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For most people, getting a new tattoo typically involves a lot of thought and, usually, some level of personalization. Whether it's a symbol that means something to you or your favourite quote in a loved one's handwriting, the process can often feel deeply intimate. However, like most industries, the body-art space is having its own reckoning with the use of artificial intelligence technology (AI). In fact, there's been a rise in AI tattoo generators, which use algorithms to source design and size inspiration from existing art on the internet, and opinions on the matter are varied.
In the Reddit group Tattoo Designs, one person writes: "A lot of artists will not tattoo a pre-drawn design let alone an AI-generated one. Most of us become tattoo artists to tattoo our own art, not copy something a computer pooped out from artworks it ripped off of other artists without their consent."
Other artists see an upside to the use of this technology. "My personal approach to ideation doesn't involve traditional AI in the sense of automated generation," tattoo artist Syd Smith tells POPSUGAR. "Instead, I — like many modern artists — leverage digital tools like Procreate to create original works. This equipment serves as a source of inspiration, enabling artists to translate their unique vision into each piece created." Like Photoshop or Illustrator, Procreate is one of the many tools that allow for the digitization of art, one aspect of artificial intelligence that people have been finding useful for years.
Can AI Tattoos Cause Copyright Issues?
One of the biggest issues with the use of generative AI has to do with copyright infringement, but artists may also want to look into whether they can even own their works when using this technology. According to a US court, works of art created by AI without any human input cannot be copyrighted, Reuters reported in August. This could mean that if an artist relies entirely on this technology to supply their works, they may never have any say on what can be done with their pieces once they hit social media and the internet at large.
Additionally, whether via social media, in flash-tattoo books, or through any other means of marketing, if an artist is showing AI-generated works, particularly any that feature another artist's work, paying homage is important. "It's crucial to be mindful of the sources that these tools pull from to avoid legal complications," Smith says. "If an artist uses it as a means of inspiration — whether for generating ideas or elements of a drawing — it's a good practice to credit the sources. Doing this not only respects the creative process but also helps build a sense of community within the industry."
While the tattoo industry is fast becoming digitized, Smith does caution artists against becoming too reliant on the use of the generative versions of the technology. "It's important to maintain the integrity of your artistic expression and avoid merely reproducing these designs — unless, of course, that's your 'thing,'" she says. "You could be a new artist who has grown a social media following from creating and utilising this kind of art. It really depends on the individual and what works for them. If you're able to make a career off of it, I can't deny its effectiveness."
Arguments for or against the use of AI in the tattoo space will likely not end anytime soon, but its pervasiveness is a reality that many artists are having to face head-on. Smith's advice? Find the balance. "The key is to harness the benefits of AI while ensuring that each piece remains a reflection of the artist's individual artistry and craftsmanship," she says.