Some Thoughts on AI Art
First, this one is called “Deep in your heart there is a sunlight so hot that it makes you love people. That’s why you love people,” and its inspiration is a little poem my daughter wrote on her sixth birthday. I gave the whole poem to the AI art generator Midjourney as a prompt, and this is one of the things it came up with. It’s certainly evocative.
Since Midjourney, Dall-E and other AI art generators have come online, there’s been a bit of a freakout from actual artists/illustrators about what this means for their livelihoods. While my own prognostication skills are dubious at best, and I would never tell anyone not to be concerned about the creative sector they work in when new technology surfaces, in my experience of using several of these AI art generators over the last few weeks, I’m not sure I see them replacing human illustrators to any great extent any time soon. This is for several reasons:
1. Specificity and intentionality: One can prompt an AI art generator in the direction one wants them to go, but ultimately you get what you get with them, unless you really want to devote a lot of time to art directing the thing. It’s still easier to communicate what you want to an actual human and get an exact result, than to go through 25 iterations of an idea and hope the AI finally gets what you want, without messing up anything else.
2. Detail: Most of the images I get out of AI art generators are of a level that I would call “cool rough draft,” which is to say, there’s enough there that you see where it’s going, but the detail level isn’t there, and what detail is there is wonky. This is most notable with human facial features, and shapes of distinct animals and other natural objects. If I were wanting to make the image above into an actual piece of art, I’d hand it over to an artist to get it to a level I would considered finished. I think at this point AI art generation is a handy way to sketch ideas and concepts, and for someone like me would make it easier to let an actual artist know some of what I was thinking. But the handoff to an actual artist would still need to take place.
3. Sameness: Having played with several AI generators now, I can say it seems each has what I would call a “house style.” Midjourney, which is the one I’ve played with the most, has a distinctly “arty” and “moody” style that I think I would call Emo DeviantArt. I like it! But I also know, barring very specific instruction, what I’m going to get out of Midjourney when I give it a prompt. Which means even two weeks in I’m getting the feeling I know its default bag of tricks. Humans also have their own styles, to be sure, but also more flexibility. Human work feels, how to put it, less programmatic.
AI will get better at generating art — the amount to which it is better now, at effectively its second generation, from its first generation, is a really actually impressive — but I suspect it’s going to keep bumping up on these problems, because “AI” isn’t actually intelligent in way a human is, which will continue to give humans an advantage on generating art other humans actually want.
What I suspect is going to happen is that human artists will start incorporating AI art generation into their tool box, and that very rapidly; if AI can, for example, quickly generate a background cloudscape that is consistent with that artist’s style and intent, which that artist can then tweak to suit their needs, why wouldn’t they do that? Saves time and the final work is still under the direction of a human brain. Likewise, in the next generation of artists will be some who can’t draw to save their lives but who are maestros of prompting art generators to give them things that no one else can get out of those generators.
And for people like me, who have very little visual art talent, these AI art generators will let us play a bit and perhaps will spur creativity in other directions. I’ve already created some images that I want to write stories for, or which have at least have ideas popping into my head. Will anything come of those? Maybe, maybe not, but it’s nice to feel the creative ferment they help create.
So, no, I don’t suspect AI art generation is the end of human artistry. It’s another tool we can use, and I think it will be interesting to see what happens with it as we go along.