1. AI+Art

Machine-Assisted Creativity


“1980s photo of full body shot of a high fashion blobfish top model creature”, made with Midjourney

This unit has the following 9 components:

Due Thursday, 1/19:

Due Tuesday, 1/24:

Due Thursday, 1/26: 

Due Thursday, 2/2:


1.1. Looking Outwards #01: Machine Learning and the Arts

(45 minutes, due Thursday 1/19). A “Looking Outwards” report is a brief post that reports on a project that interests you. Your job is to browse blogs and other sources, such as those linked below, and then report on an artwork or other project that you haven’t seen before.  The point of the assignment is to deepen your familiarity with the field of new media art — and to develop your own personal research practice.

The following websites showcase more than a thousand artworks that make use of machine learning and/or ‘AI’ techniques. Please browse these websites for about 30 minutes. After viewing at least five projects, select one to feature in a Looking Outwards report.

  • MLArt.co Gallery (a collection of approximately 500 experiments curated by Emil Wallner).
  • AI Art Gallery (annual exhibitions of the NeurIPS Workshop on Machine Learning for Creativity and Design: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017)
  • Chrome Experiments: AI Collection (a showcase of experiments, commissioned by Google, that explore machine learning through pictures, drawings, language, and music).
  • CreativeApplications.net: #AI (projects tagged with #AI on a leading blog about media arts and design. To get past the paywall, use the login information provided in the #key-information channel of our Discord.)

Now:

  • Create a post in the Discord channel, #1-1-looking-outwards
  • Include an image of the project you selected.
  • Include a URL link to information about the project.
  • Write a sentence describing the project. (What is it?)
  • Write another sentence about why you found the project interesting.
  • Write a question, concern, or critical observation that you have about the project.
  • Note: If two students choose to write about the exact same project, neither student will get credit. This constraint is made to encourage you to look beyond the first page of results.


1.2. Exercise: Image-to-Image Translation with Pix2Pix

(10 minutes, due Thursday 1/19) In this brief exercise, you are asked to spend a few minutes with the Image-to-Image (Pix2Pix) online demo app by Christopher Hesse. Note that this app is from 2017, a very long time ago in AI terms, and is comparatively rudimentary. Experiment with edges2cats and, if you wish, some of the other interactive demonstrations (such as facades, edges2shoes, etc.). You are asked to:

  • Create a post in the Discord channel, #1-2-pix2pix
  • Create 2 or 3 different designs. Screenshot your work so as to show both your input and the system’s output. 
  • Embed your favorite results into the Discord post.
  • Write a reflective sentence about your experience using this tool.


1.3: Exercise: Text Synthesis with InferKit and NarrativeDevice

(10 minutes, due Thursday 1/19) In this brief exercise, you will use two different browser-based interfaces to Open AI’s GPT-3 language model in order to generate some text which intrigues you: The InferKit tool by Adam King, and the NarrativeDevice by Rodolfo Ocampo (you’ll need to register for a free token).

 

Now:

  • Experiment with one or both of these tools until you produce a text fragment that you find interesting.
  • Create a Discord post in the channel #1-3-text-synthesis-1.
  • Embed your text experiment in a Discord post. Use boldface to indicate the words which you provided as inputs to the system.
  • Also in your post, write a reflective sentence or two about your experience using these tool(s).


1.4. Exercise: Text-to-Image Synthesis with Midjourney

(60 minutes, due Tuesday, 1/24) In this exercise, you will use a machine learning system to generate some images that intrigue you. This system has (controversially) been trained on billions of images scraped from the Internet. This entertaining 10-minute Last Week Tonight video gives some good perspective.

You have been provided with access to a paid account for MidJourney, an image synthesis service. This is accessed through the Discord account of my alter ego, gorgonzola#1614. Login details for this account are available in our course Discord. NOTE: This Discord+Midjourney account is a communally shared resource for the 19 students in our class, and sharing it with you is an act of trust.

If you have issues accessing Midjourney, for whatever reason, there are several comparable alternatives. The following services all work to generate images from textual descriptions, using similar algorithms, but provide different levels of image quality, speed, user interface controls, and interestingness. Most have a free tier (that you may quickly exhaust). These include DreamStudio (which has a nice UI), HuggingFace StableDiffusion, DALL-E 2, ArtBreederCraiyonPixray Text2ImageSimpleStable, and MindsEye.

Now,

  • Read the Midjourney Quick Start Guide — most especially, the documentation on Imagine Parameters.
  • Tinker! Try experimenting with techniques like: “inspiring” an image with a seed image, using different model versions, making non-square images, etcetera.
  • Generate a half-dozen or so images, and present them in the Discord post. What you make is up to you, but I challenge you to make something that doesn’t just look like a character design plucked from DeviantArt (that’s too easy). The weirder the better. Try to work a prompt through at least 5 iterations of revision.
  • Create a Discord post in the channel #1-4-image-synthesis
  • Embed your images in the post.
  • For each image, include the text of the prompt that you used to create it.
  • Write a few sentences of reflective commentary. Were you able to ‘guide’ the system? What discoveries did you make?

Tip 1: Note that Midjourney provides some powerful commands to guide the AI. These are discussed in the documentation on “Imagine Parameters“, and include things like controlling the image aspect ratio, resolution, visual quality, inspiration source image, and (importantly) choice of AI model. Midjourney has evolved a lot: The latest model version (v4) produces high-fidelity results, but the earlier versions can make weirder stuff. Below are v1 and v4 responses to the same prompt, “chocolate chip sculpture”:

   

Tip 2: The following list additional guides may be helpful — they are packed full of practical tips. In particular, you may find it helpful to use what Kate Compton has called “seasonings” (discussed in this Twitter thread) — extra phrases and hashtags (like “trending on ArtStation” that hint and inflect the image synthesis in interesting ways.

If you feel stuck, you can browse the following Twitter accounts to see how others have done this: @weirddalle@images_ai@RiversHaveWings@advadnoun@0xCrung. If you like this work a lot, you may also wish to check out @unltd_dream_co@Somnai_dreams@thelemuet, and @aicrumb.

In using our communal Midjourney account, please adhere to the following:

    • Do not share the login details of this account with anyone.
    • Do not modify any of the account settings (password, etc.).
    • Do not use this account to connect to any other Discord servers.
    • Do not use this account to communicate with other people on Discord, harass them, etc. You must adhere to our course Code of Conduct.
    • You must adhere to the MidJourney terms of service. If you get booted off for doing bad things (like generating offensive content), it affects our whole class.
    • I’ll need to help you log in the first time by affirming that your login is kosher.
    • If you need significantly more images for your project 1.9 (below), talk to me.


1.5. Exercise: Image Outpainting with Runway.ML Infinite Image

(30 minutes, due Tuesday, 1/24). You have been provided with account details to access Runway.ML, a powerful suite of machine-learning-based artist tools. In this exercise, you are asked to use the Runway.ML “infinite image” tool to provocatively extend an image of your choice. Some possible images you could expand are:

  • One or more of your own artworks
  • One of the images you generated with Midjourney
  • A famous photograph or painting (please be thoughtful)
  • (This list is representative and not exhaustive.)
  • (Note that it’s also possible to create a composition that connects multiple images.)

Now,

  • Watch the 2-minute video above, which helpfully explains how to use the tool.
  • Make a large, high-resolution extended image. Consider making a tableau vivant.
  • Create a Discord post in the channel #1-5-outpainting, and embed your image.
  • Also embed the “original” (seed) image that you extended, so we can better understand what you did.
  • Write a few sentences of process description. What was the initial “kernel” image or images that you started from? Why did you choose this? Did you make any discoveries in your process?
  • Write a few sentences of reflective commentary. What do you appreciate about the result, and what would you change?


#1.6-Exercise: Text Generation with ChatGPT

(30 minutes, due Tuesday, 1/24). Your goal in this exercise is to develop some basic experience using ChatGPT as a writing assistant, and to probe its ability to generate surprise.

Note that ChatGPT’s guardrails can at times be stifling and take away the fun. You will need to be clever to get around them. Please read the following examples to see how the human operator guided the system:

For some more inspiration, here are some job resignation letters written in the styles of famous authors.

Now:

  • Watch the 2-minute video above, which explains how to use the tool. It’s helpful.
  • Make an account at ChatGPT: https://chat.openai.com/chat
  • Use ChatGPT to write some text that interests you. Try out a few different things; experiment. Paste the results into a Google doc in your Andrew account. Often, it helps to provide ChatGPT with a sample text that shows it what you want. Also, see the Tips below!
  • Create a Discord post in the channel #1-6-chatgpt, and embed a URL link to your Google doc. (I’m asking you to do this because Discord has a character limit for posts. I suppose, if your generated text is truly very short, you could just embed a screenshot instead. Up to you.)
  • Make sure to set the sharing status for the Google doc to publicly-viewable! Otherwise we won’t be able to see your work 🙁
  • Write a few sentences describing your process of using ChatGPT. Did you encounter a roadblock? How did you get around it?
  • Write a few sentences of reflective commentary. What do you make of this new situation we are in?
Tips for Using ChatGPT

FWIW, here are some TIPS for using ChatGPT (from Steve Nouri and Ahmad Babar):

  • Be specific and clear in your prompts. The more detailed and specific your prompts are, the more accurate ChatGPT’s responses will be.
  • Use examples. Providing ChatGPT with examples of the type of text you’re looking for can help it understand your intent and generate more relevant responses.
  • Start with a small prompt. If you’re not sure how to phrase your request, start with a small, simple prompt and gradually build up to more complex ones.
  • As with Midjourney, use control codes for more power (see below). Utilize control codes to fine-tune the output, such as specifying the number of words or the tone of the output.
  • Use context. Provide ChatGPT with context about the text you’re working on to help it generate more relevant responses.
  • To extend ChatGPT past its 4000 character memory limit, and get it to create longer content, ask: [Summarize what you said before][Continue]. It will help ChatGPT avoid losing track of the topic and keep the content fresh and relevant.
  • To get persuasive and story-telling writing, use this prompt: [Voice and style guide: Makes use of persuasive tone, making use of rhetorical questions, and storytelling to engage readers. Use metaphors, analogies and other literary devices to make points more relatable and memorable. Write in a way that is both informative and entertaining.]
  • To get clear and easy-to-understand writing, use this prompt: [Voice and style guide: Use simple language to convey complex ideas so that they are clear and easy to understand. Break down complex concepts into easy-to-understand frameworks and models. Provide actionable and practical takeaways.]
  • To get a creative and descriptive writing style, use this prompt: [Voice and style guide: Use descriptive and vivid language to create a sense of imagery and atmosphere. Use literary devices such as similes, metaphors, and personification to add depth and interest to the writing. Write in a way that is both imaginative and evocative.]
  • To get a professional and informative writing style, use this prompt: [Voice and style guide: Use a professional and informative tone. Use industry-specific language and terminology. Provide detailed and accurate information. Use statistics, research and expert opinions to back up your argument. Write in a way that is both informative and knowledgeable.]
  • To get a conversational and relatable tone, use this prompt: [Voice and style guide: Write in a conversational, relatable style as if you were explaining something to a friend. Use natural language and phrasing that a real person would use in everyday conversations.]
  • To get punchy and attention-grabbing writing, use this prompt: [Voice and style guide: Use sentence fragments and figurative language. Write as a master of brevity would. Frequently use short, pithy sentences that pack a punch.]
  • To get simple and clear language, use this prompt: [Voice and style guide: Write at a 5th grade level. Use clear and simple language, even when explaining complex topics. Bias toward short sentences. Avoid jargon and acronyms.]


#1.7: Project Proposal

(10 minutes, due Thursday, 1/26). The purpose of this assignment is to keep you on-track.

  • Read ahead to the prompt for Project 1.9, below.
  • Create a Discord post in the channel, #1-7-proposal.
  • Write just a sentence or two that describes, in broad terms, the type of book you plan to make for this project. Optionally, please free to share some early results, or a brief update about your progress on the project (if any).


#1.8: Reading Response

(30 minutes, due by Thursday, 1/26). By this point, you have experienced using AI tools a little. Below, you are provided with two short readings about AI+Art, and asked to respond in a couple of sentences.

  1. Hertzmann, Aaron. “How Photography Became An Art Form“. Aaronhertzmann.com blog, 08/29/2022. (8 minute read)
  2. Popova, Maria. “Music, Feeling, and Transcendence: Nick Cave on AI, Awe, and the Splendor of Our Human Limitations“. The Marginalian, 1/24/2019. (5 minute read)

Here, respectively, are optimistic and pessimistic takes on AI+art: Aaron Hertzmann (an imaging scientist at Adobe) suggests that, like photography, AI will lead to new art forms, and reinvigorate old ones. Nick Cave (a legendary post-punk songwriter) asserts that great art arises from the audacity to transcend human limitations, adding, “AI would have the capacity to write a good song, but not a great one. It lacks the nerve.”

Now,

  • Read the two articles above.
  • Create a Discord post, in the #1-8-reading channel.
  • Write a sentence or two describing something that stuck with you from either of the articles.
  • Write a couple of sentences of reflection on these readings. How do you reconcile these points of view? How can we make great art—not merely good art—with AI? What might “nerve” look like if you’re using (and not avoiding) AI tools?


1.9. Self-Publishing an AI-Assisted Chapbook

What We’re Doing and Why

(6-10 hours, due Thursday 2/2).  Your challenge is to use one or more of the above techniques to assist you in the (AI-assisted) creation of an illustrated chapbook, and to self-publish this book through Lulu.com, an online vendor. Why are we doing this? The aims of this project are several:

    • (Ab)using AI creatively requires a very different way of thinking. I feel you should develop an understanding of the texture and possibilities of this new medium, and that you should have the skill to guide AI systems to produce compelling cultural objects. Non-artists like this guy are using AI to make stuff that superficially ‘looks good’; as an artist, you really ought to be better than them.
    • You will need to use Adobe InDesign to layout the book, and you will need to navigate Lulu.com’s system for self-publishing. While your work with ChatGPT and Midjourney may be highly conceptual and experimental, your work with InDesign and the online digital publishing process will be bluntly practical.

Our goal is to explore the potential of these tools as assistants or prosthetics for your creativity. For this reason, you are invited/permitted to hand-edit the texts and or images that you generate, in any way you deem necessary. Some possible types of books you might create include (but are not limited to):

Nonfiction: Abecedarium (alphabet book, e.g. “A is for Apple”, etc.), Art monograph, Autobiography, Biography, Catalogue, Coffeetable Travel Book, Crafts/hobbies, Cookbook, Diary, Dictionary, Encyclopedia, Guide, History, Home and garden, Humor, Journal, Memoir, Philosophy, Prayer, Religion, Textbook, True crime, Review, Science, Self help, Sports and leisure, Travel, True crime

Fiction: Action and adventure, Alternate history, Anthology, Chick lit, Children’s, Comic book, Coming-of-age, Crime, Drama, Fairytale, Graphic novel, Historical fiction, Horror, Mystery, Paranormal romance, Picture book, Poetry, Romance, Satire, Science fiction, Suspense, Thriller, Western, Young adult

How You Will Do It

We will use the Lulu.com “Comic Book” template for InDesign. Download this template (lulu-comic-book-interior-template.indd inside the lulu-book-template-comic-book.zip folder) by navigating through this form here. Select “Comic Book” and (for books between 2-32 pages) the “saddle stitch” binding. You may print in color or black-and-white, up to you. Your book may have up to 32 pages. Here are some important pain points to note about using Lulu’s templates:

    • When you first open it, Lulu’s file templates default to having the workspace set to the locked “Template” layer—and you literally won’t be able to do or accomplish anything. This is very frustrating. Go to the Layers menu and switch your active layer to the unlocked layer called “Your Artwork”.
    • For some infuriating reason, Lulu’s template comes with all typography set to “All Caps”. This means that no matter what text you type or paste, it LOOKS LIKE THIS. Fix this by going to Window→Type&Tables→Character palette, open the Options hamburger menu in the upper right, and unclick the “All Caps” checkbox.
    • The Lulu template comes with the default font being “Open Sans”. If you don’t happen to have this font on your system, then all the text you try to display will be highlighted pink, indicating an error status (i.e. missing font). Choose a different font in the Character menu.
    • To add pages using the Pages menu, go to the Pages palette, open the tiny Options hamburger menu in the upper right, and enable “Allow Document Pages to Shuffle”.
    • I strongly suggest that you go File→DocumentSetup→Enable Facing Pages. This will help make it clear which page is on the left or right side of your book’s spreads.
    • When you export the cover, make sure you have Export As Spreads checked.
    • If you use full bleed on your book (meaning, you want ink to go all the way to the edges), make sure that your design goes past the edge of the page, and make sure you set a Bleed of 0.125 when you export the file. Otherwise, Lulu will complain that your document is the wrong size.
What are the Actual Deliverables?

(I have presented an example of these deliverables in this Discord post, on Lulu here, in PDF here, and on this page.)

Now: 

  • Be prepared to discuss a proposal for your project in class on 1/26; see #1.7: Project Proposal above.
  • Make a book with AI-generated texts and/or images, with up to 32 pages, and publish this on Lulu.com using their “comic book” printed format.
  • Create a Discord post, in the #1-9-chapbook channel.
  • Begin by providing a single sentence declaring the title of your book, and briefly describing what your book “is”.
  • Provide a screenshot of a “contact sheet” of the interior of your book, showing all of the pages. (You can do this with Preview or Acrobat.)
  • Also provide a screenshot of your favorite page(s) or spread(s) from the book.
  • Write a few sentences describing what inspired or motivated you to make this particular idea. What were you aiming for? How did your thinking evolve? Discuss your process.
  • Write a couple sentences of critical evaluation. Which specific aspects of your project do you feel proud of, and which aspects fell short of your vision?
  • Include a link to your book, published at Lulu.com. Make sure this link is working. Your book must be publicly purchasable from Lulu.com, at or very close to the cost of production.
  • Store a PDF copy of your book’s interior and cover in your CMU Google drive. In your Discord post, include links to these PDF files. Make sure these links have public viewing enabled.
  • Be prepared to present your project in a class critique on Thursday, February 2nd. To support this, print out a no-frills copy of your book before class (no need to trim it), staple it together, and bring your printed copy to class.