A new tool for artists? Or a danger to humanity?
In late 2022, OPENAI introduced a range of AI tools for use by the general public. Although it has to be said some artists were, and still are, horrified, I was both intrigued and hopeful that I could find a use for this technology. It coincided with a period of ill health, in particular arthritis that affected my hands.
While allowing my hands to recover from painting this…
… I began researching and developing tools to help me create images.
I may at some point write a technical essay, but this is not the place for it. So I will try and avoid technical jargon wherever possible.
OPENAI permits access to DALL·E 2. In their words it is “a new AI system that can create realistic images and art from a description in natural language.”
Having signed up, I tried it out, and the results were mixed. I learned that it was hopeless at producing human figures, unless one wishes to create monsters, and I can see that could be interesting. One of its strengths is when trying to develop visual ideas for sculpture. Because it can produce amazing results.
As an art student, I learned how, in his later years, Matisse was stricken with arthritis. Instead of painting, he began making his famous paper cut-outs. What I did not learn until decades later was that he employed a number of very glamorous assistants to help him in the studio. Unfortunately, I was not in a position to afford a Matisse-like solution. Instead, I wondered, can AI act as a substitute?
The short answer to this question is yes.
The longer answer involves a certain amount of explanation.
OPENAI currently makes public several ways of accessing DALL·E 2. Once you have signed up (for free) there a web interface that you can use. I would recommend you try it. You will also be assigned free tokens. I used mine in no time at all. But it is a good way of starting out.
There are other tools, for example, https://chat.openai.com/chat, that I will also refer to in due course.
Having developed my own applications, my initial thought was to produce digital images that I would then edit with Photoshop. I produced several hundred of these. The main theme was that of an artificial brain, which I placed in different locations. I worked on several of them, editing and painting with pixels. I finally settled on one and had it printed as a C-type.
I asked it whether an artist could claim to have made an original work of art if they incorporate DALL·E 2 output in their work? Its answer was intriguing.
In the light of this conversation, I began to consider painting again, albeit on a small scale. And so I had two more prints made. My intention was to work on top of these with oil paint. This is something I have done before.
The first of this new series is a self portrait, and simply painted with a black line.
I then decided to push this further and paint something more in keeping with the work I have produced for the past ten years.
In many ways this painting is similar to ‘This Charter’d City’. The backdrop is a construction site. However the context is that of an art gallery. The figures represent the human need for connections. Yet they stand isolated and seemingly oblivious to their surroundings.
So, does AI represent an existential threat to humanity? I expect it will replace much of human labour. I can also envisage robots producing art that is indistinguishable from that produced by humans, and I am talking about actual painting, sculpture, and anything else one cares to imagine. Clearly, the ‘machine’ scrapes the Internet for resources, and then utilises them to produce its output. It may well collect material from this website. Should I be worried? I don’t think I’m going to be around long enough to find out. And to be honest, it would not be the first time my work has been ‘nicked’. But that’s another story.
No matter what, the genie is well and truly out of the bottle, and there is no going back. As a painter, I have seen ways of utilising it, and I intend to continue doing so. As for you, dear reader, I can only suggest you did what I did. Give it a try and see what you make of it. You may be horrified, or maybe you will be pleasantly surprised.