Art and AI: When two worlds collide
Lorenzo Levrero, of creative studio NERDO, has recently been experimenting with Midjourney, an artificial intelligence program that creates images from textual descriptions. He has created a series of posts on LinkedIn and lnstagram to document his explorations and, here, discusses his thoughts around the impact AI-generated imagery could have on creativity.
What is Midjourney and how does it work?
Midjourney is an artificial intelligence bot that works within Discord's messaging platform to generate incredibly accurate, original images based on textual information [prompts].
Can you explain the process?
The process is pretty straightforward; when you register on midjourney.com, you can start chatting with a bot that interprets your words and sentences based on what you describe and/or what you show it. It then returns results that always differ.
It is limited to what it knows. It follows that it reproduces in the style of something it knows or is given to copy.
What themes were you exploring?
I wanted to try to generate images that visually touch the styles and aesthetics that most attract me (from Cubism to Brutalism via Minimalism, Expressionism, black and white photography, 70s punk posters, collages... ) and which represent feelings, moods and pathologies common in human beings. I wanted to see how an artificial intelligence could interpret them. I also experimented with generating images of sculptures inspired by 80s toys, realistic apocalyptic landscapes, or very particular fashion sketches
Above: Some examples of images Levrero created through Midjourney which he documented on his LinkedIn and Instagram channels.
How are you using AI on productions in advertising?
A lot of software today uses some artificial intelligence that help improve productivity, and that's what I love about AI. I tried using Midjourney to generate mood boards instead of searching online, but I didn't feel comfortable for two reasons. The first is that the AI is based on indexed visual references and somehow draws and ‘continues’ the style of the artist/artists chosen, and I find that this isn’t fair to those artists. The second is that, in any case, the indexing is partial. This is problematic because the indexing of the references is not absolute or complete. In fact, artificial intelligence has been trained with a series - albeit a large one - of references. For this reason, it is limited to what it knows. It follows that it reproduces in the style of something it knows or is given to copy.
You asked on LinkedIn and Instagram, 'Art or not art? That is the question'; what was your verdict on this?
Within the social media posts I wrote that, in my opinion, Midjourney is just a tool, one which often has ultra cool outputs, but that it just depends on where you want to take 'inspiration' from. I went on to say, 'please don't start calling this “art” or “artists”. There are ZERO skills involved in the process”.
With Midjourney, or any similar artificial intelligence, even a monkey (with all due respect to monkeys) can get excellent results.
I want to be respectful of art (which is a means of communication and expression), and of those who are able to use it to bring messages and beauty to everyone, in the broadest sense of the term. I try to be as objective as possible, trying not to be emotionally involved in small conquests as a graphic designer or illustrator I had while using Midjourney. My grandfather was a quite famous Italian painter at the beginning of the last century and I had the opportunity to learn and investigate more about what art is, and what an artistic work is, from the inside. Sure, these AI generated images look the same, but they are not.
I can agree that the means that allow you to achieve a result are not important, but what communicates the result itself. However, the point that should not be underestimated in defining an artist is the artist's ability to grasp something that is outside the banal reality. The difference is all in the artist and in their ability to convey their sensitivity. All the greatest artists, including Michelangelo, had assistants or helpers who completed their works. With Midjourney, or any similar artificial intelligence, even a monkey (with all due respect to monkeys) can get excellent results.
Above: Instead of evolving, argues Levrero, mankind is trying to automate itself.
It has been suggested that AI can be a replacement for the development stage of a project, by learning how to create entire concepts and designs for us to work from. What are your thoughts on this?
I believe that AI will be able to create even more interesting concepts than we could create. Sure, this can have its upsides, but what's the point? What do we want to watch; perfect copies and perfectly performing commercials, or do we want the personality of an author/director, from whom we can gain context and understanding of their work, and pay them for their creative choices?
Everyone takes inspiration from what they consume but the use of AI in the creative field has nothing to do with taking inspiration.
Do you believe AI can be integrated into the artistic process without threatening the role of artists?
It's my hope. I really think it's a very useful tool, but we still have to understand when it can help.
Do you think AI improved any aspects of your work?
Not yet. Well, actually, the rotoscoping in Photoshop.
Are you worried about the legal and moral implications of AI software taking artist’s work?
This is uncomfortable territory. Everyone takes inspiration from what they consume (it's the fire of creativity) but the use of AI in the creative field (from writing, to illustration, to music) has nothing to do with taking inspiration. It's taking full advantage of someone else's applied creativity to associate it with something.
Above: Images from Levrero's Instagram page.
Do you think the ease of creating with AI diminishes the impact of the art?
I don’t think so. The question is, what is going to be the impact on society? I think it will be great. Today we still don't realise the potential and consequences of this technological achievement. I think we can consider it a much more impactful event on humanity than the internet was. In the future, many things will change, and our way of life will adapt accordingly.
Today we still don't realise the potential and consequences of this technological achievement.
We cannot be sure of the real consequences, but surely it is time to ask ourselves questions to understand how to manage this step. If these tools are used to replace logical/creative abilities, they will, in fact, simplify processes and, consequently, the logical-cognitive abilities of all of us will be drastically reduced. Simply put, instead of evolving, mankind is trying to automate itself.
Is creativity the Holy Grail of AI? Surely a computer algorithm can't think like a creative human brain, can it?
It will certainly have a huge impact on the workflow of many professions (from doctors to graphic designers). My hope is that it remains an integrated tool, within complex systems or software, which can facilitate particular repetitive or alienating production processes as support. S a powerful and affordable tool could atrophy the decision-making or creative capacity if used exclusively (let's imagine it is used by children and the consequences on their growth).
What do you think the future of AI art will be like?
AI art? No… let’s call it as what it really is; generative imagery.