Mo Eid | Pexels In January 2021, Open AI launched Dall-E (1), a system that uses AI to generate unique and original images from a short text description. This AI system can combine ‘concepts, attributes and styles’ to create ‘Art’. Yes, Art. If you can type a sentence, you can make Art. Terrified yet? Just you wait.
This year, Open AI launched its second installation, Dall-E (2), which is said to generate even ‘more realistic and accurate images with 4x greater resolution’ than its predecessor. Another reason to be fearful is that Dall-E 2 is not the only software out there. There is an ever-growing list, and they’re all getting better.2
Aside from being the current nightmare keeping us artists awake at night (the other nightmare being Instagram’s dreaded algorithm (3)), it also begs the question, what does this mean for our careers? Technology has become an intrinsic part of our everyday lives. We are constantly inventing and innovating, continuously contributing to this ever evolving fast-paced world. But is it about time we start to get nervous?
It’s hard to imagine life without technology. So much of what we do now relies on it in some way, from digital drawing tablets to things as simple as virtual meetings and having access to satellite navigation on your phone. For the most part, it has changed things for the better, making a lot of things faster and more efficient. But where do we draw the line on the use of technology in creating? And are we too reliant? Have we lost something in the process?
STEPPING INTO DALL-E
Well, there was only one way to find out. As an Artist by profession, I wanted to see it for myself. Evaluate the threat head on. See how likely a future in which AI could take over my job was. So, I signed up to be on the ‘waitlist’ to try the brand new Dall-E 2. Then, one groggy Monday morning, I opened my inbox, and there it was. ‘Your invite to create with Dall-E is here.’
I clicked the link, allowing my morbid curiosity to ignore the shudder that came upon reading their ironic use of the word “create.” Within a matter of moments of logging in and typing a few key words, Dall-E 2 generated four original images. Or as Open AI would like us to call them, “Artworks”.
I have to admit, as much as I fear it, I couldn’t help but be impressed. This system, whose name is a wordplay on the famous surrealist painter, Salvador Dali, is certainly apt. ‘Surreal’ is one way of describing the process of “creating” imagery at the click of a button. The software can create anything from digital versions of unique impressionistic oil paintings to photo-realistic images within a matter of seconds and can even “learn” an artist’s style, then generate imagery based on that artist.
Sure, it doesn’t hit the mark every time, having produced some questionably bad pieces, much to my relief. But it won’t be long until it does. And a future in which a programme like this could generate the perfect image that a client is looking for, in record breaking time, is a concern for a lot of creatives. How can human artists compete with something that does not have time constraints, and never gets tired?
AI VS ARTIST
The fact that Jason Allen’s AI-generated work “Théâtre D’opéra Spatial” took first place in the digital category (4) at the Colorado State Fair certainly suggests that the competition between AI and artist has already begun.
Some would say that this was inevitable, that this is the natural step in technological evolution and if creatives want to keep up, they need to be planning ahead to secure their future. Having to ask themselves, what value can they bring to the table that AI can’t?
There certainly is value in human artists, so let’s not throw the towel in just yet. From managing client relationships, injecting true emotion, generating unique and intelligent ideas, humans actually do bring a lot to the table. Great art moves people and when used in great ad campaigns, it can generate action. So who or what could get humans to react, think, laugh, feel or take action more than humans themselves? Ultimately, AI may be able to emulate, but it will never be able to match.
And we mustn’t forget the ‘making’ process itself. That creative space between the idea and the final product that people are fascinated by. We can see this in the most popular art-related videos online, those that focus on the process. If there is no development process, is it really art? Can a ‘click’ replace the story?
I believe not. In fact, I predict the rise in AI image generation will see artists finding their way back to the ‘handmade’ in retaliation. Perhaps we will leave digital art to the machines and grow and develop more towards traditional, one-of-a-kind physical artworks.
It’s certainly possible too that this technological growth may fall. After all, what goes up must come down, and there will be many artists ready to pick up the pieces if it does.
So for me, who is predominantly a digital artist, I am putting plans in place that ensure that my career continues alongside these robot artists. And I believe that the key to this is to broaden what I do, by making more physical artwork and large-scale murals. Making work that only I can do. If I think of an idea that a robot could do, then I need to up my game. I need to get better. I need to put the soul into it. The emotion. The “story” to make Art that is not just decoration, but has a deeper meaning. A human one. I want my work to move people, and if it does, there is the value, and there, hopefully, remains my job.
(1) ‘DALL·E: Creating Images from Text’; Aditya Ramesh, Mikhail Pavlov, Gabriel Goh and Scott Gray; www.openai.com/blog/dall-e
(2) ’10 Best AI Art Generators’, Alex McFarland, www.unite.ai/10-best-ai-art-generators
(3) ‘Artists struggle to promote their work on Instagram amid algorithm changes, censorship and blocked hashtags’, Isabelle Bousquette, www. medium.com/8-million-stories/artists-struggle-to-promote-their-work-on-instagram-amid-algorithm-changes-censorship-and-hashtag-cd83112e3258
(4) ‘ An AI-Generated Artwork Won First Place at a State Fair Fine Arts Competition, and Artists Are Pissed’, Matthew Gault, www.vice.com/en/article/bvmvqm/an-ai-generated-artwork-won-first-place-at-a-state-fair-fine-arts-competition-and-artists-are-pissed