As artificial intelligence becomes more and more popular for creating images, a The art world was rocked by the question: Can AI create art?
At Bitform Gallery in San Francisco, the answer is yes. The exhibit, titled “Artificial Imagination,” is on display until the end of December and features works that have been created or inspired by DALL-E’s generative AI system, as well as other types of AI. With DALL-E and other similar systems like Stable Diffusion or Midjourney, the user can input words and get back an image.
Steven Sacks, who founded the original bitform gallery in New York in 2001 (a San Francisco location opened in 2020), has always focused on working with artists at the intersection of art and technology. But this may be the first DALL-E-focused art show created by OpenAI, and it’s the first Sacks has presented 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 systems like DALL-E, Stable Diffusion, and Midjourney can pump out impressive images at lightning speed, unlike anything the art world has seen before. Within months, millions of people have flocked to these AI systems, and they are already being used to create experimental movies, magazine covers, and images to illustrate news articles. Although these systems are gaining ground, they are also generating controversy. For example, when an image created with Midjourney recently won an art contest at the Colorado State Fair, it created a buzz among artists.
For Sacks, generative AI systems like DALL-E are “just another tool,” he said, noting that artists throughout history have used past work to create new works in different ways.
“It’s a great creative partner,” he said.
“Artificial Imagination” spans several mediums and many different styles and includes artists known for using technology in their work such as Refik Anadol and others who are newer to the field. It ranges from Anadolu’s 30-minute video loop of a computerized view of an ever-changing natural scene to Marina Zurkow’s vivid pictorial collages, created with DALL-E, that almost resemble Soviet propaganda mixed with old-fashioned fairy tales.
Sacks said the exhibition, presented by bitform 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 more straightforward in their use of AI, and DALL-E in particular, such as August Kamp’s 2022 “new experimental version, state of the art” print, which looks like a detail of a retro-futuristic spaceship stereo. Kamp said she began creating it by writing what she calls a primer — a series of words like “grainy,” “detailed,” “filmic,” “film still” — intended to evoke the aesthetic she wanted, which in this case was to look like she was watching a movie and had just paused it, she said. Then she added words, hoping to generate electronic synths that “looked as strange as they sounded,” she said.
The final piece is a combination of 30 different generated images that have been repainted piece by piece – a process that uses AI to expand the image by adding more elements. Kamp also used Photoshop to edit the overall image.
Kamp pointed out that the general idea of art galleries gives the impression that good art is scarce, but she sees generative AI tools like DALL-E as a way to make people realize that art can be abundant (for example, , that everyone will do it, they can wake up from a vivid dream, enter a description of what they imagined, and create an image expressing their thoughts).
“For me, art is and should be very rich because I see it as an expression of love and feelings, which I think are abundant,” she said.
Some of the pieces on display use AI in a more indirect (and perhaps silly) way, such as Alexander Reben’s 2020 sculpture titled “Cesi N’est Pas Une Barriere.” Reben used AI as a kind of art director: He used the GPT-3 text generator and his own set of algorithms to create a description of a non-existent artwork that hangs on the wall of a bitform gallery. It includes the title, the name of the fictitious artist – Norifen Storgenberg, who is listed as “Swedish, born 1973” – and text such as “It feels very homey and yet very oppressive” and “The use of the police issue of handcuffs is striking. In a social context they are used to restrain prisoners, but 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 a description with elements including green roof shingles, a porch light, metal handles and handcuffs.
“I wanted to put it out there: There’s a range of artists here, there’s really different ways of presenting this kind of work, living with this kind of work, connecting with this kind of work,” Sacks said. “I wanted people to ask about it.”