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Is AI anxiety affecting your art and mental health?
A guest post by Kathryn Vercillo
This guest post is part of the virtual book tour for The Artist’s Mind: The Creative Lives and Mental Health of Famous Artists by my fellow Substack author, who writes about the complex relationship between art and mental health. Stops on the tour include an author interview on Sue Clancy’s website, a behind-the-scenes guest post on Great Books + Great Minds, and a book excerpt on Socratic Psychiatrist.
What a lovely way to get to know our fellow writers, explore the Substack ecosystem, and dive down a few new rabbit holes, wouldn’t you say??
Let’s turn it over to Kathryn:
“We stand at a crossroads. It may, in fact, be a cliff. Some of us will sprout wings and chart new flight paths throughout the vast chasm that this fundamental revolution in technology has carved. Some of us will fall to our professional and artistic demise. Some of us will teeter on the edge, thinking it perhaps best to turn around rather than to tempt the Techno Fates—and gravity.”
Some artists aren’t at all concerned about AI and are even excited about it. Some artists are paralyzed with fear. Most of us are somewhere in the middle. If you’re teetering, you might find that anxiety pushes you over a negative edge. Let’s discuss what causes it, what it might look like, and what you can do about it.
Why generative AI is causing artists anxiety
There is a lot of fear, often warranted, about the potential impact of generative AI on artists and their careers. Just a few of those fears include:
Losing artistic identity, authenticity, and originality, whether you choose to incorporate AI into your work or not. This can manifest as feelings of depersonalization or dissociation, or even devastation if you’ve suffered any kind of material or financial impact as a result of generative AI training on your art or undermining your ability to earn a living in your field.
A sense of forced usage of and dependence on generative AI technologies. The message we keep hearing in the media is that artists need to “adapt or die.”
Job displacement. As an artist, will you be able to make a living if AI can churn out digital images and other visuals much faster and cheaper than you can?
Fear of your original work being stolen and utilized by others. This can range from a valid fear to debilitating paranoia.
Fear can create / exacerbate symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges. Artists who are mired in these or other fears about generative AI may find themselves in turmoil right now, because of the technology itself but also because of the media’s promotion of the idea that AI is taking over.
Symptoms of AI anxiety
Anxiety manifests differently for everyone but some of the ways it may show up for artists specifically include:
Constantly thinking about, reading about, and worrying about the impact of AI on their creativity and career
Restlessness, trouble sleeping, and a desire to create but an inability to concentrate enough to do so
Isolation and withdrawal from others due to anxiety and/or feelings of paranoia
Rumination, fatigue, low self-esteem, hopelessness and other symptoms of depression
Hypersensitivity to information, assuming the worst, hiding their work
Those are just a few examples. Trust yourself … if you suspect that worrying about AI is causing you anxiety, then there’s probably something to that.
Tips for artists to reduce AI anxiety
The number one thing that most artists can do to reduce this anxiety is to reduce the amount of time spent taking in information about it and use that time to create art. Focusing on creativity usually helps.
Here are some additional tips:
Read up on all of the great arguments that exist for why human creativity is always going to exist and matter.
Learn how to use AI tools. This will demystify them. You might find that you can even use them in your art (for brainstorming, for busting through creative blocks.) However, you don’t ever have to use them in your art to benefit from actually knowing what they can do.
Practice holistic self-care. Nourish yourself with good food, good books, good conversations.
Practice mindfulness. There are so many great ways to use art and creativity to bring your attention to the present moment. In the present moment, everything is actually fine; anxiety is worry about the future.
Spend time with creative people. Artist groups that inspire you will move your attention away from AI fears.
If you feel like your AI anxiety is damaging your creativity or your mental health, speak to a therapist, mentor, doctor, or other relevant professional.
Take back control over your art and your career:
Implement tools to protect your work physically, such as Glaze —a software app that protects digital images against AI scraping
Opt out your work from LLM databases
Get involved in initiatives, actions, and organizations working toward restoring artists' creative agency and rights. There's a massive fight going on right now between artists and the AI companies, on the government and the business stage, and the danger is that if artists lose, all of humanity will lose.
Finally, recognize that technology has caused fear among artists across all of history. For every Andy Warhol that embraced screen printing, there was an artist who never touched it and did just fine and an artist who was immobilized by fear of what it was doing to the art world and the world as a whole. Heck, when printed books first emerged, many feared that they would end the creativity and connection created with oral storytelling. Things are moving faster now but looking at this bigger picture can help reduce our anxiety about this moment. Of course, it’s not the same; the scale and speed of the technology today is different and therefore the impact is different. The concerns are valid. But we can look to the artists of the past who chose to use - or not use - the technology that emerged and explore how their approaches might apply to us.
Seeing this larger picture is one of the things that can help us get back to our center, reclaim our agency, and feel less fear about all that is happening in this space. Staying connected to the artist community and getting involved in efforts and organizations working to keep artists' work, livelihoods, and careers protected against the negative impacts of gen AI usage will also aid in these efforts. It can feel like big forces are taking over and their path forward is inevitable; but if anyone can change the course of history, the artists with creative minds are the ones to lead the way. They always have.
I believe that we are all artists with mental health experiences. In The Artist’s Mind, I explore how art and mental health intersect differently for each of the famous artists in the book. Some, like Edvard Munch, believed that their creativity and mental health symptoms emerged from the same place. Some, like Agnes Martin, believed that they weren’t related at all. Most were in the middle, and would have likely responded as uniquely to AI issues in art today as they did to the issues of their own time.
~ Kathryn Vercillo
If you’ve read this far, thank you for listening. The inner lives of artists and other creatives have always been impacted by social, political, and historical forces, but perhaps never before has the level of pain, distress, and uncertainty been this acute or this profound—nor has it been caused in such a singular degree by technology.
Perhaps we can encourage Kathryn to write her next book specifically on the mental health impacts on artists specific to generative AI. There’s certainly more than enough material.
In the meantime, check out Kathryn’s Substack:
And of course, if you’re not yet subscribed to The Muse, that is something that should be immediately rectified.