With the advent of AI image generation tools like Midjourney, bursting into the world in the spring of 2022, surreal, dreamlike (and sometimes nightmarish) images, could be conjured at the stroke of a few keys.
The lure of creating images of things that could never be, the formula for their creation words, phrases, was too much for me to resist, so in the early days of the summer of 2022, my attempts to summon the numinous took on yet another form, AI generated art.
Taking lines from my writing, my poetry, my lyrics, my thoughts, I was utterly amazed at the results that would iteratively be build on my screen. The scenes were hallucinogenic, phantasmagoric. I was hooked. And I was troubled.
Aside from the ethical questions surrounding the training of these models, vacuuming up the whole of humanity’s art, I was also troubled by the question of artistry, in creating these images. The debate about the morality is ongoing and I don’t have reached any solid conclusion personally yet. The question about the artistry was more pressing to me, though.
I wanted to use these images to accompany my music, to manipulate further, to show as art. But was it my art? Was I truly the artist creating the image that was the endresult of the computations? Well, without the prompt, the text, the incantation, nothing would happen. And I had seen a lot of -in my opinion- really bad AI art, to know that the input was key.
Eventually I came up with an analogy that works for me. I want to stress this part, because I am sure that there are other opinions and this too is an ongoing debate, but for me, this answered the question for me. In producting electronic music, I use effects units, that, most notably in the Eurorack format, sometimes are somewhat of a black box. Much like AI generators are black boxes.
The effect units have parameters I can tweak, I can influence the outcome, but the effect unit still works in a specific way, that I have no control over. Other, of course that my choice what to feed the effect unit. In all the important ways, this, to me, is similar to using AI generators. I have no qualms about calling the music I produce with these effects my own, so why would I not claim artistic ownership over the AI-generated images?
Setting aside the question whether or not you agree, the results are nothing short of mindboggling at times. I am sure that in (perhaps the near) future, this will seem extremely quaint, as this technology will no doubt evolve. Speaking of evolving, the most interesting images usually appeared after “evolving” an image a number of generations. Sometimes the differences are subtle, and sometimes you’re looking at a completely different image.
I included the images of different generations, so you can see the choices I made. The most amazing thing to me is that, for me, many of these images have a distinctive emotional payload. Which is what I always look for, in anything I do. Most of all though, they are another way to catch a glimpse of the numinous, the wholly other.