I have a big long comic up at a site called Friends With Benefits — it’s called Octane Render and it’s about A.I. generative art, viewed through the lens of the indie-comics community I’m part of.
About nine months ago I wrote the following to people who get my newsletter (sign up! top right of this site, under the banner image):
Now that NFTs are largely in the toilet where they belong, the internet art community has begun talking about A.I. art, which is currently a thing. I’ve checked out one of the A.I. art making platforms, Midjourney, and I wouldn’t say I’m On Board/Bought The T-Shirt, but immediately on trying it I could see one major difference between NFT world and A.I. art world — playing with A.I. is genuinely fun or at least interesting for a normal person, as opposed to NFTs, which are not fun in and of themselves (“But David I enjoy the NFT community”. Cool, but that’s the humans you met while trying to get your head around NFTs, not NFTs themselves, which are, in totality, extremely insecure legal contracts made with bad code).
If you want a well-thought-out take on this, see Reimena Yee’s, which I agree with.
Some online humans are totally repelled by the idea of A.I. art, which I’m not, though I understand the impulse. The similarity with NFTs is that the art itself tends toward the uncanny, strange and unpleasant. This, I think, is for the same reason as with NFTs, which is: the core audience for it can’t spot creepiness in it because they have had their brains cheese-grated by years of inhuman CGI movies and aren’t especially fussed about things like “the human touch”.
Some people like dead-eyed renders of hyper-realistic superheroes better than Jack Kirby drawings because it’s more realistic and therefore good. Because those people are doing all the asking of the A.I., the A.I. art, over time, takes their interests into account and actually makes all the art more like what those people are into! I’ve seen this myself playing with Midjourney.
I am having fun, as are some other weirdos, asking the A.I. to draw silly things like Lieutenant Columbo and trading cards of AFL players spitting. I am not especially taken with arguments that A.I. art is unethical because it is stealing the souls of living artists — there’s too many human arseholes who dud artists for me to worry about the many onion layers of ethics around artificial intelligence making art. I’d suggest that, if A.I. art is unethical, it’s because the technology would likely be funded by the military, and be the same as that used by dictatorial governments to face-match video and locate, capture and kill political dissidents.
Tech! You can use it to build robot murder dogs AND to make silly pictures!
I still don’t fully buy A.I. as stealing artists’ very souls, for reasons that hopefully the comic makes clear.
It is potentially pretty damaging to the shiny commercial art industry, though. And the A.I. fanboys really sap our strength with their bad arguments and shit-eating somethingawful.com grins.
I talked to several artists for this piece. They were Kate Moon, Dean Rankine, Ryan Estrada and David C. Mahler. I should really (perhaps will?) do some extra pages quoting them more, because the conversations we had were long and interesting! Maybe for the print version (coming soon).
I figured for this piece I’d better work in ink, which I hadn’t done in a while. It of course took ages but I like how it looks much better than my recent digital work. The colour scheme was inspired somewhat by playing with Midjourney.
Thanks to Emilie Friedlander, who was a great editor to work with. She commissioned the piece for FWB (an artists’ DAO). I was keen to pitch it to them because I liked the other work I read on their site, and because I liked the idea of doing this piece for an audience of coinholders potentially primed to disagree with it.
I appreciated that they were happy to indulge a crypto skeptic (to the point of suggesting I make fun of them in the piece. I was happy to).
Also thank you to the members of Chapter Club, Jo Waite, Erik Thurman and Darren C. Fisher, for their notes on the piece.
Did I mention I started a secret graphic novel workshopping group? I did! I think we should write up what we’re doing if it carries on for a while. It’s pretty new. But essentially, we’re people who would struggle to do GN workshopping intensively, so I suggested to a small group that we try reading a chapter’s worth of each other’s work each month and giving feedback.
Thanks also to everyone I’ve been talking to about A.I. lately, including the organisers of the AI/ML Media Advocacy Summit, Rachel Meinerding and Nicole Hendrix at the Concept Art Association, academics Chris Chesher and Brian Yecies, plus Logan Preshaw and the indefatigable Jason Chatfield.
Go read Octane Render here! Really it’s only as long as a standard minicomic (and will be one of those soon).
And: any time Midjourney, Stability AI or OpenAI are ready to stop hiding from me and answer my very simple question, I will be very happy to hear from them!