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AI Art Sellers, Etsy and Thoughts on the Future for Artists

AI art has continued to be a hot topic in the art world for some time now, and has presented artists and the whole world with a lot of uncertainty for the future. It is no secret that things have changed...a lot in the last several years. Even with things changing, I have continued to find a fairly steady customer base through Etsy. I always loved Etsy for the ability to find niche artists and buy prints directly from the artist.

That was until this last year when AI art hit the marketplace. AI art has quietly taken over Etsy, leaving the art print market completely over-saturated with AI generated art.

Recently, I did an Etsy search to buy some art for my walls and it seems like every art print that I could find online was produced by an AI art seller. You can tell because these shops are usually less than 3 years old, have thousands of sales, and hundreds of listings of art prints in all different styles. They usually don't have a personalized about me section, and don't have their own websites or social media profiles.

I spent probably over a half hour sifting through artwork before giving up and realizing that Etsy was not the place to buy hand-made art prints anymore, unless of course you know the artist who is producing them.

Is it Legal to Sell AI Art?

As far as legality goes, I think this is still a grey area, but I was surprised to learn that, yes you apparently can sell AI art on Etsy. Currently (as of June 2024) Etsy has no specific policy about selling AI art, as well as no requirement to disclose if art was created with an AI generator.

This seems a little contradictory to me, especially since last year the court ruled that AI generated art cannot be copyrighted. So if you don't own the copyright to something, then it seems that you shouldn't have the right to sell it…right?

There’s nothing inherently wrong with AI art, I even think that it can be a great starting point for generating ideas and inspiration. However, when you get into making a profit off of AI generated art, that is where I do think there can be issues. At a minimum, sellers should be required to disclose if art has been produced by an AI, unless of course the artist used AI as a starting point and altered the work significantly.

Some companies like Adobe, creator of Photoshop, and the AI art generator Firefly, have a code of ethics requiring transparency, and mitigating harm to artists and creators, but sadly this is not the case for many AI software companies.

a collage of 4 AI generated art images from Adobe Firefly depicting a field of flowers at night under a full moon with a purple sky and mountains.

Above: Some fun little experiments I made using Adobe Firefly

The Future For Artists Selling Online

I think moving forward, selling art through online marketplaces (such as Redbubble or Etsy) will be more challenging for artists, particularly with art prints. I think it may become even more important for artists to establish personal connections with people who come across their art, either through online connections; (such as a website/blog, or social media), or through in-person markets and art galleries. However, I do think that this will bring an opportunity for artists who sell original paintings. I think in the future original works may be more highly regarded, because AI can't replicate an oil painting or a sculpture (at least for now). In fact, almost all of the sales that I have made through Etsy have been original art, I very rarely sell any prints. This tells me that the demand for original art is still there.

What will be challenging with online marketplaces will be getting your listings seen. I can only speak for Etsy here, but if you are making consistent sales your listings will rank higher on Etsy's search because Etsy's algorithm knows that people who see your listings will probably buy.

Your shop is also more likely to be found if you have a lot of listings, so you can imagine these AI sellers with hundreds of listings are of course going to pop up in search a lot more then a smaller artist who has less than 20 items in their shop.

Will AI Art Replace Artists?

I honestly don’t think that AI art will replace human artists. There will always be a demand for original hand-made artwork and as humans, I think we crave originality and authenticity.

I do think that online marketplaces will be over-saturated with AI art sellers and that AI art will continue to sell because it is inexpensive and very available to buy. Unless rules or regulations on selling AI art change, this will be something that artists will have to adapt to.

AI art generators can be pretty impressive and can do many fantastic things, but there is one thing that it can never replicate; you. You as a living person, as a human artist with a personality, human desires, emotions, and experiences can never be replaced.

If you think that your personality and humanity aren’t valuable, just take a look at artists on YouTube. Many of these artists share much more then just their art. They share their experiences, stories, opinions, and themselves with us, and that is something that AI can never replicate.

A lot of the time people want to buy from people that they like, admire and connect with on a personal level. So how can you share your personality and your unique self with the world (along with your art)?



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