AI in the realm of Art — What does it hold for us?
A few days earlier, I started watching The Sandman, a tv series based on Neil Gaiman’s original best-seller dark fantasy comic with the same name. It activated back my fascination with dreams, the outwardly and out-of-body experiences, and the horror of nightmares. I was always keen to draw those mysterious places and fantastical creatures I had seen in my dreams, but the issue I often faced was recalling those visuals the very next day. The only thing I could do was to remember a dream only in bits and pieces. Those bits and pieces were no less than the pieces of any puzzle game that required putting them together in a specific order to form a complete picture. Rare were the chances when I got pictures close enough to what I saw in my dreams. And that is how most of my weird and surreal dream experiences got washed away in a few days or months. I always wished I had a device that could record all my dreams, sharp and vivid. I don't know how far we are from witnessing such a dream recording device, but there is one thing already around that translates your wildest dreams, imaginative worlds, and crazy fantasies into sharp and vivid images within no time. These images might not be the exact reflections of your thoughts and imaginations but they are quite something. Yes, I am talking about AI-Generated Art!
Call it a whimsical sorcery or a scary reality, but AI-generated art is pretty crazy and is already the talk of the town.
AI has officially entered the realm of Art but what it may hold for the artists and creative community is a growing concern.
Keeping up with technology is my passion, especially if it is related to the creative domains of art and design. Much to the hype about AI-Art, I also decided to give myself a good soaking and plunge into the play. It did not take me long to understand the basic dynamics of generating AI Art on Midjoureny, an “artistic” AI-powered text-to-image tool that uses text prompts and parameters and turn them into amazing artworks. A few minutes in this new territory and to be honest, I could not get myself off the hook. It was an instant addiction and I did not realize how many hours I spent on it in the very first sitting. Seeing your words magically turn into stunning visuals in a matter of seconds was no less than a wonder. No wonder why Midjourney creators see their tool “as an engine for the imagination,”. I could already sense the immense potential and capabilities AI holds for us in the realm of art and design. I could sense a revolution in the making.
The more you understand how AI handles the text-based prompts and parameters, the more control you get over your outcome. A lot of creative people like myself have so far found it liberating. It is enabling them to get those pictures out of their heads which otherwise were often a hustle to create. It is giving them a very good headstart in a certain direction and saves time as well. Having said that, the results AI generates have lots of flaws as well but I was not expecting it to be perfect anyway. One thing is for sure these AI-based systems are learning fast from the data we are feeding them. The more these systems are fed, the better and more precise they are going to yield results with each passing day.
There are already a dozen of tools for creating AI-generated art such as Midjourney, Disco Difusion, Dall-E 2, NightCafe, Deep Dream Generator, and Fotor to name a few. To Start creating art on these platforms with low expectations might surprise you with some good results. There are certain genres that AI is handling pretty well such as sci-fi, fantasy, environment design, etc. However, generating portraits is not a stronghold for AI as yet. You will get a lot of distorted features while trying to create some perfect human faces.
Why is AI Art not able earn respect from a huge part of the creative community? Is it really threatening their livelihood or there is more to know about?
A lot of well-respected artists are not really big fans of AI Art so far. While some of them have very genuine concerns, others are simply ridiculing it for no obvious reasons. One of the growing concerns is related to copyright ethics. Since AI is generating content for us using trillions of images that are dumped online, we just don’t know whose images they are. The issue goes even deeper when people specify other artists' art styles in their prompts to emulate similar work. For example, people are recreating the art styles of Miyazaki, Vincent van Gogh or even Frank Miller a lot and taking pride in exhibiting them all over the internet. But then the question is, can art style be copyrighted as intellectual property? No artist can ever stick to a particular style because they both constantly evolve through time. So how can he copyright his style that is ever reshaping? Secondly, the entire post-modern era’s popular culture has thrived on the imitation of the originals to such an extent that at times a copy of a copy of the original work is worth way more than the original. Memes of Mona Lisa’s paintings are more popular than the original painting of Da Vinci among Gen Z and Gen Alpha. It is a fact that Mona Lisa’s painting itself is not real but an imitation of a real person (Lisa Gherardini, a Florentine woman).
“It is no longer a question of imitation, nor duplication, nor even parody.
It is a question of substituting the signs of the real for the real.”
Another concern I frequently come across is that AI-generated art is killing the true essence of creativity, hard-earned skills, and respect for the artists. Also, with the further popularity of AI-Art, mediocracy will prevail and at one point most art we will come across on the internet would be looking similar. One good example they quote is WordPress, which nearly destroyed the entire existence of custom-built creative websites. In the pre-WordPress era, most websites had their own unique personalities which are now almost non-existent.
Many others are skeptical about the potential misuse of this technology. Their argument is that humans are generally very good at innovating but really bad at managing it. For them, it’s like giving matchboxes in the hands of monkeys who can potentially destroy the environment and its ecosystem with them. That’s what has been happening throughout our modern history. In the beginning, most innovations look very exciting and promising until they fall into the hands of immature people who misuse them for their own self-interests. Let’s not forget all the profit-mongering capitalists as well whose focus narrows down to creating a business monopoly around such technologies that are supposed to be for the greater good of humanity.
But Michio Kaku, a renowned theoretical physicist, futurist, and popularizer of science has an interesting take on the story of innovation and our relation to it. According to Kaku, technology is one-way traffic that goes only forward. For a technology or innovation to become useful and accessible, it goes through various phases. During these phases, mistakes are made that result in a lot of skepticism and criticism. It's always the rich who pour in their investment to improve the technology and for a fair reason of recovering their investment and making a profit along the way, they make sure that the initial and prime beneficiaries of their innovation are the rich and well-off but obviously not limited to them. And then comes the phase when eventually that innovation and technology reach to masses. He quotes the interesting example of auto-mobiles that in their early days were a luxury for the elites only, but gradually became useful for cargo and logistic purposes and eventually reached to the masses. A century and a half later when we are witnessing self-driven cars, humans have not stopped walking. Did they?
I agree with Kaku on this and believe that it should not be the technology or innovation to be blamed but our own human behavior. Our creativity is only limited by how we can think through technology. Yes, we will see a lot of misuse of AI Art too in the beginning but along the way, we can learn what good it holds for human society. Just as photography could not kill the value of hand-made art and VFX technology could not end the career of filmmakers, similarly, AI-Art can not deprive the artists of their jobs and livelihood. The potential of human creativity is far way superior to any machine. I am hopeful for a time when AI will make human collaboration possible in real-time and in a virtual world where we create things together. Things that are far beyond the 2D images, things that are immersive and require our conscious indulgence in the making rather than simply pouring in a few words and passively waiting for the results.
David Holz, the founder of Midjourney says we do not need to fear AI-Art and should rather take it as an opportunity. Just like any other technology it may have its shortcomings but together we can improve it and also enable ourselves along the way to do wonders with it.