The use of their work by AI corporations has led to a backlash from visual artists.

The acrylic and watercolor paintings by Kelly McKernan are strong and colorful, frequently showing feminine figures painted in vivid greens, blues, pinks, and purples. “Surreal, ethereal,” and “dealing with discomfort in the human journey,” are the artist descriptions of the style.

These days, the word “human” has a particular significance for McKernan. McKernan now sees an existential threat from a media that is obviously not human: artificial intelligence. Making a career as a visual artist has always been difficult, and the epidemic made it worse.

About a year ago, McKernan, who prefers the pronoun they, start noticing online photos that look uncannily like they were create by their name being enter into an AI engine.


The 37-year-old McKernan, who is based in Nashville and produces both fine art and digital illustrations, soon discovered that businesses were sending artwork into AI systems meant to “train” image-generators — a practice that at one point sounded like something out of a bizarre sci-fi movie but is now a threat to the livelihood of artists everywhere.

When I got tag on Twitter, I would respond, “Hey, this makes me uncomfortable. The artist’s vivid blue-green hair mirrored their artwork as they said in a recent interview, “I didn’t give my authorization for my name or work to be exploited in this way. ‘Hey, little artist here, I know you’re not thinking of me at all, but it would be really good if you didn’t utilize my work in this way,’ I even said to some of these businesses. And absolutely nothing; crickets.”

McKernan is currently one of three artists suing the creators of AI tools that can produce fresh graphics on demand in an effort to save their copyrights and careers.

A San Francisco federal court has yet to rule in the case, but he has shown some skepticism about whether AI businesses are violating copyrights when they examine billions of photographs and produce something different.

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