Blind Spots Abound

There are times when you can only sit back and shake your head at the antics of members of the human race. Yesterday was one of those times for me. What really made me want to jump into the fray with both feet was the idiocy began with the promotion of a friend’s book about using AI programs in art. (It’s an excellent book and I will link to it below.)

The book, An Illustrated Guide to AI Prompt Mastery: for MidJourney, DALL-E, NightCafe, Deep Dream Generator, and More by Jack Wylder, is excellent. I, along with Cedar and others, have written about our adventures with Midjourney and some of the other AI art programs. They are fun and, if you know how to refine your prompts properly, wonderful tools for creating art.

But they are tools. Something Jack makes clear from the beginning of his book. 

So flashforward to yesterday. In one of the posts on FB promoting Jack’s book, someone popped in and in full professorial tone announced that anything made using an AI wasn’t art. He ignored the comments pointing out that Jack wasn’t advocating using the programs alone. He moved the goal posts every time someone noted Jack said these programs are tools. He turned his nose up, closed his eyes and put his fingers in his ears, singing “lalalalalala” whenever pointed to the examples of how Jack used elements created by the AI programs to create a unique book cover.

You see, he was an artiste (my impression) and knew all. 

But what he ignored until it was shoved down his throat was that art and the tools utilized to make it have changed over the years. (A part of me wants to say “Duh!”) He grudgingly admitted digital art is now a thing. But even then, you could almost see him sneering as he looked down his nose at digital artists.

Gee, what does that mean for those museum exhibits that consist of only a toilet bowl or a blank canvas? What makes those things “art” and yet AI created elements not art?

The entire thread put me in mind of book covers. Once upon a time in the not to very distant past, book covers were actually created by artists. Some still are. But, especially with books first released as mmpb or tpb, all too often now, you find covers created from stock images or–gasp–elements created by AI programs. 

The latter are often more difficult to identify than those created from stock images. Why? Because the vast majority of indie authors use stock images in whole or as elements for their own covers and we tend to see the similarities. 

And that brought up the question, in my mind and (I’m sure) in others’ as well: is it only art when someone creates a book cover from an empty canvas and totally out of their imagination without using any of the tools available to them?

Or is it also art when the creator uses these tools, creates elements and manages to merge them into a whole?

I don’t know about you, but I believe both are artists in their own right. 

And that was something the person in the thread yesterday simply refused to see.

So what does this have to do with writing? A lot from the end game aspect of creating or choosing book covers. But it also comes into play with regard to the rise of AI writing programs. Then, there are the older forms of “assistance” that have been on the market for years. If you search, you can find generic book plots for sale. Basically a fill in the blank sort of thing where you add names and places to the outline and run with it.

Would using something like that make someone less of a writer than someone who simply sits down and writes a story or novel on their own?

There is no “right” answer to the question posed because so much of it depends on what the person using the AI or other “tool” puts into the creation of the art or the story. At least that’s the way I see it.

Oh, go buy Jack’s book. It is well worth the price.

Featured image created by me using Midjourney AI.

50 comments

  1. How is the tool used? Is it used to replace learning the craft, jumping from “know a picture isn’t a piece of furniture” to “I’m a Master, Bow Ye Unto Me!!!”? Is it a way to see how something works, how this element of the image/story plays with other things? Is it a way to kick-start creativity that leads to the artist/author being able to go in a new direction or get past a difficulty?

    If the tool is a prop replacing effort, then I’ve got a bit of a problem with it – in some cases. *shrug* I don’t use the tools, so I’m not really sure what to make of them and the results they produce.

    1. You’ve basically voiced my own views on it all. If it is a tool used as a tool, one used to spark creativity or to fill a void when you know an art element you need but simply can’t find, I have no problem with it. For one, you are still using your own creativity to envision the element. You have to figure out the right key words or prompts to use. You then have to refine it to the place you want it. Then you have to merge it with the rest of the elements you are using. Isn’t that what an artist does?

      I honestly have more issues with the fill in the blanks plots that are being sold. I’ve seen too many folks rely on them and simply fill in the blanks without putting any additional effort or creativity into the project.

      1. Those sound to me like a bit of a scam, actually.

        From what I’ve been reading there are a fairly small set of fundamental plots that come up constantly in myth, and most widely recognized story plots tend to line up with one or more of them.

        I almost wonder if the plot sellers are actually taking those plots, lightly scrubbing them and selling them as Unique Plots ™.

        Though at the moment, I’m digging through character arcs myself to see if I can find one that fits my thing. Her arc works and has fire to it, but right now the male lead is just not there. I have a rough idea of how he ends up, but I’m just not getting a handle on where he starts and how he gets there.

        What sort of things do you all do when you’re stuck on a character problem?

        1. Oh, they don’t sell them as unique and they are careful to tell folks to put their own “flavor” on them. But it still boils down to here is the set-up, here are the recommended scenes, now write it.

          1. Still sounds like a badgengineering of the classic story structures being sold as something else.

            It’s one thing to present that as a “here are a sampling of the most common story types.” but it seems like another to present it as a “here’s your story template I made.”

          2. That actually sounds like a decent writing exercise thing. Maybe? Says the person who apparently is never going to write. But who still intends to haunt the club.

        2. I’ve heard the suggestion to ‘interview” them. Things like:
          How did you meet other character?
          Why are you sticking around?
          Why did you choose to get involved in the first place?
          What family issues did you have to deal with growing up?
          And so on, till you find their motivation and build on that.

          (Caveat, I’ve never tried this, as I’ve yet to have that issue)

          1. Ah, I see the problem. He does not understand the whys, so I haven’t fully resolved them.

            Note this is different from the not having a good reason. This is more a case of a character not understanding their own motivations. But because he doesn’t understand why he’s doing this, I had missed that I hadn’t thought it through myself.

        3. I own(ed?) an earlier edition of this one, have found it to be an interesting take on both hero and heroine archetypes and how they interact (mostly with an eye towards romance but abstract enough to work for platonic relationships).

            1. I have never known a writer to find Master Plots useful. Not even making this observation in a writing group online has unearthed such a writer.

              Master Character Types — well, I’ve heard of two uses. One writer used them to orchestrate her characters, because they would all be the same unless she took care to make them different types, and one, to check her characters, because if she could tell the type she hadn’t made them complex enough.

              1. Ah well. They were $10 so if they manure, I’ll honor them as such :).

                I can’t remember which book it was who talked about taking crappy ideas and stirring them around to see if good ideas pop out, like that idea for turning the setup of Rambo into a romantic comedy by adding a spunky kid sister to the corrupt sheriff who decidednRambonneeds to smile (like at all, no that does not count) and her brother needs to stop being a prick.

                Probably a bad idea as is, but it feels like, with sufficient nutation could probably turn into something good. And probably embed a lot of solid “how to deal with PTSD” into a lightheaded enough package that its easier to swallow.

          1. Been reading through it, and while I don’t entirely agree with their types, that did show the missing pieces. I had him pegged as a neophyte, in reality he has an identity, he’s just begun to question if it is completely wrong. He is not a novice; rather he is a poisoned warrior, turning into a lost soul.

            And on her side, despite the way she can and will chew the scenery, her core problem is that she has, at this point, completely accepted her fate. All of her apparently dominating activity is merely to mitigate the damage. Even though she comes comes across as a boss/temptress, her core is more waif.

            So their core character arcs are actually lost soul/waif, just with a bulldozer overlay to both of them. So even though both of them have that bulldozer mode, they just can’t access it for their own needs, just for someone else.

            This is going to be fun. Now I just need to figure out all the details and other stuff that happens too.

              1. Well, it’s more a case of I hadn’t realized that’s what their types were. ‘Once set themselves up as an Aztec style god’ isn’t something I would have expected to map to a ‘damsel in distress’ archetype.

                Except the line about “The WAIF finds in this man someone as in need of rescue as she is. To win him and heal him she must become braver and more courageous.” clicked. That’s their dynamic. And that’s the unifying thread that’s been underlying all the scenes I’ve sketched with them. I’d just hadn’t known that’s what it was. Now I do and can fill in the gaps and missing pieces.

  2. This conversation has been going on in my various art groups for some time now (being digital artists, this came up a couple of years ago, as it was on our radar). There have been plenty of back and forth on it with some grudging changing of sides, sometimes back and forth. There are some excellent videos discussing pros and cons from a professional artist/photographer/videographer/etcetera person on YouTube (and a great teacher, too!) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JL2MFKUGXSI

    You can check out the rest of his channel from there. (He is also the guy behind geekatplay dot com

    And I also watched a webinar yesterday about how to write and illustrate children’s books using AI generated text and images…

    One of the things brought up was that according to US copyright law, the thing (art/writing/poetry/etc) MUST be created by a human. So, if you use AI, that you have to put your own creative spin on it, you can’t just use the Art/Writing by itself and copyright it.

    So, personally. I have yet to generate an image that matched the picture of what I was trying to create in my head using AI. I always go back to my other tools to create the image. But, I have been inspired by images (Concept art), and that is a useful tool, also.

    1. You are spot on about the copyright issue. However, since so many of us use creative commons or simply license an image and others license the same image or element, there isn’t all that much difference. The key is use these images created with Midjourney and others as elements and create something new and unique.

      As for creating something that matches what is in your mind, that is everything I try to draw. I’m no artist. That’s why something like Midjourney is so helpful–as long as you learn how to use the prompts and you aren’t worried about spending some time fixing or adapting the image in some other program.

    2. > MUST be created by a human. So, if you use AI, that you have to put your own creative spin on it, you can’t just use the Art/Writing by itself and copyright it.

      If you use Microsoft Word to write a story, you might show a poor choice in your selection of tools, but nobody would question that the output is yours. But if you used the new “Story Generator” icon in Word 2023, navigated some simple prompts, and it populated your document with a complete story you only had to tweak a bit, who’s the actual author?

      Having dealt with software licensing and intellectual property issues during my working career, I’d look at that software license agreement (generally completely unilateral) very, very carefully before using that particular feature.

  3. Pretty much any AI-generated image featuring a living creature I personally have generated either comes out drab and boring (most Stable Diffusion images, and most Midjourney images that start in the Stable Diffusion-derived “test mode”) or weird, atmospheric and irrational (classic v3 Midjourney). Stable Diffusion, with the right “styles” and prompts, is probably better at shoulder-length and chest length female portraits, but its men are kind of boring. The best compromise I’ve found so far is v3 Midjourney “remastered” using the test mode. Even so, I get fixer-uppers where I’m looking at a couple of hours of postwork to give the equines four legs and move the sword-wielders’ weapons into a better position. if I were going to use the output for book covers or promotional art, I would probably have to put them on a semi-transparent plane in Daz Studio to use as a reference while I render out something something similar, something I can composite in to make the hands and eyes look better.

    1. It took me forever to figure out how to come up with something that didn’t look like some kind of three armed, big butt mutant when it came to a person using Midjourney. It really does come down to prompts. This is where Jack’s book really helped. The image I used as the featured image this morning came from my first set of prompts using suggestions from his book. It absolutely fit what I had in mind. Is it perfect? No. And, yes, I will be doing a bit of fine-tuning on it before I use it as part of the promo. But it is closer than anything I found to date.

      That said, I have yet to get a standing human or humanoid figure that meets my needs yet. I know you can because I’ve seen them. I’m just not sure I want to put the hours in trying to learn the right prompts to do so. Shrug.

      1. I bought your friend’s book, will give it a try soon. 🙂 (Have to finish the library ebook of Elantris in 13 days! Eek!) For decent posed characters in Midj, the main requirement seems to be the will to keep demanding reseeds (circle thing button at right) until you get something that looks sort of interesting, and then throwing variations for hours as a side-task to something else. (I’m in revisions on a writing project right now, which allows a little more mental energy for digital art as a side-task.)

    2. I’m of the opinion that (except for striking single subjects) AI that is not much modified (by better hands than mine) is not great for book covers. But I do think it has a very important claim on:

      1) Blog post images (more striking than many other options)

      2) Ads. A lot of advertising consists of testing single subject striking images for buyer reactions, and the ability to produce a lot of them is valuable.

  4. Aristotle’s theory of art is that is it meant to convey experiences at a safe distance, with the moral goal of leaving the viewer better prepared to handle the real thing if they encounter it in the wild.

    I think that’s true for both art that conveys horrific experiences as well as transcendent ones. Though in the case of transcendent ones, I expect the goal is to convey them at all.

    If AI generated medium does that, then it is art enough for me.

  5. I don’t know if it’s Art-with-a-capital-A, but does it have to be? I’m thinking of trying to do the “put out a short story a month” thing next year, and if I do that, I’ll need some way to get quick covers. If I can type in “\imagine the setting of my story” and get out something that’s not perfect but is acceptable, I’m more than happy to take it, “Art” or not.

  6. Ah the Artisteicrats. Wife of a friend of man was one of those. She had gotten a degree in art afterall. I remember looking through one of her class textbooks back in the day. It showed a ballroom filled with people in tuxes and evening gowns sipping wine and watching a nude woman with paint poured on her butt being dragged around the dance floor by the ‘artist’. I remarked that the only art in that was the con…and got a 30min lecture on how I could have no opinion on art because I wasn’t properly trained and that only those credentialed few could ever venture to opine. I laughed and laughed and laughed again. 😅

  7. Art is full of tools, from the molds Rodin created for his bronzes, to the straight edge someone might employ to draw a good line. You still need a human mind to pick and choose, to evaluate the composition, and to put it all together.

    Art can even be a group effort. Copyright law recognizes joint authorship, after all.

    All of which is to say that it’s probably too soon for that gentlemen to sniff disparagingly at art created using AI elements.

  8. Do I hear an undertone in the Artiste’s whining? Something like, ‘I work hard on my Art, so Art should be hard for everybody! And they all have to do it the same way!’

  9. Actually, I’m not an artist and I’ve played around with MidJourney and it’s clear I’m no more an artist with it than I am without it. I would definitely not do the art for my own book, and I could definitely see myself using an artist who uses AI or whatever he or she wants to use.

  10. I would hand the man a lump of ochre, a lump of charcoal, and point him to the nearest cave system. HOW DARE HE use a paintbrush and then claim he makes REAL art?

    (Yes, I am more snarky than usual today, thank you for noticing…)

  11. Oh, one of those guys who complains that there’s no REAL symphonic music still being written… by defining anything written for movies, TV, or video games as being “not real music.”

    1. Hanz Zimmer and John Carpenter would be laughing at that comment if they were reading this thread. 🙂

      1. My mom was startled and awed by the wonderful classical music my husband had playing at our apartment when they came to meet our firstborn.

        ….

        It was one of the Final Fantasy symphonic albums, like this:

      2. Ennio Morricone, Bruno Nicolai (arranger/orchestrator on most of his more memorable works), John Williams, and Basil Poledouris are laughing even harder than the two synthesizer dudes, some of them from the afterlife.

        1. John Williams also writes “serious” classical music, some of which is Odd. “Three Sacred Trees” comes to mind, or the jazz-touched “Old and Lost Rivers.”

          1. Not surprised to hear that he gets weird and experimental left to his own devices (Morricone, same thing). Williams’s dad was a professor of jazz or something like that.

  12. I think dismissing AI ‘art’ leaves out a ton of people who generate images for commercial purposes.

    Concept artists already ‘photobash’ stuff together because *its fast* and they need to make 10 of them before the end of the day, not because they have a fancy artistic muse that needs expression. Having a tool that lets them select a non-important section of a piece and fill it in is only going to speed things up for them.

    However, AI is NOT good at design work. Inspiration for design, definitely. Actual ‘this fits together’, not really. Anything that moves from 2d space to 3d / physical space isn’t going to benefit from AI nearly as much.

  13. Oh, I forgot to add, I remember reading about how furious the Classical artists were at Picasso because ‘modern art’ could be produced 10x faster than intricately detailed subject painting.

    Similarly a lot of this pushback is because people are having their livelihoods threatened, not because the tool itself is an issue. ( Sad Puppies vibes here )

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