Creativity AIn’t the issue

I tried to use generative AI in my last designs, both for the auroch and for the wild boar. First I tried the AI that is supplied with the latest version of Photoshop. Since I am paying for that, I might as well use it. Then I tried to use Stable Diffusion because it is free. And after that, there is no way in hell I will pay for Midjourney, even if I could afford it.

I won’t post the pictures I got here, the internet does not need more AI-generated crap to pollute it. Suffice it to say, that whilst some results looked at least somewhat interesting, most were total crap and none were useable for my purposes. Right from the outset, I found out that the AI does not actually contribute anything to my work at all.

I am one of those people who has some trouble visualizing things in their mind. Especially human faces. I would be completely incapable of drawing the face of even the most beloved person in my life. That might sound odd for someone who doodled all the time and who used to be sufficiently good at drawing to get into art school where part of the entrance examination was drawing a Goethe bust, but that is the way it is. I generally need some kind of template to get started. However, as I found out with the AI, my inability to form a clear visual picture in my mind does not mean that I start without a clue as to how the result shall look. And that is where I clashed with the AI and lost.

I got plenty of two-headed or six-legged animals, plenty of zebu or bison-like animals instead of aurochs, and a lot of domesticated pig lookalikes instead of wild boars. The pose of the animal was never right, no matter what prompts I used. Even after I wrote “auroch running from left to right” I got a picture of what looked like a pair of six-legged water buffaloes running from right to left. At one time the Photoshop AI even deleted one of three generated pictures because the prompt “auroch bull charging” somehow triggered its anti-porn filter or something.

After a few days of faffing around, I found out that my old process – which I described in my previous post – is actually the better way to go. Because despite my poor visualization skills, I still have a pretty good idea about what I want to achieve and what the end result should look like. The AI did not help with that in any way. I only wanted it to generate the picture to get started, and I haven’t got even that. I had zero control over what came out of it. It was a game of chance and I never enjoyed those.

No doubt that with a lot of work and a supply of carefully selected images to train the AI myself, I might get some useable results, but I also got those with a simple Google photo search and making a biro sketch in a few minutes. And once I had the sketch, once I got started, I built on that.

I do not consider generative AI to be completely useless but if it is creative, to me it was a hindrance, not a plus. Sure, I used it to generate dozens of somewhat unique pictures, but despite me being the one giving the prompts, I was in no meaningful way the one who actually created the result.

The results were pictorial ends to a game of Chinese whispers. Sometimes amusing, sometimes interesting, but always widely off the mark.


  1. sonofrojblake says

    I’m amazed at the hype, from my limited time interacting with these image generation things.

    25 years ago I was in Cornwall, England, intending to view the total eclipse (don’t ask). While staying in the delightful town of St. Ives, I saw in the window of a local shop a painting that has haunted me since. Against a dark background, in metallic blues and greens, two men were… fighting? Dancing? The one on the left was large, heavily built, and loomed forward with his hands down by his sides, all his weight on his bent front leg, his back leg straight. What you could make out of his expression was severe, frowning. The man on the right was slight, and falling back from the chap before him onto a bent back leg, his arms splayed out low and wide. His facial expression seemed perhaps frightened, perhaps happy -- was the smile a nervous one? I took a photo which I have since lost. I have tried to sketch it but my artistic talents would fit in a matchbox if you didn’t take the matches out… then filled the box with concrete. I’ve been back to St. Ives to try to find the shop, but failed.
    When AI came along I was interested. Whatever else I can’t do, I can string words together. I figured I’d be able to at least get close to a reproduction of the thing by describing it like I have above, then attempting to refine the results to match my memory.
    My experience was that convincing it that there were just two men, that they had just the two legs each, and the words “blue” and “green” do not mean “yellow” or “purple” was more effort than I was prepared to put in. It amazed me how poor the results were, even after hours of wrangling. My conclusion was that if anyone is being put out of work by these things, they were probably stealing a living.
    A post-script -- it has occurred to me that on the six-degrees-of-separation theory, I’m no more than six mutual acquaintances away from whomever bought that painting. Assuming that in the intervening quarter century it has not been destroyed, it’s out there, somewhere. I would pay the owner a significant sum for it -- hell, I’d pay the owner a significant sum just for a good quality PHOTO of it. And yet, right now, I have no idea how to go about tracking that person down. Any ideas gratefully received.

  2. says

    I can’t draw to save my life.I think it has something to do with that idea of a “mind’s eye”. I was really stunned to hear that some people actually see things in their mind. I don’t, much. I actually have no clue, because we cannot adequately communicate what is in our minds. For me it’s more like a blurry picture. I have a vague idea what @sonofrojblake described, but if I tried to zoom in on details, it just wouldn’t work. I have a really hard time translating from verbal information to visual. If instructions are only verbal, it often takes me two or three turns to figure out what they mean and then it seems obvious. Seems like I was AI before it became a thing. I have accepted this. It’s not like I don’t have any creative outlets. I can’t draw, I can’t sing. I could spend a lot of time and probably money on making progress in either area, but why do that with a flat learning curve, when I can do so many things with a steep one?
    Coming back to AI, somebody joked that the rules for spotting AI are pretty similar to those of spotting fairies: Right amount of fingers? Do they cast a shadow in the right direction? Does the age of the different body parts match up?
    These large language models (because no, there is no intelligence as we define it) do come with a ton of issues. The fact that they simply steal everybody’s work is one of them. The other one is that they consume increasing amounts of energy with little to show for. And don’t get me started on the issues they’re causing in education…

  3. says

    @Giliell I unstuck your comment. It was the name of sonofrojblake that did it, his nym unfortunately contains in itself the whole nym of a banned person.

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