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AI: The Unlikely Muse to Inspire Your Next Creative Breakthrough

AI: The Unlikely Muse to Inspire Your Next Creative Breakthrough

Artists use AI and machine learning to create in new ways.

Featured in Technology

Sydney-based artist Chris Rodley made a unique collage out of illustrations of dinosaurs and flowers that went viral – and he created it with artificial intelligence (AI).

Surprisingly, AI is fueling a new wave of creativity as it finds its way into the workflow of artists worldwide. Chris believes the emergence of AI as an artistic tool hearkens back to the European Renaissance. “This is exciting to me because it potentially hails a return to this older model of art, where it wasn’t disconnected from craft and wasn’t disconnected from math and science,” he says.

Chris Rodley’s iconic flower dinosaur was created with art tools that use artificial intelligence. Image credited to Chris Rodley.

With the power of AI and machine learning, artists are discovering a new muse, one that inspires them to create in unique ways and discover unexplored forms of self-expression.

A surge of art tools using artificial intelligence

“I believe wholeheartedly that in five years the tools we are using now will completely be changed,” says Erik Natzke, principal artist in residence, Adobe Research. “I don’t know exactly how, but there is this evolution happening on the near horizon. In the future we will be shocked that we were still using computers the way we are today.”

AI-powered art tools are the perfect example of this coming shift. Chris’ mashup was created using DeepArt.io, an online program that uses machine learning to help artists incorporate the elements from one image into another. The free painting tool is managed by five European researchers with expertise in neuroscience and AI. Their algorithm uses a neural network — a computing system that uses layers of rules to process information.

Chris says his process is analogous to one that a film director might go through in trying to coax a good performance out of an actor. “You don’t press a button and something looks amazing,” he told Slate. “I’ve learned the quirks and the personality traits of the algorithm.”

AI-inspired creative visions come to life

Many creative professionals are already using AI to inspire new avenues in their professional work.

ESI Design, for example, created a video installation for Beacon Capital Partners. Canvas, as the installation is called, is digital art inspired by the tradition of abstract painting. Instead of hanging an abstract painting in the lobby of 515 State Street in Chicago, ESI Design installed a video screen that shows new art as it is being created from real-life interpretations of the world right outside the door.

The Canvas installation works in real time, so whenever two new moments are combined, new video compositions are created. “It uses custom software to slowly generate abstract compositions from videos of the surrounding neighborhood,” says Ed Purver, senior designer of creative technology at ESI Design. “Videos of river traffic, streets, skies, and parks are analyzed for patterns of change in the pixel values, from which we calculate motion vectors — which become brushstrokes that gently abstract the figurative video imagery into pure color and movement.”

ESI Design’s video installation, Canvas, works in real time to create digital art from videos of the surrounding neighborhood.

The learning curve of AI in art

Artist Gene Kogan says AI has a lot of potential, but there is a learning a curve. “If you’re a painter, you can start painting right away, but if you’re working with AI, and doing so artistically, there’s a lot that you have to do to get started,” he says.

Gene has developed workshops and contributed to open-source software projects focused on creating AI-assisted art to get artists up to speed. One recent offering, “Machine Learning for New Media Art,” includes technical skills training and a theoretical discussion of issues related to emerging techniques for artists. Gene also explores some of these themes in a free e-book called, “ml4a.”

As AI becomes more prevalent, the lines between art, science, and business will continue to blur. “Machine learning is really a transformative technology,” Gene says. “It’s being deployed in virtually every area of application that you can think of. AI is enabling us, and will continue to allow us to do novel things that we couldn’t do before.”

“I’m generally just excited about what tools will be like in the future,” says Erik. “I hope the creative canvas will become more of an open space of play, that surfaces new ways to create, that allow our creative journeys to be less single-track-minded.”

Read more about our future with artificial intelligence in our Human & Machine collection.

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