In recent months, I’ve seen a lot of controversy over this new thing called AI generated art. Did you know there’s now a title associated with it? An AI Artist is someone who uses one of these tools to generate art. I have seen cover artists call out someone for using AI-generated artwork for a book cover, and talk about how this would put a lot of people out of business. I am fully aware that what follows might get me into some trouble with the graphic artist community. But, as I’ve never been able to keep my opinionated mouth shut, I will keep going, anyway, because this is worth discussing.
So, as I was reading about all this controversy, a Discord server of which I was a member added the MidJourney AI app. Something must have gone wrong with the setup, though, because no one in the server was able to generate any art. Needless to say, I wasn’t very impressed with it.
But then someone made headlines by winning an art contest with an AI-generated piece. I happen to be a very visual person who often falls down rabbit holes of gorgeous art image searches. Digital and hyper realistic art in particular is my weak spot. I looked at this award-winning piece, and I was stunned by how beautiful it was. And then I went looking for more.
Something like four hours later, I was adding the app to my own Discord server to try it out. That’s when I started learning a few things… Such as, MidJourney has a free trial, but is not free. And if you don’t know what you’re doing, you will never get the kind of stunning results I have seen online. I burned through my trial trying to get just two images exactly like I saw them in my dreams (I keep a dream journal, but that’s a whole other post) and it wasn’t until the last 2 iterations when it dawned on me that maybe I should take a gander at what others have done and try to emulate some of their prompts. Duh…
But, having exhausted all of my freebies, I wasn’t going to spend money on something like this. Pfft…
Except then I texted a “Merry Christmas” to my ex-boss, a self-proclaimed tech junkie, who had a paid subscription and we got to talking about MidJourney and other AI art generator tools. AI is the one place where you want the most popular thing on the market for one simple reason: The more people use it, the better it learns, and the more stunning results it returns. That’s the whole point of AI: it learns. Right now, MidJourney is the winner for high quality images, hands down.
My boss tried to generate some art for me, which came out worlds better than my own, and I realized this will never work unless I get my hands on it and try it myself. So, with the $100 I got for Chrismas, I paid for a year’s subscription on their most basic plan, and in the process of paying for it discovered another gem: it came with a commercial license on any artwork I generated. *insert jaw drop here*
Long story short, I burned through my first month’s allowance in 2 days to fill a gallery for Dawn of Ragnarok, then paid an extra $4 for a bit more so I could get my main set finished out and posted online. I regret absolutely nothing. Not. One. Thing.
Meet Farraj al Talib, faithful servant of his shansher and shensari. Like how he turned out? Check out a whole lot more here.
So let's talk about AI
What is it about this app and others like it that causes so much controversy? It seems like it comes back to the age old issue of evolving technology, and where it’s headed. It’s probably the same thing that happened when book printing became industrialized, and when eBooks flooded the market. Did those events put some people out of a job? Absolutely. So I don’t want to belittle anyone’s fears. There is legitimate concern here that AI will compete with, and in many cases win over human graphic artists. From my experiments with MidJourney, I can tell you that creating a vision of so many of my characters this close to what I’m actually imagining in my head in a matter of two days was miraculous to me. There is absolutely no way any human could ever do that volume of artwork in that amount of time, at that price. Any one of these pieces would have cost me two or three times what I paid for a year’s subscription, which would be more than fair for the quality of work, but something I could never afford.
And that right there is the flip side. Apps like MidJourney open up so many doors for so many people who would never have had a chance to realize their vision before. Just like self-publishing created opportunities for writers, and YouTube opened up the world to video content creators. AI art will give rise to new ideas, ways of thinking, and engaging with art. Everything from visualizing a long ago dream to thinking up new and amazing concepts in minutes (and soon, I imagine, seconds). To me, that is absolutely magical.
And, like any other magic, its place on the spectrum of good and evil depends on the person wielding it. I’m not going to sit here and pretend it’s all sunshine and rainbows. But I won’t cry doom and gloom, either. My thinking tends toward the practical, realistic side.
I’m an author. I am very aware of the incredible personal cost of creating something out of nothing. I’m also aware of how little value the world has always put on art of any kind (unless you’re famous already). Art, music, books–all of these things enrich our lives in so many ways that we take them for granted. To be brutally honest, I don’t think that will ever change. That is why the greatest wisdom I can share is to do it for yourself, not for others, not for fame, or money. If you have a spark of creativity in your soul, use it so you can see your vision come to life.
But don’t expect the world to shower you with riches for it. If that’s what you’re after, you’re setting yourself up for heartache and disappointment.
A tool is a tool. I look at MidJourney as it relates to graphic artists the same way I look at Canva as it relates to Photoshop. It’s another tool that democratizes creative expression. It can’t do what a human can (at least not yet). It is still limited in its function and understanding. But it’s already something that will make it easier for me to bring my worlds and my characters to life. It’ll give me a creative outlet when I feel stuck on words (which happens more often that not lately, I’m sorry to say). It might help someone visualize their favorite character, or inspire them to create their own. For that alone, I am grateful it exists.
Side Note: Yes, I’m aware that this could happen to writing, too. As a matter of fact, there is already AI in existence that can source various pieces of writing and generate something new out of it. I am no more worried about that, than I am MidJourney. It’s just another tool. And, while I’m not using it now, I can see how I could use it to get over writer’s block, or fix a particularly troublesome plot hole. I can see how someone who isn’t good at putting their words on paper could use it to write their memoir, for example. Would that potentially cost a ghost writer business? Yes. But it would give the creator an opportunity to express themselves in their own way, without someone else’s bias.
The point is, the cat is out of the bag, and there is no putting it back. Like it or not, our technology will continue to evolve, whether it’s with AI or something else. You can’t cling so hard to yesterday that tomorrow leaves you behind. The trick is to adapt, and figure out how to use the technology to make your life easier.
The invention of Photoshop did not destroy classical painters. The rise of eBooks did not put print out of business. There is still beauty, and wonder, and value in human artistic expression in all its forms. And, in my personal opinion, the world does not suffer with more ways to create them–it is enriched by them. Not everything has to be a masterpiece to hang in an upscale gallery, you know? Sometimes you just want a picture of an alien bulldog with huge lower tusks and glowing eyes in the middle of an apocalyptic street to slap on a dream journal entry so you can move on with your day.
A sample of my first foray into MidJourney. It did not go very well…