Who did that? For the art world, it seems like such a simple question. Who wrote To Kill a Mockingbird? Who painted Starry Night? Who composed Rhapsody in Blue?

Although the question may be simple, the answer often is not! When works of art are created by teams of people, who then is the artist?

Rembrandt employed dozens of pupils and assistants in his workshop to paint backgrounds, fabrics and other 'secondary' elements. Japanese woodblock prints are often created by four different people -- one to prepare the blocks, one to design the image, one to carve a separate block for each color and one to create the final print. Sol LeWitt comes up with an idea, usually a set of simple instructions, that are then handed off to a team of assistants who actually interpret the instructions and create the painting.

Recently, a new wrinkle has further muddied the water. Assistants can now be computers. Within the last year, several new artificial intelligence (AI) packages (Midjourney, DALL-E and others) have been released to the public. These online packages convert a written description of a scene, similar to LeWitt's simple instructions, into multiple images in any number of styles. The art world isn't quite sure what to make of this new form of collaboration.

For example, Jason Allen, a video game designer, spent over 80 hours entering various words and phrases into Midjourney to create 900 images. He then selected three favorites, manipulated them with PhotoShop, ordered canvas prints and submitted them to the Colorado State Fair’s digital arts competition. Judges awarded him first place, which came with a $300 prize.

When Allen revealed online that he'd created his prize-winning art using Midjourney, his blue ribbon sparked an impassioned debate about what constitutes art. One Twitter user wrote “We’re watching the death of artistry unfold right before our eyes.”

You may be wondering what this has to do with my Photo of the Week blog. Well, I've been playing around with DALL-E and thought I would share a few images and observations.

As some of you know, I've s-l-o-w-l-y been working on a series of clay monoprints inspired by the science fiction novel Martian Chronicles -- Ray Bradbury's narrative of the exploration, conquest, destruction and abandonment of the Martian civilization. The monoprints are intended to look like satellite images created by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

I've already created a bunch of sketches for this project but was curious if DALL-E might come up with some fresh ideas.

Here's the description of a scene taken from the book that I gave to DALL-E.

“glass house lit from the inside on surface of mars as seen by a satellite”

And here's one of the resulting images:

Untitled photo

Here's a more open-ended description of a scene taken from the book that I gave to DALL-E. Note: I asked DALL-E to create the image in the style of a Bauhaus painting because it's a good match for the "coarse" nature of clay monoprints.

“bauhaus style painting charcoal and steam and green glass and neon tubes and yellow electric bulbs on surface of mars as seen by a satellite”

Untitled photo

Given these brief descriptions, I think the images are quite remarkable and certainly NOT something I would have come up with. I don't plan to use the DALL-E images themselves but they are a fun and inspiring way to tweak my imagination for the Martian Chronicles monoprints.

So I've been thinking a lot lately about the question "Who did that?" What's the smallest contribution an artist can make and still be the artist? Michelangelo had assistants to help him paint backgrounds on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. What if he just sat in a chair and yelled instructions up to them? More to the point, what if the assistants were flying DALL-E robots with paint brushes?

Given that the artist's contribution can range from almost nothing to doing everything, where would you draw the line? Are images created by DALL-E from a human's simple instructions art? Who did that? Inquiring minds want to know! ;-)

Here's the link if you would like to learn more about DALL-E or take it for a spin:


If you would like to see Jason Allen's winning image and read more about his process, here's a link to an article in Smithsonian Magazine:

Art Made With Artificial Intelligence Wins at State Fair

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