My sketch is the top left and all the others are AI art.

I’ve been tinkering with AI art lately to try and figure out what it is and what to do with it. For those who don’t know, AI art is using artificial intelligence to create art for you. It looks at all the art on the internet and using that knowledge makes a picture for you as you describe it. It’s a threat to the livelihood of a lot of working artists because it uses their art to make them unnecessary in the process of commercial art. Why hire an artist when an art director can just describe what he wants to a machine?

The first AI art app I tried was one that didn’t use descriptive writing to make art but used my own art as a starting point. I fed one of my sketches into the app and then it remade my sketch into a finished piece of art in one of the many popular styles the AI was trained on. This one was mostly Japanese Anime styles.

This attempt blew my mind. The result of it working with my sketch was that it made some really nice art but whose art was it? The art would not have existed without me and my art but I also wasn’t the one who actually drew it. You could tell it came from my art if you knew my sketch came first but if you didn’t then it existed just as well on its own. That’s a crazy thought.

One part of this AI art that blew my mind was that it looked to me like people, in general, would like the AI art better than mine. I’m not a popular or successful artist but I like my own work. Otherwise I wouldn’t be making art. But this AI art was taking my art and redoing it in a popular style. By definition it would be more popular than my artwork if people had to choose between them. It’s a bizarre feeling. It’s like somebody making a robot of you that is better looking and more liked than you are.

I ended up calling this version of AI art as “Push Button Art” or “Art From the Machine.” All I had to do was feed my art into it, push a button, and a new piece of art would come out of it. Plus it had many buttons (styles) I could push and a completely new piece of art would come out of the machine. It’s mind bending for an artist.

The second type of AI art that I tried was the type where you write what you want the picture to look like and then the AI makes that picture. As you can tell from this blog that I’ve written week after week and year after year and I’m a writer as well as an artist. So this version of AI art was really easy for me. I could do it as I sat there and watched tevlevison.

This is how it goes. I write a description of the picture that I want, pick a style for it to be done in, and then the AI would give me four pictures done as I described. They weren’t all great but generally close to what I wanted. I could then further refine them but writing more stuff. It’s all about the description and keywords. No artistic talent needed.

This type of AI gave me cognitive dissonance. I expected it to be bad machine art. I wanted it to be bad machine art. I immediately found all the flaws I could in it. But in the end it really did a good job of making an illustration. It is really good at copying techniques. It’s really good at “Pretty” and people like pretty art. I want it to be terrible. I want it to be obviously machine art but it’s not. There is where the cognitive dissonance comes from. It’s giving me a headache just thinking about it.

My print is the top left and all the others are AI art.

I started a new series of drawings and prints called “Last Night I Dreamt I Had a True Love.” I’m going to use that line in each of the images I come up with. I’ve done this sort of thing before with my “Unchain Your Brain” series. I started working on the first one and was having a hard time coming up with ideas. It’s a new series so that is expected. So I decided to try using AI art as an experiment. More cognitive dissonance.

I ended up finishing my first print in this series and it took me three days. About 25 hours worth of work. It only came out okay. I like it but I think I can better capture the mood I’m going for with the next try. Meanwhile I was also making some AI versions of the theme. During the Super Bowl and the following week as I was watching TV I’d write some descriptions and let the AI art do its thing.

I ended up with four finished AI “Last Night I Dreamt I Had a True Love” prints. Each one was a fully rendered illustration that took me about two hours. A lot of that time was me doing some design work over the Illustration. I wanted them to be terrible but they weren’t. And as I said I’m a writer so it was easy for me to write the descriptions. Plus I think they captured the mood I was going for better than mine did. It was all too easy. Plus all four prints were prettier and in a more popular style than mine was. I guarantee you that the average stranger will like them better than mine. It’s mind blowing.

I ended up thinking of this kind of AI art as doing a puzzle. When someone puts together a puzzle they do work to make a picture. The difference is that when a person shows off that puzzle that they made the viewer might say “Nice job” and appreciate the work that went into solving the puzzle but they never think that the person is the actual artist behind the art on the puzzle. I’m afraid to show the AI art that I made to anyone because they might think that it’s my art but I really think it’s just the puzzle I put together.

It’s further not my art because I’m really just the art director on it. It’s the art director’s job at a company to hire illustrators to make art. The art director has a vision for how they want a book cover to look and they hire someone to fulfill that vision. If you’re a really good and well known Illustrator they might hire you for your vision but that has to fit into the art director’s vision too.

With this type of AI art I’m playing the roll of art director. I’m telling the AI how I want the print to look. It comes back with choices and I pick a choice or give it further instructions so I get more choices. I’m not doing the work of an artist at all. So then how could the work be mine in the end? It’s not. We don’t consider the paperback book covers painted by Frank Frazetta to be the work of the art director on those books. They’re Frazetta’s paintings. He did the work.

Now with this type of “Write a description” AI art the machine does the work. It’s the machine’s art (based on art it copied). There is the problem for us artists. The artists and illustrators are no longer needed in the process. That’s scary to us.