McKean has collected his Midjourney experiments in his book Prompt: Conversations with Artificial Intelligence.
Talks of AI-generated images and their impact on art and creators have been around for a while and don't seem to be dying down with more beautiful and accurate pictures produced by neural networks every day. In an interview with Palle Schmidt, artist Dave McKean discussed his experience with AI art and what he thinks it means for creators.
McKean has illustrated many works, including The Sandman, Cages, Signal to Noise, and Black Dog, and when he heard about text-to-image generators and did some research, he "fell on the floor in a sort of blind panic and thought, 'that's it, really, that's it'".
"I mean, that's just doing my job, I'm now redundant. There's absolutely no reason why any art director or company would bother to ask an illustrator to make an image when they can just type a few words into AI and come up with perfectly reasonable – actually very sophisticated – solutions to that to that problem and an infinite amount of them."
But the artist decided to explore this area further and see what it's about. He spent 12 days making Midjourney images and decided to even make a book out of it called Prompt: Conversations with Artificial Intelligence, describing AI's strengths and weaknesses, showing the readers what it could do, and recording his conversations with AI.
Despite the seemingly grim situation for some artists, McKean believes art to be a human activity and compares it to going for a walk. Yes, you could (theoretically) teleport to a place, but where's the fun in that? You should appreciate how it feels – both walking and doing art. Not just to reach the end result, but the physical effort of doing it.
"The hope in this, the thing that I sort of grab on to so that I might actually be able to carry on with my life in some way, is all the stuff that you don't see in these images. I don't see intent."
The artist concludes that while it's "lovely that people are enjoying playing around with this new tool", they are not making anything. "Creativity is interesting because a lot of mental health is about the loss of control. You feel like you can't make a difference, the world is getting on top of you and you have no volition in your life, you have no agency."
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