the unique, personal touch that it has, by virtue of being made by an unique individual with their own experiences and perspective.  AI will struggle to imitate this authentically, and people will often be able to feel the difference.

So let’s play into that.

Incorporate evidence that your art was made by hand.  

This can be done in many ways, such as fingerprints, brushstrokes, or other marks that indicate ‘humanity’.  This is obviously already present in most traditional mediums like oil painting and watercolor, but can also be purposefully included in digital art as well.  If your digital painting style is very smooth and clean, you might want to roughen it up slightly, to let more evidence of your hand show through in the finished result.

To go even further, things like mixed media, collage and paper cutouts are currently impossible to replicate with artificial intelligence.

Personalise all of your products.

If you sell merchandise and products, find a way to make them more personable.  Sign everything, hand embellish your prints with some gold leaf or a personal stamp, include a thank you note with each purchase, that sort of thing.

AI Art is focused on creating quantity, and lacks soul; focus instead on creating a high quality human-experience. Create the very best work you can, present it the most human way you can, and sell it in the most personal way you can.

Record and share your creative process.

When you sit down to create, record it on video.  It doesn't have to be particularly high-quality or professional, just good enough to demonstrate that you handcraft the things you make.  If you are a traditional artist, set up your smartphone or a camera to record; if you are a digital artist, use a screen recorder while you paint.  Clip Studio Paint, Procreate and Krita all have recording built-in.

Turn those recordings into videos, put them on social media, display them in your gallery alongside your artwork, think of the finished piece and the process footage as one and the same product.  If you can, narrate the footage and talk about why you made the decisions you did, where your inspirations come from, if you are happy or disappointed with the end result - anything you can talk about at all will help the audience connect to your work, when most of the art they see has no voice behind it at all.

Not only is this one way to help audience connect with your artwork, it’s also proof of your process, which might matter to some art consumers.  This might become especially important to digital artists, as there are very few ways to differentiate a finished digital painting from one generated by AI, except for a proof of process.

Compete against AI through diversifying

AI art is fairly one-dimensional, and still requires people to actually facilitate it and turn it into a product or make it part of something bigger.  It certainly can’t compete with a multi-talented person.

Diversify within your Art

AI can’t yet integrate different art disciplines together, such as music, performing arts, theater etc into a single experience.  This requires a human, so it’s the perfect way to set your work apart.

Incorporate multiple mediums such as painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, and digital media into your work, creating a unique and layered approach to your art that is difficult for AI to replicate.

Take it further and create multisensory, interactive and performance-based art that incorporates movement, sound, and audience participation.

This would create a unique and unreproducible experience that AI wouldn't be able to match.

Diversify outside of your art

Combine your art skills with other complementary skills, you may be able to create projects that make you stand out from the pack, without even having to utilise AI at all, and without having to compete with those that do.

Digital tools are becoming much easier to use year-on-year, and allow a single person to achieve much more by themselves than ever before.

Web design, programming, social media, video editing, music production, writing; the list goes on.

Find a way to combine your art with other skills to produce something new, something that even other people aren’t doing, let alone AI.  

I’m diversifying by learning to write, learning web design and SEO and then combining those skills into educational and entertaining websites that as far as I can tell, no one else has built yet.  See if you can combine skills in interesting ways and create something new.

My current website-in-progress, FallofCamelot.com, a site about the Arthurian legends

Diversify your income sources

This isn’t exactly competing with AI art so much as it is sidestepping it, but still deserves to be mentioned.

There are many ways to earn an income as an artist, outside of freelancing and commissions, and many will be completely unaffected by AI.

Teaching is one such method.  Even if AI art somehow took over 100% of art sales (don’t worry, it won’t) people would still want to learn how to paint for fun, and these people will want someone to teach them.

In fact, as more people get their hands on things like iPads and more people from third-world countries connect to the global art community through the internet, the number of people looking to learn art seems to go up and up each year.

Teaching is something that many working artists should be doing anyway; we have some responsibility to pass on what we know to the next generation of upcoming artists, so that they can create even more amazing things than our generation did.  Where would we be without the previous generation of artists inspiring us to live as creatives?

You should also consider selling your own merchandise.  As automation comes along and threatens our very jobs, it also presents opportunities, as it makes it easier for each of us to create and sell prints, books, games and other merchandise.  These are things I want to go further into, but I’ll do it in the next part of my AI series.

Compete against AI through engaging directly with people

People don’t want to buy art, they want to buy a small piece of the artist, so to speak. Most people definitely don’t want to buy soulless art that has no artist behind it at all.  

So let people get to know you.  Selling your art is as much about selling yourself as it is your creations.  

Your motivations, what it is you are trying to accomplish and why it’s important, how your work represents the things you believe in; communicate these things to people and it will endear them to you.  When a person hears something they resonate with, they want to support it, and to help it grow.

Engage with your audience through livestreaming and video

Whatever social media platform you prefer using to share your work and talk to the people that like it, you should be able to find a way to livestream.  This is the best way to build a relationship with people online; to let them see you, to hear you, live.  They can ask you questions, and see you respond in real-time.  It’s human, and it will help you build a relationship with people.

Livestreaming on Twitch was the activity that brought me my core audience. My art was probably what got their attention initially, but it was the stream that kept them around.  I try to let my personality out as much as I can on stream, and it’s rewarded me with a small band of loyal supporters and close friends.

My Twitch channel

Whether it’s Instagram, YouTube, Twitch, or any other social media platform you use to communicate with your followers, you’ll be able to find a way to livestream.  

Recorded video can also be used to achieve the same thing, as long as it is not too scripted and impersonal; you want to let yourself shine through, and show people who you really are.

Sell your art face-to-face

Conventions and galleries attract people that like art, but who want much more than that.  They could just buy art online, but instead they want to go to it in-person, to be there themselves. They want to see the art with their own eyes, to meet the artist, to talk with them about the art.  AI art simply doesn’t satisfy any of these criteria at all - but you can.

So make prints and other merchandise of your art, and be prepared to dive into the world of face-to-face sales.  There are artists today who make six-figures annually from these sorts of events, and this won't be impacted by AI art much, if at all.

Create art for specific people and locations

Your local businesses, bars and cafes, social venues and public spaces; AI art can’t connect authentically with the spirit of any of these places.  Even if AI could somehow paint art straight onto walls, it still lacks the ability to understand the context of the location.  It isn’t able to understand why certain ideas, phrases, imagery or memes are important to a certain place, and the people who go there.

Murals and graffiti immediately fall into this category, but it also goes much further: each local business has its own culture, each district, each town, city and country.  My birthplace of the Falkland Islands has immediate connection with penguins, sheep, the words ‘kelper’ and ‘benny’, Margaret Thatcher, Argentina, looking beautiful in photos yet windy beyond belief in person, etc; a massive list that only people who are really familiar with the place will fully appreciate, and only artists who understand the Falklands will fully be able to cater to them as an audience.

The Falkland Islands - if I ever need it, I have a market here

Wherever you are, there is bound to be some distinct culture nearby that you’ll be able to appeal to as an artist, and people that will support you for it.


And that’s everything I can offer you today!

If you’re here at the end of the article, you probably realise that there are many things you’re going to have to try in order to figure out what will suit you, what will actually work for you, and ultimately what you are willing to do to create a stable art career in an increasingly uncertain era.

I wish you luck figuring out your journey.  If you want to talk about it, drop me a comment. I’ll see you next time (which, by the way, will be about why AI doesn’t have to be the enemy.)

This article was originally published on ChristopherCant.com

Hey, I'm Christopher

I started making digital art in 2009, and became a full-time freelance artist in 2016, able to work on my own schedule from anywhere in the world.

Now, I want to help young artists make the same journey!

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