Who Have (A)I Become?
Something To Know...
Artists' relationship with AI is a growing area of interest in contemporary art. As AI becomes more advanced and accessible, artists are exploring its potential as a creative tool and as a subject of inquiry. The use of AI in art can range from the creation of digital art to the development of AI-powered installations and performances. At the same time, artists are also questioning the ethical implications of AI in art; including issues of authorship, creativity, and control. Through their engagement with AI, artists are not only expanding the boundaries of traditional art forms, but also challenging our understanding of what it means to be human in a world increasingly shaped by digital technology. As such, the relationship between artists and AI is a rich and complex area of exploration that promises to shape the future of art in exciting and unexpected ways.
Motivated by the immense potential of artificial intelligence to create art, I embarked on a deep exploration of its capabilities as a creative tool. This blog serves as a casual record of my year-long experience with AI, which thus far has involved the integration of this technology into my daily art practice, alongside other mediums such as photography and filmmaking (to name a couple). Through my artistic exploration, I strive to gain a deeper understanding of my personal relationship with AI, a seemingly dystopian technology, and to contribute to the ongoing discourse surrounding its role in contemporary culture. Ultimately, I aim to elucidate the advantages of this technology, while also emphasizing the key considerations pertaining to its potential impact on our cognitive and emotional well-being.
Curiosity In Motion...
The origin of my fascination with AI-generated art (as we know it today) can be traced back to 2022 with the public release of Stable Diffusion, a deep learning text-to-image model — all without even taking into account my long-standing passion for films and media that prominently feature AI, including Stanley Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey,' 'Star Trek,' and Ridley Scott's 'Alien' franchise.
Introduced to me by a group of friends who are coders and developers in the web3 space, the concept of creating images using only textual descriptions and numerical values piqued my interest. I quickly signed up on GitHub, a code-hosting platform, and began exploring the fundamentals of the technology. Initially, my creations were inspired by the works of H.R. Giger; my intent was to create unique portraits in his style. The process involved carefully choosing descriptive keywords and manipulating values to produce the desired outcome (with plenty of online forums providing tips and tricks). Each rendering took roughly 40-90 minutes (about 1 and a half hours), providing ample time for my girlfriend and I to enjoy a cup of tea and some television while eagerly anticipating the outcome. The down time felt familiar, as I occasionally used Blender to create and render 3D images for clients and personal projects. For the most part, the results using Stable Diffusion were satisfactory. After lots of trial and error, I was able to produce consistent pieces that contained both Giger's’ DNA and some of my own. As other engines began to emerge, the pace of progress picked up dramatically, and my exploration of the intersection of AI and art took on a new level of excitement.
As I became proficient in using Stable Diffusion, I received an invitation to join the beta version of Midjourney, which at the time was an emerging AI model based on Discord. This was a turning point for me, as it revolutionized my creative process with the medium. Although the long rendering times of Stable Diffusion had improved by this point, I was blown away by the lightning-fast speed of Midjourney in processing prompts into images. It took just over a minute to generate 4 renditions of a text prompt, which was incredible. Despite the images being imperfect and low resolution, I was still thoroughly impressed by the results. Consequently, I experimented with various combinations of words to obtain more consistent outcomes and even started upscaling my favorite pieces directly on Discord. In short, my approach changed significantly after getting my hands on Midjourney. I was glued to my phone, unable to let go. My time with Stable Diffusion diminished enormously. New versions of Midjourney came along very quickly, and eventually more people began adopting the subscription model. The community at this point felt driven to either create the most realistic renders possible, or the most ridiculous mashups of celebrities and popular pop culture characters in different scenarios. It very much felt as though everybody was curious to test the limits of the technology — experimentation and replication was at the forefront of this movement.
I genuinely felt the momentum of AI ramp up significantly once apps began to appear in the mainstream. I sunk my teeth into several other models, one of them being Dall-E. Things felt more exciting than ever. At this point, mentally, I started feeling comfortable with creating AI art because it was convenient, affordable and exciting. My other specialties, namely photography and filmmaking took a major backseat.
What Goes Up...
Identity is everything. Midjourney was undoubtedly my weapon of choice at this point, as it allowed me to obtain results quicker than any other AI model. I spent several months curating a series of prompts that were thematically consistent with each other. I combined my influences and experimented with realism to satiate the photographer in me as well. I consciously made efforts to generate images that felt different from the ongoing meta at the time. Originality often stems from a blend of multiple influences that are so deeply ingrained in the creator's work that they become indistinguishable. With increasing confidence, the creator's personality shines through and takes center stage, resulting in a unique creation that draws from the creator's personal style and the various influences that inspired them — something I learned through Geddy Lee’s (Rush) ideology.
During this time, I was also very much into analog video synthesis. I conducted extensive research on the topic and taught myself how to establish a fully functional workstation. I spent a substantial amount of time constructing an analog signal chain that utilizes CRT TVs and various hardware to manipulate and distort images (guitar pedals, converters, circuit bent modulators etc.). In the beginning, I was glitching a variety of old films on VHS format, as well as movies on DVD. This was a niche I resonated with greatly for a long while. My time away from working in the photography/videography field allowed me to immerse myself fully into this fresh new venture.
Eventually, my love for video synthesis and my curiosity with AI image development coincided; I began displaying my AI pieces directly onto my old CRT’s and glitching them. From this point on, I was adamant in using my AI generated images as the foundation, to which I modified, digitally painted and composited to create more concentrated and polished works. These experiments proved fruitful, as they wound up helping me find a unique style and identity. *You can find these glitched pieces here on my website in the "Glitch Art" section.
My output in creating art was very high at this point. Due to my ability to work from indoors, I had many resources available to me to produce creative work. However, as someone with a background in more traditional mediums, I found myself unaccustomed to having such a large volume of resources available to me all at once. I began to feel submerged. Before adopting this new workflow, I used to spend lots of time meticulously planning and executing my projects. I had to scout locations, network to find the right models for each role, book studios, and have friends assist me during shoots with setting up lighting and practicing with new gear... These things all felt inherently more akin to the human experience than being alone for the most part and quickly churning out work from my office “production-line”. Although I became overwhelmed with how quickly AI as an art creation tool was developing, I remained interested in using AI as my primary medium because of video synthesis and glitching. Shifting my workflow so drastically had an adverse effect on my work, and I started to feel increasingly disillusioned as a result.
Guilt set in. I thought to myself, “this is too easy”— I did not feel deserving of being called an artist anymore. In hindsight, I should have gone easier on myself. Without skipping ahead too much, I realized that I put so much effort into everything I set out to create and found a familiarity within the newly adopted medium. Part of why I insisted on using analog gear to create my genre of work was to marry artificial intelligence with humanity — a collaboration between the digital world, and the analog world. It was my mission to find the line that divided the two. My intent shifted briefly; I wanted to become a voice of reason for those criticizing AI generated visuals; to demonstrate how there’s more than meets the eye.
Must Come Down...
I know these feelings come from my own experiences and background with art. I'm aware that plenty of people use AI daily without having gone through my emotional storyline. I’ve come to realize that balance is key (who would have seen that coming, eh?). Burnout from creative expression is very much a real thing. My mind works like a bottle filled to the brim with water – if I keep pouring the contents out too hastily, the bottle will empty, and it will take longer to fill. This is inherently a human limitation, something that any AI model or tool will most likely never experience (I say most likely because who knows, maybe someday these tools will develop sentience, nothing’s off the table anymore).
It’s unquestionable that AI technology is rapidly becoming more and more prevalent in everyday use scenarios. It’s been with us for a long while now, but its applications are far more accessible and useful than they ever were. With that in mind, I do believe that it’s our job as living, breathing people to use this technology responsibly. We all ought to experience everyday life with AI to better understand its role as an assistance tool, and in turn, understand our own personal relationship with technology before it becomes second nature.
And Up Again...
Like anything else in life, there are pros and cons to everything. Since integrating AI into my life as an artist, I’ve had the opportunity to present my works in multiple galleries around the world, the most recent being in Rome at gallery Cosmo, located in Piazza di Sant’Apollonia Italy. The work has been somewhat controversial with AI image generation being a part of the process, but thus far, it has been widely accepted and well received. In addition, I began integrating a variety of AI tools in my everyday life to expedite tedious tasks, some examples include upscaling low resolution work, creating interesting FX in my video work using EbSynth and referring to Chat GPT for advice or to quickly access information. In conducting my research to better understand my own personal relationship with AI assisted creation, I discovered a pace that works for me, and found comfort in constructing each piece diligently to contain more humanity in them by polishing the generated work to attain a more coherent, natural visual appeal. My appreciation for photography, filmmaking and music production has also skyrocketed, and after having gone through my phase of disillusionment, my motivation and passion to step back into traditional mediums replenished.
Ultimately, my advice to anybody stepping into this world would be to set limits to avoid feeling overwhelmed or jaded. Use online resources to better understand what AI is capable of, and where it may be headed. If you’re an artist, take time to find a unique identity and use the tools responsibly. Having adopted smartphones and social media without question in the past, I felt it was important to approach this new technology with more scrutiny. Therefore, I made a deliberate effort to intimately experience the technology myself before forming any critical opinions about it. My current plan is to continue to utilize AI tools to expand my glitch art style, and further explore the possibilities of combining the digital and analog worlds in my work.
There exists a world where artists and AI can co-exist, it’s up to us to find that balance. History tells us that many fear what they do not understand — will we ever truly understand the weight of AI bearing down on us as a culture? Only time will tell.