As artificial intelligence becomes increasingly popular for generating images, a question has plagued the art world: can AI create art?
At bitforms gallery in San Francisco, the answer is yes. An exhibition titled “Artificial Imagination” is on display until the end of December and features works created with or inspired by the DALL-E generative AI system as well as other types of AI. With DALL-E, and other similar systems such as Stable Diffusion or Midjourney, a user can type words and retrieve an image.
Steven Sacks, who founded the original bitforms gallery in New York in 2001 (the San Francisco site opened in 2020), has always focused on working with artists at the intersection of art and of technology. But this may be the first art show to focus on DALL-E, which was created by OpenAI, and it’s the first that Sacks has shown that focuses so directly on work created with AI, he told CNN Business.
The use of technologies such as 3D printing and Photoshop is commonplace in art. But new text-to-image conversion systems such as DALL-E, Stable Diffusion and Midjourney can produce impressive images at lightning speed, unlike anything the art world has seen before. In just a few months, millions of people have flocked to these AI systems and they are already being used to create experimental films, magazine covers and images to illustrate news stories. Yet as these systems gain traction, they are also courting controversy. For example, when an image generated with Midjourney recently won an art competition at the Colorado State Fair, it caused an uproar among artists.
For Sacks, generative AI systems like DALL-E are “just one more tool,” he said, noting that throughout history artists have used past works to create new works in various ways.
“He’s a creatively brilliant partner,” he said.
“Artificial Imagination” spans multiple mediums and many different styles, and includes artists known for using technology in their work, such as Refik Anadol, and others who are newer. These range from Anadol’s 30-minute video loop of a computer on an ever-changing nature scene to Marina Zurkow’s collages of bright images, created with the help of DALL-E, that are almost reminiscent of Soviet propaganda. mixed with old-fashioned storybooks.
The bags said the exhibit, which is presented by bitforms and venture capital firm Day One Ventures, is in many ways an educational show about the state of DALL-E and how artists are using AI.
Many pieces are simpler in their use of AI, and DALL-E in particular, such as August Kamp’s 2022 “new experimental, state-of-the-art” print, which looks like a close-up of a retro-futuristic stereo on a spaceship. Kamp said she started creating it by typing in what she calls a primer — a series of words like “grainy,” “detailed,” “cinematic,” “filmstrip” — intended to conjure up the aesthetic she’d like, which in this case was meant to feel like she was watching a movie and had just paused it, she said. Then she added words in hopes of generating electronic synthesizers that “looked as weird as they sounded,” she said.
The final piece is a combination of around 30 different generated images, which were painted section by section – a process that uses AI to enlarge the image by adding more elements to it. Kamp also used Photoshop to polish the overall image.
Kamp pointed out that the general idea of art galleries makes quality art seem scarce, but she sees generative AI tools like DALL-E as a way to get people to consider that the art can be plentiful (eg making it so that anyone can wake up from a vivid dream, type in a description of what they imagined and generate an image expressing their thoughts).
“For me, art is and should be very abundant because I see it as an expression of love and feelings, which I think are abundant things,” she said.
Some of the pieces on display use AI in more indirect (and perhaps silly) ways, such as a 2020 sculpture by Alexander Reben titled “Cesi N’est Pas Une Barrière”. Reben used the AI as a kind of art director: he used the GPT-3 text generator and a custom set of algorithms to generate a description of a non-existent piece of art hanging on the bitforms gallery wall. It includes the title, the name of a fictional artist – Norifen Storgenberg, who is listed as “Swedish, born 1973” – and text such as “It has a very domestic feel, and yet it is very oppressive” and “The use of police issue handcuffs is striking. In the context of society they are used to restrain prisoners, and yet here they are used to create a barrier between the viewer and the work.
Reben built his sculpture, which also hangs on the wall, around the description, with elements such as green roof shingles, a porch light, metal grab bars and handcuffs.
“I just wanted to say it: here’s a range of artists, here are some really different ways to showcase this kind of work, to live with this kind of work, to connect with this kind of work,” Sacks said. “I wanted people to ask about it.”
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