After a few weeks of experiments, I realized that AI has the potential to describe imaginary works of art. To my delight, I discovered that I could prompt him to write the text you see on a wall label next to a painting in an art gallery. This will prove to be the start of a fascinating collaborative journey with GPT-3 and a range of other AI art tools, resulting in work that ranges from a physical sculpture of toilet plungers to full-size oil paintings on the wall of a Mayfair art gallery.
In recent months, AI-generated art has provoked a lot of debate about whether it will be bad news for artists. There is no doubt that disruptive changes are coming, and there are still important questions about bias, ethics, ownership, and representation that need to be answered. However, this would not be the first time that new technologies have caused upheaval in the art world – it has been happening for centuries. And in my own experience, working with AI to make sculptures, paintings, and more has changed the way I think about the creative process and the possibilities for human-machine collaboration. I believe we are now seeing the emergence of a whole new art form.
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To be clear, when I’m talking about AI, it’s not an anthropomorphic or sentient system, but a machine learning algorithm – and there has to be a human in the process. I quickly learned this in my early experiments with the GPT-3 when I asked it to create imaginary works of art. While it was relatively easy to get the system to produce descriptions that all sounded good, getting it to produce output that I thought interesting it was something else entirely. I spent about a month doing “rapid engineering,” a term that means writing efficient input text for AI systems.
After finding a series of initial words that would tickle the AI just right, I developed a workflow with GPT-3 and other algorithms that could produce a description of a work of art and the imaginary human name of its creator, along with their date of birth date and other details (which are sometimes collected by asking GPT-3 questions). Then I sifted through hundreds to thousands of results to find the ones I liked. These were then fed back into the system to create more text. I then corrected for punctuation, spacing, and other technical changes to the text (nothing that changes its meaning).
I knew I had found the right recipe when I got the following result (which made me laugh too hard by myself in my closed studio):
The sculpture contains a plunger, a toilet plunger, a plunger, a plunger, a plunger, and a plunger, each modified. The first piston is just a normal piston, but the rest are a series of pistons with more and more of the handle removed until only the rubber cup remains. The title of the piece is “A Brief History of Pistons and Other Things That Go in the Night” by the artists known as “The Pistons” (whose identity remains unknown).
“The Plungers” are a group of anonymous artists founded in 1972. They are dedicated to “the conceptualization and promotion of a new art form called Plungism.” Plungism was a creative interpretation of the idea of plungerism, which was defined by The Plungers as “a state of mind in which an artist’s mind is in a state of motion and can be influenced by all things, even pistons.” Plungers’ work was exhibited in New York galleries and included titles such as “Plunger’s Progress”, “The Plungers”, “The Plungers Strike Back” and “Big Plunger 4: The Final Plunger”, all of which featured pistons and “Plungers on Parade’, which shows images of the pistons in public spaces. The plungers disappeared and left no trace of their identity.
This got me wondering: what if I took these generative descriptions and made them real life? Since the AI cannot create physical objects, it will depend on my human abilities to do so. Moving the work from the digital to the physical realm, I concluded, would add a weight and presence to them that is sometimes lacking on screen. A kind of symbiosis is formed, with the artificial intelligence producing an output that then “needs” my imagination, crafting ability, aesthetic judgment and intuition to visualize and complete.
Here is the physical manifestation of the piston artwork I created as part of a series titled AI “AI Am I?”: