AI art and disability

Why am I fascinated by AI art? Isn’t it artificial? Cold? Impersonal? Doesn’t it steal from artists? Make artists superfluous?

I have some general answers and a few more personal ones.

GENERAL ANSWERS

The general answer is that it has come to stay, and there are many ways to use it that make sense.

For instance, many use it to inspire and get ideas for hand-made art and design.

People who normally wouldn’t hire human artists use it to spiff up advertisements, websites, and more.

Many like to explore it just for fun, just like it’s fun to explore a lot of different things in our culture. (And it’s more engaging and involving than some other common activities, including passively watching movies or series.)

And there is no reason to assume it will replace old-fashioned design and art. The two will likely co-exist, just like photography and hand-made art co-exists. I also suspect that the existence of AI art may make human-made art more prestigious and sought after.

PERSONAL ANSWERS

For me, it’s also fun. I find myself fascinated by it. Even if very few see what comes out of it, the process of exploring different styles and scenes is inherently rewarding to me, at least for now. It sparks my imagination.

There are also some other reasons I am fascinated by it.

It ties in with my background in programming (I started programming in the early ’80s and have worked with it in periods since). It ties in with my art background. (I did art full-time in my late teens and early twenties, and was a student of Odd Nerdrum.) It ties in with my formal and informal studies of European and international art history. It ties in with my architecture training and occasional work with graphic design. And it ties in with my fascination for the future, including technology and AI.

AI AND DISABILITY

More to the point, it ties in with my disability. I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS/ME), and that makes it difficult for me to engage in traditional forms of art like drawing and painting. It takes time and energy to engage in it to the point where it’s meaningful for me and I get results I enjoy. And my life is full enough so there are few resources left over for painting and drawing. It has fallen by the wayside, to my regret.

With AI-generated images, I get to explore and bring to life images similar to what I likely would have explored if I had continued with more conventional forms of art, and I also get to be surprised and explore things far outside of my what I imagined I would do by hand. It’s fun. It’s fascinating. And it doesn’t take that much time or energy to do it. Similar to photography, the results come quickly.

And similar to photography, the results are not quite as personal or human or full of character as we find in hand-made art. That’s OK. It’s much better than nothing.

I assume I am not the only one. I assume many people with different forms of disability have found making AI images fun and rewarding. It opens up possibilities for us that we otherwise may not have since our disability makes traditional art more difficult to engage in.

ABLEISM

I haven’t seen any mainstream articles on AI art including the perspective of the disabled. And I understand why: disabled people make up a minority and often don’t have the resources or platform to have their voice heard. Still, when the public discourse on AI art leaves out the perspective of the disabled, it is one of many examples of how disabled people are ignored by the mainstream.

The pandemic shifted many things to benefit people with disabilities: Many office jobs were now done from a home office. Many doctor appointments were done online. A lot of events were streamed. Classes and workshops were taught online.

All of these are things disabled people have requested for a long time.

I have personally asked for it more than once, and the answer in each case was: No, it’s not possible. (In each case, there was no curiosity about the situation, no further discussion about it, no acknowledgment that it would make it easier for me and for others with a disability, and a dismissal of the suggestion.)

When the pandemic impacted healthy people and society as a whole, then it was suddenly possible. It wasn’t just possible, it happened quickly. Funny how that works.

This is an example of ableism. If something is requested mainly by disabled people, it’s ignored or not possible. And when it’s of interest to healthy people, it’s suddenly relevant and possible.

The mainstream discussion on AI-generated images is another example of how the perspective of disabled people is left out.

Of course, the mainstream tends to focus on the mainstream, and most people don’t have disabilities. But many do, and it’s important to acknowledge the situation for those with disabilities.

We are people too. We are also part of society.

And for many of us, AI art is a small blessing.

A few more reflections on AI art

I have explored AI art for about ten days, mainly using Midjourney. (AI art is, in short, software that creates images from text based on having analyzed perhaps millions of images.)

I am not all that familiar with the discussion around this, although I have picked up a few things here and there.

Here are some additional thoughts from my side.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS

There is obviously a discussion about intellectual property related to AI-generated images.

Personally, and so far, I am just exploring it for fun and I share a few images on social media. It’s perhaps a bit similar to creating collages using other people’s works, which is what people did before AI art.

If someone makes AI art in the style of a specific artist and sells it for money, that’s more questionable.

But what if the style is a more generic one or one that cannot be pinned on any one particular artist? Is that too a problem? Some will say yes since the AI is trained on the art of many artists who unwillingly contribute to the AI result.

It also seems clear that to many, AI art is an exciting new frontier. It brings professional-grade image-making within reach to more people. And AI art may inspire human artists, just like human art informs AI art. It’s likely not possible to put the genie back into the bottle, and would we want to if we could?

For me, what it comes down to is: (a) It’s good to have these conversations. (b) This is a kind of wild west where the law has not yet caught up with the technology.

CULTURAL BIAS

AI art is informed by images in our western and global culture, and obviously reflects biases from the material it’s trained on.

For instance… Jesus and his human parents are depicted as white Europeans, not Middle Eastern. A secretary is assumed to be female. Unless something else is specified, people come out young, white, fit, and beautiful according to western conventional standards. The default man comes out very muscular. And so on.

Some are concerned that this will reinforce existing stereotypes, and that will probably happen in some cases.

The upside is that the inherent – and quite obvious – AI bias leads to conversations among people and in the public. It makes more people more aware of these biases – the standards, norms, and expectations – in our culture.

EXOTICISM

When I was little, I loved stories about the exotic – other parts of the world, other people and cultures than my own, other landscapes than I was familiar with, science fiction, and so on.

I wonder if this is a natural fascination. We may be drawn to what we don’t know, partly because it helped our ancestors be familiar with more of the world and this aided their survival. The unfamiliar and exotic are also good projection objects, which tend to create fascination.

When I make AI art, I often find I follow my childhood draw to the exotic and unknown: Shamans, different ethnicities, fairy tales and mythology, UFOs, and so on.

Is this problematic? If we exoticize certain ethnic groups and people and think that’s how they are, then yes, to some extent. It’s out of alignment with reality and whether we idolize or vilify, it does these groups and people a disservice.

Is it inherently problematic? Perhaps not always, at least not in the sense that it harms certain groups.

For instance, I have a series of images of neo-druid shamans in the future and make sure to include a wide range of ethnicities and ages. This is a form of exoticism, and I aim at making the exoticism universal and include all types of people.

AI-generated images – blessing or doom?

I have wanted to explore AI image generation for a while and finally got around to it tonight in front of the fireplace and with the neighboring café playing live jazz.

Here is one of my first experiments with Midjourney. A neo-shaman in Tokyo in the rain with dramatic backlighting. I love that he or she is covered in plants and flowers.

I have seen some discussions about AI-generated images.

CONCERNS ABOUT NEW TECHNOLOGY

Will it replace human artists? Will it make it possible for people to make their own illustrations instead of commissioning photographers and artists? Will it ruin creativity?

Yes, some of that will probably happen.

And it’s also important the remember that these are the type of concerns that predictably come up when new technology comes onto the scene. And each time, the new technology finds its place among everything that has existed before and continues to exist.

When photography came, people said it was the end of painting. What happened was that it caused painting to change. Much of it became more free, imaginative, and abstract, and photography and painting not only co-exist but inspire each other. When CGI became viable, people said it would replace practical effects and even actors. In reality, CGI co-exists with practical effects, and it has even led to new types of jobs for actors in the form of motion capture.

I assume something similar will happen now. Some will use AI for illustrations. Some will continue to hire artists and photographers. AI art will inspire human-created art. Human-created art will continue to inform AI art.

It’s not either-or, it’s both-and. And it may well be that the interplay between AI and human visuals will create a kind of artistic and creative mini-revolution.

It’s also very likely that human-created art will be valued even more. AI art will make it more prestigious.

CULTURE MEANS LEARNING FROM OTHERS

Some say that AI steals people’s work to create new work and make money on it.

I understand that argument and concern.

And I also know that that’s culture. That’s what people have done from the beginning. We learn and take good ideas from each other and do something different with it. That’s how we have a culture in the first place.

The AI is just a bit more comprehensive and effective than any human can be, and also a little less creative.

WHO DO THE IMAGES BELONG TO?

Another question is: who owns the images?

In a practical sense, it’s determined by the AI companies and the law.

And in a larger sense, they come from the collective experience and creativity of humanity and really from the whole of existence. It’s always that way, no matter which particular human or technology it comes through. It’s just a little more obvious with AI images.

CULTURAL BIASES

Some also criticize AI-generated images because they reflect cultural biases. They learn from our culture so they will inevitably reflect biases in our culture.

For instance, if I don’t specify ethnicity for a portrait, I get a European person. If I ask for a god, even a traditional Hindu god, I get someone absurdly muscular. If I ask for Jesus or his parents, I get Europeans and not middle eastern people. If I ask for a general person, I get someone unusually good-looking in a conventional sense

I would say that’s equally much an upside since it brings cultural biases – picked up by and reflected back to us by the AI – more to the foreground. This leads to awareness and discussions – in the media and among those exploring AI art and the ones they share these reflections and observations with.

A lot of people are more aware of these kinds of cultural biases now because of these AI images.

MY OWN BIAS

I have a background in programming and in art, so I naturally love AI-generated visuals. I see it as a way for people without too much experience to still create amazing images. It’s a way to generate ideas. And it has its place and will co-exist with old-fashioned human skills and creativity.

UPDATE AFTER ONE WEEK

I have explored Midjourney and AI image generation for a week now, and find it seems to fit me well. It’s fun to see images created that I have had in my mind for a while but haven’t created in pencil or oil. It’s also fun to get to know the AI and sometimes be surprised by results better and more interesting than I imagined.

I also find I cannot really take ownership of the images, apart from in the most limited sense. They are generated by the AI, the AI is trained on perhaps millions of images created by others, and it’s really all the local products of the whole of existence – going back to the beginning of the universe and stretching out to the widest extent of the universe (if there is any beginning or edge). It’s always that way, and it’s even more obvious with AI-generated images.

The images are very much co-created by me, Midjourney, innumerable artists whose works have informed the AI, and all of existence.

I have also started an Instagram account for my AI image experiments.

Note: Specific prompt for the image above -> Neo-druid shaman in Tokyo 2300 rain dramatic colorful backlighting semi-realistic