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AI Made This. Will It Remake the Future of Art, Too? – Royal Ontario Museum



ROM’S Curators Weigh In.

This painting would take most artists days, even weeks to make. It took Midjourney—a new artificial intelligence program—less than two minutes.

How? According to PC World, Midjourney “takes user-generated queries, runs them through an AI algorithm, and lets the algorithm pull from its source images and apply various artistic techniques.”

For my image, I wanted to see how well the program mimicked distinct art styles. So, I gave it the prompt “Chinese literati painting of white clouds and red birds.” It gave me back four low-resolution images, from which I chose one (what you see above) to “upscale.”

Even a cursory glance at traditional literati paintings will tell you Midjourney didn’t exactly nail it. The image appears to be made from oils, not inks, and the birds are, well, faceless. Still, the image is beautiful, even gallery-worthy, and the implications of this technology are profound.

Anyone with internet access willing to shell out $10 (USD) a month for a subscription can now create stunning art in minutes, all just with a few keystrokes. (Many of the less powerful programs, like Craiyon, remain free; while others, like DALL·E 2 and Meta’s Make-A-Scene, aren’t yet available to the public.) What does that mean for working artists? For human creativity?

“A portrait of director Jordan Peele by Pablo Picasso” prompted Midjourney to create this image.

These questions are already top-of-mind for many artists and journalists. In June of this year, The Economist claimed to break “new ground” after putting a Midjourney-generated image on its cover. In July, CBC asked if “text-to-image AI would change the way artists work.” And in August, Vice reported that a Midjourney-generated image “won first place at a state fair fine arts competition.”

“To developers and technically minded people, it’s this cool thing,” cartoonist Matt Bors told The Atlantic. “[B]ut to illustrators it’s very upsetting because it feels like you’ve eliminated the need to hire the illustrator.”

The obsolescence of human artists, while frightening, is only one potential consequence of AI-generated art. Writing in The New York Times, columnist Kevin Roose wondered “whether we need to worry about a surge in synthetic propaganda, hyper-realistic deepfakes or even nonconsensual pornography.”

However, I wanted to understand how the rise of programs like Midjourney would shape the future of art. So, I put the question to three of ROM’s curators. Here’s what they said:

Silvia Forni, Senior Curator of Global Africa
It is interesting, but derivative. Midjourney can generate cool images, but in my mind, it still does not replace the work of an artist. It is a tool that can “create” only using the visual vocabulary that was developed by artists of the past. It is fun but not moving. It does not present new visual vocabularies. It is a tool. Maybe, in the hand of an artist, it can become surprising and moving, but to be so it would require the creative ability of someone able to instruct the system to do something that the general user cannot achieve, something that pushes the envelope and generates awe. Otherwise, it is just a new accessible fun tool that people will play with until the next trendy program hits the market.

Justin Jennings, Senior Curator, American Archaeology
Machine learning (ML) is already changing the way we study ancient art. Archaeologists encounter the past in fragments worn down and faded from the passage of time. Reconstruction is a leap of faith—Is that a leg or a stick? Was that brown or once red?—aided by years of experience. ML projects are currently training computers on art and architectural styles using massive databases in museums and other institutions. Soon, machines may help fill in the blanks on a dig, “seeing” the most likely vessel form from a tiny fragment or the lost edges of a fresco.

Akiko Takesue, Bishop White Committee Associate Curator of Japanese Art & Culture
I am interested in the way artificial intelligence could co-exist with human creativity, rather than replacing it, by providing a new perception. A Japanese traditional weaving company in Kyoto, Hosoo, for example, has recently used AI to generate new designs for obi sash, through machine learning of over 20,000 uncoloured designs from the past. The new designs that AI created were a result of its different interpretations of traditional patterns as well as of the spaces intentionally left blank. Such is where AI can be best utilized to open a possibility of connecting the past and the future. 

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Woven Woods Just One Stop on Weekend's Apples & Art Studio Tour – Cornwall Seaway News



The Woven Woods exhibit at out Cline House Gallery and Studio is breathtaking, with stunning colors and textures. The creator behind these pieces, scientist turned textile artist Lorraine Roy, will be at the gallery on Saturday and Sunday during the 31st Apples & Art Studio Tour.

In addition to the travelling art exhibit (which is not for sale), there are a wide variety of other art pieces on display and for purchase at the gallery. Some of the art for sale is made by local artists, as well as artists from surrounding areas like Ottawa and Gatineau. Cline House Gallery also operates an art studio that hosts both workshops and classes as well as open studio sessions.

The Cline House was built in 1854 and remained in the Cline family’ possession until it was purchased by the Cornwall Library Board in 1955. It is the former site of the Cornwall Public Library before it moved to its current location and was designated an Ontario Heritage Building in 1979. The gallery is now operating in partnership with the City of Cornwall to promote the arts in our community.

Cline House Gallery is open from 11am to 4pm, Thursday to Sunday. Parking is available off Amelia Street and entry to the gallery is free.

For more information on the Apples & Art Studio tour, visit: 

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Hilary Mantel's Art Was Infused With Her Pain – The Atlantic



“Once the queen’s head is severed, he walks away. A sharp pang of appetite reminds him that it is time for a second breakfast, or perhaps an early dinner.”

These are the first two sentences of T​he Mirror and ​the Light, the third volume of Hilary Mantel’s ​trilogy about the life of Thomas Cromwell and the last book she published before she died on Thursday at the lamentably young age of 70. With masterly dispatch, she thrusts us into the middle of the action, tells us exactly where we are, and makes us gasp at a conjunction of things that we would never have thought could occupy the same moral universe—that is, decapitation and a second breakfast. But she makes them make sense together. Cutting off heads and a second morning meal are both prerogatives of the powerful in late-medieval England. I could have plucked just about any two lines out of her novels and shown that they do the same amount of work. That’s how efficient this writer was. That’s what we’ve lost.

We are inside the head of Cromwell, street urchin elevated to manager of, well, everything in the land, on behalf of the bloated, childish King Henry VIII. “Lord Cromwell is the government, and the church as well,” someone observes. He is also the satisfier of Henry’s lusts—his procurer, if you like. Cromwell has made a queen for Henry and killed that queen for Henry. Everyone knows how Anne Boleyn ended up. But only readers of the first two novels in the series know that Mantel invented an improbably tender, courteous Cromwell with a capacity for ethical reasoning unimaginable in the royals he moves among. But now blood spurts out of the queen’s neck, we are in the third act of the tragedy, and Mantel has added to the list of Cromwell’s powers the ability to turn his back on horror and think about food, as callow as a king.

How do you animate history like this? Historians can’t do it. Very few historical novelists can do it. In her memoir, Giving Up the Ghost, Mantel reveals the mystery of her method: “Eat meat. Drink blood,” she writes. “Rise in the quiet hours of the night and prick your fingertips and use the blood for ink.” You may be tempted to dismiss as hackneyed the notion of draining one’s veins for art, but then you discover that blood was the defining substance, the governing catastrophe, of Mantel’s life.

In her 20s, she developed a case of endometriosis severe enough to make her vomit and have so much pain in her limbs and organs that she couldn’t walk. But it went undiagnosed, and because no one understood what was wrong with her, she entered a psychiatric clinic. She was told not to write. Endometriosis is what used to be called a female complaint. One might call it menstruation run amok. The cells in the lining of the womb that usually bleed out during a period instead grow in other parts of the body—the pelvis, the bladder, the bowel—and bleed there, creating scar tissue and unbearable pain. “Infertility is a distinct possibility,” writes Mantel, and indeed, she would never have children. A hormonal condition associated with endometriosis induces migraines and, in her case, “the migraine aura that made my words come out wrong” and “morbid visions, like visitations, premonitions of dissolution.” Once Mantel received a proper diagnosis, she was put on medication that made her balloon. Thereafter, she recalls, she dwelled  in the shadow land of “fat-lady shops,” unable to shake off the “perception of most of the population, who know that overweight people are lazy, undisciplined slobs.”

What does endometriosis have to do with art? For Mantel, everything. She worked her experience until it became the corporeal substrate of her fiction. Her magnum opus is made of blood and female bodies. Whether a man’s blood is noble or base determines his identity and fate. The behavior of a woman’s reproductive organs may be the difference between life and death. There are many reasons Thomas Cromwell towers above contemporary literature, a demiurgic character on par with Hamlet, but one source of his authority is his uncommon (and admittedly anachronistic) attentiveness to the female condition.

He would appear to be alone among monarchists of his age in being repulsed by a social order that reduces queens—one of whom he loved before Henry swooped in and took her—to  sperm receptacles in the king’s service. It is through his visits to Catherine of Aragon, who never gave birth to a male heir who lived past infancy, that we observe just what it means ​for a queen to fail at her reproductive duties​. Replaced by Anne and confined to a remote castle, Catherine literally rots away from the inside, devoured by what seems to be some sort of abdominal cancer. Though Cromwell destroys Anne Boleyn, first he pities her when her body rejects the only princeling she ever produced and blood from the miscarriage forms a slick trail on the palace floor. Henry just wants to be rid of her.

“When women apes have their wombs removed, and are returned by keepers to the community, their mates sense it, and desert them,” writes Mantel in her memoir. “It is a fact of base biology; there is little kindness in the animal kingdom, and I had been down there with the animals, grunting and bleeding on the porter’s trolley. There would be no daughter.” No. But there would be what Hilary Mantel fashioned from her body instead, which was more than anyone could have asked for.

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Is AI Art a 'Toy' or a 'Weapon'? – The Atlantic



Earlier this year, the technology company OpenAI released a program called DALL-E 2, which uses artificial intelligence to transform text into visual art. People enter prompts (“plasticine nerd working on a 1980s computer”) and the software returns images that showcase humanlike vision and execution, veer into the bizarre, and might even tease creativity. The results were good enough for Cosmopolitan, which published the first-ever AI-generated magazine cover in June—an image of an astronaut swaggering over the surface of Mars—and they were good enough for the Colorado State Fair, which awarded an AI artwork first place in a fine-art competition.

OpenAI gave more and more people access to its program, and those who remained locked out turned to alternatives like Craiyon and Midjourney. Soon, AI artwork seemed to be everywhere, and people started to worry about its impacts. Trained on hundreds of millions of image-text pairs, these programs’ technical details are opaque to the general public—more black boxes in a tech ecosystem that’s full of them. Some worry they might threaten the livelihoods of artists, provide new and relatively easy ways to generate propaganda and deepfakes, and perpetuate biases.

Yet Jason Scott, an archivist at the Internet Archive, prolific explorer of AI art programs, and traditional artist himself, says he is “no more scared of this than I am of the fill tool”—a reference to the feature in computer paint programs that allows a user to flood a space with color or patterns. In a conversation at The Atlantic Festival with Adrienne LaFrance, The Atlantic’s executive editor, Scott discussed his quest to understand how these programs “see.” He called them “toys” and “parlor game[s],” and did a live demonstration of DALL-E 2, testing prompts such as “the moment the dinosaurs went extinct illustrated in Art Nouveau style” or “Chewbacca on the cover of The Atlantic magazine in the style of a Renaissance painting” (the latter of which resulted in images that looked more canine than Wookiee). Scott isn’t naive about the greater issues at play—“Everything has a potential to be used as a weapon”—but at least for a moment, he showed us that the tech need not be apocalyptic.

Their conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Watch: Atlantic executive editor Adrienne LaFrance in conversation with Jason Scott

Adrienne LaFrance: When we talk about AI art, what do we even mean? How does it work?

Jason Scott: So what we’re calling “AI art”—by the way, they’re now calling it “synthetic media”—it’s the idea of using analysis of deep ranges of images, not just looking at them as patterns or samples, but actually connecting their captions and their contexts up against pictures of all sorts, and then synthesizing new versions from all that.

LaFrance: So basically a giant database of images that can be drawn from to call to mind the thing that you prompt it to make.

Scott: Right.

LaFrance: And why is it exploding now? It seems like various forms of machine learning and AI have really accelerated in recent years.

Scott: They let it out of the lab and let regular people play with the toys. Across the companies that are doing this, some are taking the model of We’ll let everyone play with it now—it’s part of the world.

LaFrance: When you think about the implications for this sort of technology, give us an overview of how this is going to change the way we interact with art, or whatever other industries come to mind. For instance, at The Atlantic we have human artists making art. I’m sure they might have strong feelings about the idea of machines making art. What other industries would be potentially affected?

Scott: Machines are becoming more and more capable of doing analysis against images, text, music, movies. There are experimental search engines out there that you can play with and say things like “I need to see three people around a laptop.” And previously it would have to be three people in the laptop, but it actually is starting to make matches where there’s three people in the room. And the weirder and more creative you get with this toy, the more fun it gets. I see a future where you’ll be able to say, “Could I read a book from the 1930s where it’s got a happy ending and it takes place in Boston?” Or, “Can I have something where they fell in love but they’re not in love at the end?”

LaFrance: I have more questions, but I think now it’d be a good time to start showing people what we mean. Do you have some examples?

Scott: I have some examples of things that I did. So this is “detailed blueprints on how to build a beagle.”

LaFrance: So these are prompts that you gave the model, and this is what came out of it?

Scott: Yes. For the people who don’t know how this whole game works, it’s pretty weird. You usually type in some sort of a line to say, “I’m looking for something like this,” and then it creates that, and then people get more and more detailed, because they’re trying to push it. Think of it less as programming than saying to somebody, “Could you go out there and dance like you’re happy and your kid was just born?” And you’ll watch what happens. So it’s kind of amorphous. This is a lion using a laptop in the style of an old tapestry. This is Santa Claus riding a motorcycle in the style of 1970s Kodachrome. This is Godzilla at the signing of the Declaration of Independence. This is a crayon drawing of a labor action. These are bears doing podcasts. This is GoPro footage of the D-Day landing.

I’m always playing with it, and the reason you’re hearing all those strange prompts from me is because I want to understand: What are these systems seeing? What are they doing? It’s so easy as a parlor game to say, “Draw a cellphone as if it was done as a Greco-Roman statue.” But what about doing a bittersweet sky, or trying to draw a concerned highway? What does it see?

LaFrance: What does this suggest to you about the nature of art? This gets to be sort of an existential question, but is it still human-made art in the way that we think of it, and should we be bothered by that? I mean, we use all sorts of tools to make art.

Scott: Everyone is super entitled to their own opinion. All I can say is, I did drawings in a zine in my teens; I was a street caricaturist; my mother was a painter; my father does painting; my brother’s a landscape artist. And coming from that point of view, I am no more scared of this than I am of the fill tool or the clone brush [in Photoshop]. Everything has a potential to be used as a weapon—imagery, words, music, text. But we also see an opportunity here for people who never knew that they had access to art. I can almost hear the gears crack and start moving again when I go to somebody and I’m like, “Could you give me something to draw?” And they do it and they see how it goes. I can’t get angry at that particular toy. But I won’t pretend that this toy will stay in its own way neutral, or even is neutral now.

LaFrance: I was talking to a colleague about these sorts of tools the other week, and we were really compelled by the idea of being able to visualize dreams. What other sorts of things—fiction comes to mind—can we imagine but don’t normally get to visualize?

Scott: I love telling these AIs to draw “exquisite lattice work”—using phrases like exquisite or rare—or give me “leather with gold inlay on a toaster,” and watching it move into that world and design things in seconds that aren’t perfect, but are fun.

LaFrance: We’re going to experiment, which is always dangerous. You’re never supposed to do stuff in real time. But I have some prompts for you.

Scott: This is DALL-E. There are many others. Think of it just like early web servers or early web browsers. There’s a bunch of companies with various people funding them or doing things their own way.

[Scott now leads LaFrance through a demonstration of DALL-E 2: It’s included in the video embedded above.]

Scott: We see the ability to do everything from intricate pen-and-ink drawings to cartoons. People are using it now to make all sorts of textures for video games; they are making art along a theme that they need to cover an entire wall of a coffee shop; they’re using it to illustrate their works. People are trying all sorts of things with this technology and are excited by it.

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