The last month I have been obsessed with art. I almost couldn't think of anything else. I have spent many hours studying pictures in all kinds of styles and I have had some of the greatest art experiences of my life. I have seen some of the most beautiful, poetic, thought provoking, strange and moving pieces of art. Alien landscapes, a unicorn made of ice, Jesus as a woman, expressionism in new forms, perfected worlds and alternative realities.
All these works are created by an artificial intelligence. A contraption turning a simple sentence into a piece of art. Pure magic!
Right now we are witnessing the biggest revolution in the visual arts since photography was invented. It's true technological disruption, changing industries, giving ordinary people brand new superpowers, and changing the way we see the world. It also shakes our fundamental assumptions about what it means to be human.
I've been experimenting with AI art for half a year, mainly with the app Starryai. It is fun to play with, but often the results are pretty… weird. Some decidedly striking and nightmare-inducing. Now there are new players on the field who have taken a quantum leap. Especially DALL-E 2 and Midjourney are impressive. I've played with both and I'm particularly impressed by Midjourney's poetic and visually stunning results.
Both DALL-E and Midjourney can create images in a wide variety of styles and basically work the same way. You write a sentence and out comes a work of art. DALL-E 2 is more realistic and concise in its renderings and Midjourney more poetic. DALL-E is the nice blogger with the camera, where midjourney is the visual artist on LSD.
Automation is nothing new. In the last 200 years, the work of the hand has become the output of the machine. First with steam engines and assembly lines, later with computers and intelligent robots. All that time we have claimed that humans will not become redundant, as machines cannot be creative. A machine repeats. It does not create anything new. Unable to create moving poetry or thought-provoking art. That basic assumption of what makes us unique as human beings no longer holds. Time and time again I have been surprised by the profoundly creative results I have got.
Technology also changes our perception of what is real. It's the next step in the synthetic reality we're already in, with Snapchat filters and photo editing apps and deep fakes that have made video manipulation mainstream.
Image manipulation is not new, but what does it mean when almost everyone has access to image creation? When anyone and everyone can create photorealistic images of every imaginable and unimaginable situation. It's obviously bad news for the stock industry (which takes outrageous summers for clichéd pictures of happy people in suits who always use post-its and draw on glass). But it also means that we can no longer trust the images we see. And that anyone can create "photo documentation" that backs up their own view of reality. It's scary in a time that is already more divided than ever. And there are already people working on using the technology to create videos created by artificial intelligence. Imagine being able to describe the plot of a movie in one sentence and then the movie is created.
As with any new technology, art AIs can be abused. But they can also be used as a tool. I am convinced that the new technology is going to create a whole wave of creativity that we have never seen before.
The world was shocked when a computer won over the world's best chess player in 1997. Since then, the world's best chess players have gotten much better. Because they learn from and with the computer. It has been shown that a computer can win over a human, but that a human and a computer working together win over a computer. I think the same is the case in art. It always takes a person to make the prompt that becomes the work of art.
The odd thought, where things are combined in a new way. These artificial intelligences are a new potent tool. Like the printing press, photography and the computer in the past have expanded the visual arts and provided new creative tools. There are not many portrait painters anymore. But a large number of other artists took the new opportunities to heart. We will see new forms of collaboration between man and machine. And that art, human art, takes new paths. Presumably with greater focus on the spacious and sensual in several dimensions. Possibly also against the ugly and imperfect in contrast to Midjourney's perfect compositions with beautiful colors. Who knows?