Artificial Intelligence

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…

This Charter’d City

… I began researching and developing tools to help me create images.

First, a little personal background. After leaving school, I took a degree in Aeronautical Engineering. At that time, engineers were taught FORTRAN, a computing language for crunching numbers. It is fair to say that I did not warm to it. After graduating in 1973, I turned away from science and technology, finally discovering art and a desire to become a painter. Then, in 1998, I was introduced to the Internet, which in turn led me to both study and teach Computer Science. So, in a nutshell, I know something about digital technology. It also means I can write computer code in several languages, one of which is JavaScript. This is pertinent to what follows.

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.

Prompt to produce this image:
‘A gigantic cheeseburger sculpture raised high on a stone plinth
in a clearing in the amazonian rainforest’

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.

However, the interface is clunky, and affords little in the way of control. Far better, I discovered, was to write my own applications. How I did that, using JavaScript, will be the subject of a technical essay.

There are other tools, for example,, that I will also refer to in due course.

Screenshot of my OPENAI image generator

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.

Mind Machine, 2023, C-type digital print, 76 cm x 76 cm

Mind Machine includes snippets of JavaScript that I used to access the ‘machine’, and the text prompt that I used to develop one of many images. The image I chose to work with was then modified with Photoshop. The print also includes fragments of a conversation I had with OPENAI’s chatbot.

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.

It is possible for an artist to incorporate DALL-E’s output into their work and claim that it is an original work of art. However, it would depend on how the artist uses the output and how they present it. If the artist is simply using the output as a starting point and then adding their own creative input, ideas, and interpretation to it, then they could potentially claim that the resulting work is an original creation. However, if the artist is simply reproducing the output without adding any significant creative input of their own, it may be more difficult to claim that the work is original.
It is important to note that copyright law generally protects original works of art, and in order to claim copyright in a work, the artist must have created the work independently and with a sufficient degree of originality. Whether a work meets these criteria can depend on a number of factors, including the level of creative input and effort put into the work, the degree to which the work is transformative or innovative, and how the work compares to other works in the same field. Ultimately, whether an artist can claim that their work is original will depend on the specific circumstances of the case.

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.

Night Rally (Lest We Forget), 2017
76 cm x 76 cm, Oil on Photographic C-type Fuji Matt mounted on MDF

The first of this new series is a self portrait, and simply painted with a black line.

Man and Machine, 2023

I then decided to push this further and paint something more in keeping with the work I have produced for the past ten years.

New Concepts, 2023

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.