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Tag: art

Quoting Sir Joshua Reynolds on Borrowing in Art

This 250 year old quote seems entirely relevant to today’s debates around AI art, via Wikipedia page on Eclecticism in Art:

In the 18th century, Sir Joshua Reynolds, head of the Royal Academy of Arts in London, was one of the most influential advocates of eclecticism. In the sixth of his famous academical Discourses (1774), he wrote that the painter may use the work of the ancients as a “magazine of common property, always open to the public, whence every man has a right to take what materials he pleases” (Reynolds 1775, 26).

Referenced by Authors Alliance

Somehow this October 2023 reference to my work by Authors Alliance (who I spoke with once by Zoom and liked!) slipped through the cracks until today, so saving for the archives here:

Tim Boucher, a science fiction writer and artist, has used generative AI to create a series of nearly 100 science fiction books. He has experimented with different forms of “collaboration” with generative AI systems—from using them for ideation to using them to produce first drafts, to using them for late-stage editing. He has also used generative AI systems to produce text he uses as speech for characters in his works which are themselves AI entities. Boucher does not see his works as prototypical novels with a conventional narrative arc, but as nonlinear works with “interlocking pieces,” or “slice of life stories,” which lend themselves to the sometimes fragmented and dreamlike nature of generative AI systems’ outputs.

That’s a very stylistically accurate description of my work, I think.

And later:

Tim Boucher also uses generative AI systems to produce images that accompany his stories. While Boucher is a graphic artist himself, he has said that the time and cost involved in creating these illustrations by hand would severely limit the amount of time he could spend writing, and would make his project too cost-prohibitive.

The document overall is an interesting read and appears to have been submitted in response to the US Copyright Office public inquiry regarding Artificial Intelligence, which I also separately submitted my own response to.

Art Books

In honor of my attempts to summon the Painting Angel (which seem to have been successful), I have splurged and bought myself a few different volumes of glossy full color art books, especially from Taschen, and also Flammarion publishers. For the most part I am looking at a few French and Spanish painters working about 100 years ago, because I am very into that time period lately. There seem to be so many parallels, and 100 years ago is not very long, especially generationally speaking.

Anyway, one thing I’ve pleasantly rediscovered after lapsing in my painting practice for a few years (apart from the occasional random project), is that when you look through art books in this exploratory kind of fashion, you don’t necessarily know what you’re looking for. You have an intuition, a feeling, a kind of line work, a color mood, a way of treating painted subjects. You follow it, but then the artists show you more of the latent space, more of the hypercanvas than you knew existed before. And it broadens you. So much so, that when you get back to the canvas the next time, you’ve learned things you don’t know that you learned, and that you didn’t even really know consciously you were looking at, or looking for.

It’s a really pleasant process, and making a routine of it all makes my heart happy. It gives a new focus and intent to how I spend my time, what I look for, and the types of things I explore. Instead of just being ricocheted back and forth between stupid things on the internet that will most assuredly be gone in a hundred years.

Painting Again

I started painting again and am having a lot of fun getting back into it.

The colors look a little weird on screen as this isn’t the best photo ever, but it will do for now. This is all done with a liner brush because I lover those. I forget the size, maybe 16″ x 20″ or thereabouts. I’ve done a number of other ones since then.

I actually feel like I learned a lot about “regular” art making by using AI so much. Something about using the painting tools in this case to sort of systematically explore a certain neighborhood and adjacent areas in latent space. These paintings are also very algorithmic in the decision-making process as I go, but applied through a sort of highly organic filtering. (I don’t know if anyone else can see it, but there’s a very subtle nod to the Sorcerer in the Trois Freres cave in France.)

I tried uploading this to Dalle3 and asking it to make similar images but it really choked. It was like it fundamentally failed to see what makes this unique and interesting and turned it into just AI “churt” is a non-word that springs to mind to describe the kind of non-art that it churned out in response. It’s interesting especially because to me the line-making is very algorithmically (rules) driven, but obviously the system doesn’t think through generating images in a procedural line-by-line build up around preceding forms on a canvas. That’s not how it works at all.

Here’s a sample of what it came up with in response:

It’s not that it’s so terrible to even so terribly far off, but it missed kind of the key point of the entire method I applied: none of the lines ever intersect.

Anyway, I don’t care that much what AI thinks or doesn’t think about this work, because it’s just fun to do it, and it’s helping me to have this to concentrate on, this very practical embodied activity, drawing lines out on canvas. It doesn’t really matter if AI can do it better or faster or more, because the fun is in the sheer act of it, and having nothing and no one interpolating between me and it.

Quoting Phillip Toledano on AI Art

By way of Washington Post, reporting by Yan Wu:

As these examples show, creative professionals might still have an advantage in the world of AI art. Aesthetic taste, culture and skills honed over years can substantially influence the quality of AI-generated images. “If AI is not for you, that’s fine. But shouting about it is like shouting at the sea,” Toledano said. “It’s here. Be curious.”

Press Release on Copyright Office Gen AI Inquiry

Just wanted to capture here the text of my latest press release (written with help from Claude 2) regarding my submission to the US Copyright Office and Canadian government’s public consultations on generative AI and copyright.


“AI Is My Paintbrush, I’m Still the Artist” – Copyright Offices Hear from AI Artist Tim Boucher

AI artist Tim Boucher urges US & Canadian Copyright Offices to offer artists the same copyright protections for AI-assisted works as those made in any other medium.

CANADA –

Notable Canadian sci-fi author and generative AI artist Tim Boucher has submitted his perspective as an expert practitioner to both the US Copyright Office and the Canadian Intellectual Property Office’s public consultations on copyright and Artificial Intelligence. His submission is part of a larger group of Artists Using Generative AI sending in statements about their work with AI.

Boucher, known for using AI tools to create over 100 illustrated viral mini-novels, was one of the artists who recently helped draft an open letter to the US Congress advocating for inclusion of artists in high-level AI policy discussions. He also made headlines for independently proposing a radical “Digital Terms of Service for AI Providers” to the Canadian government, articulating a rights-based framework aimed at proactively protecting Canadians from potential harms of AI systems, which garnered interest from federal ministers and political parties alike.

Boucher is now building on those efforts by submitting his in-depth take on AI and copyright to the US and Canadian copyright offices. In his new submission, Boucher argues that artists play an indispensable role in pioneering innovative uses of new technologies like AI. He believes artists should have the same copyright protections over their AI-assisted creations as they would with any other medium.

“Artists stand at the forefront of technical progress, exploring new tools first, finding their best uses, and pushing the cutting edge even further beyond what their developers imagined,” Boucher stated. “If we deny artists like me protections over our art that incorporates AI, we risk stifling innovation and suppressing a potential AI Art Renaissance before it has had a chance to take flight.”

Boucher proposes the novel concept of an “hypercanvas” where generative art exists in a higher-dimensional space, with each AI prompt and output being a “brushstroke” on this bigger canvas. He suggests thinking in terms of this larger holistic unified creative work unfolding on the hypercanvas, not just the individual fractured outputs of AI generators when evaluating these issues.

The submission identifies the importance of artists being able to analyze and compare past creative works to create new ones, including using AI. It states that using copyrighted works to train AI systems should generally be considered fair use and transformative (as they do not seek to reproduce the original works, but to build something new), and this principle should be clearly affirmed to reduce legal uncertainties for artists and technologists.

Overall, Boucher makes an impassioned case that artists should have the same incentives and protections to create using AI tools as with any other medium. As he puts it, “AI is my paintbrush, I’m still the artist. My AI art comes from my vision, my life as an artist, and is part of my ongoing creative efforts like anything else. AI is simply one tool of many that I use to express myself; AI is not the creator, I am. I want our authorship to be fully recognized and protected.”

Boucher also calls for greater transparency from AI companies regarding the copyright status of generated outputs, which is currently cloudy. He additionally supports the creation of high quality sustainable training data sets for AI, with clear compensation schemes for contributors of all types, not just artists. His balanced proposals aim to maintain artistic freedoms while respecting rights as AI becomes ever more entwined with the Arts.

The full submission document is available on his website at timboucher.ca.


End note:

And here’s a meme I made in Dalle3 in support of this, though I could not get the text to come out correctly, so had to do that in Photoshop.

I don’t necessarily think all art is effectively equal (some is good to my tastes, some is less good), but I do think that all Arts (capital A) and all art forms are at root equal, including those that make use of AI. It’s then up to the artist to determine what to do with it.

Less is More in More’s Utopia

In working backwards through classics of Utopian literature, especially satires, I started with Erewhon (enjoyed it), did Gulliver’s Travels (LOVED it!), and now onto a collection called Three Early Modern Utopias put out by Oxford Classics (which does excellent print editions if you’re looking for old books).

Almost finished with Thomas More’s Book One of Utopia. I have to admit, that first book is extremely slow and boring. And we don’t even get the punchy Effect of capitalizing Nouns we get in Swift. It’s just like weird archaic language with basically no story, leading up to discussion of the actual (not actual) island called Utopia. The first book is kind of a Mirrors for Princes genre-piece. Honestly, I was expecting both Erewhon and Gulliver to be boring like this, but they totally weren’t (at least not after the narrator arrives in Erewhon proper, it’s a little slow up to that).

Anyway, there’s a lot to probably say about this book, so I started skimming Wikipedia to help ground me in what the hell is actually being said as I finish up Book One.

“There is no private property on Utopia, with goods being stored in warehouses and people requesting what they need. There are also no locks on the doors of the houses, and the houses are rotated between the citizens every ten years.”

This business about requesting what they need from warehouses strikes me as weirdly similar to modern-day use of Amazon to fulfill one’s daily needs. Now, okay, we still “own” the goods we get in exchange for money, but there’s something here. If only of a thematic, sci-fi connecting tangent…

For the past few years in my writing, I’ve on and off again visited a possible (probable) future where climate catastrophe is global, national governments tumble, and a few “brave” (dystopian) corporations step in to pick up the pieces. These become the “Four Providers,” as I’ve called them. In a sort of neo-feudalism, people are pledged to one or another Provider, or they may be a classless class apart, the “Without Providers,” who are denied basic services, and must make their own way in an increasingly hostile climate and society.

These Providers, for the most part, are sentient or quasi-sentient general artificial super-intelligences. I haven’t settled on any final name for them, calling them sometimes Sages (depending on their aligment), sometimes Princeps, and other times other things. Though they range from malevolent/chaotic to friendly and beneficial (for the most part) to humans, they in effect play the part of super-intelligent philosopher kings, or medieval princes of enclaved city-states, or collections of city-states. Though some places may also be mixed polities, where those covered by different Providers live and interact with one another.

More’s Utopia, of course, is not that. But it is many other interesting things, some good-sounding and some bad-sounding. Some other Wikipedia quotes:

Agriculture provides the most important occupation on the island. Every person is taught it and must live in the countryside, farming for two years at a time, with women doing the same work as men. Parallel to this, every citizen must learn at least one of the other essential trades: weaving (mainly done by the women), carpentry, metalsmithing and masonry. There is deliberate simplicity about these trades; for instance, all people wear the same types of simple clothes and there are no dressmakers making fine apparel. All able-bodied citizens must work; thus unemployment is eradicated, and the length of the working day can be minimized: the people only have to work six hours a day (although many willingly work for longer). More does allow scholars in his society to become the ruling officials or priests, people picked during their primary education for their ability to learn. All other citizens, however, are encouraged to apply themselves to learning in their leisure time.

Slavery is a feature of Utopian life and it is reported that every household has two slaves. The slaves are either from other countries (prisoners of war, people condemned to die, or poor people) or are the Utopian criminals. These criminals are weighed down with chains made out of gold. The gold is part of the community wealth of the country, and fettering criminals with it or using it for shameful things like chamber pots gives the citizens a healthy dislike of it. It also makes it difficult to steal as it is in plain view. The wealth, though, is of little importance and is only good for buying commodities from foreign nations or bribing these nations to fight each other. Slaves are periodically released for good behaviour. Jewels are worn by children, who finally give them up as they mature.

Other significant innovations of Utopia include: a welfare state with free hospitals, euthanasia permissible by the state, priests being allowed to marry, divorce permitted, premarital sex punished by a lifetime of enforced celibacy and adultery being punished by enslavement. Meals are taken in community dining halls and the job of feeding the population is given to a different household in turn. Although all are fed the same, Raphael explains that the old and the administrators are given the best of the food. Travel on the island is only permitted with an internal passport and any people found without a passport are, on a first occasion, returned in disgrace, but after a second offence they are placed in slavery. In addition, there are no lawyers and the law is made deliberately simple, as all should understand it and not leave people in any doubt of what is right and wrong.

That last piece sounds almost like Swift’s talking horses, Houyhnhnms, who are highly rational creatures, so much so that he wishes he could stay with them, and when banished, is hard-pressed to re-adjust to the grossness of human society which he’d learned to hate. I believe he says something to the effect that they are governed by “reason alone” and as a consequence have no need for anything other than very simple laws. With the unlikely idea, obviously, that reason when employed by differing parties (with different interests and contexts) will always operate toward the same ends. Anyone who has lived anywhere on actual-not-fictional-planet-earth knows that is not the case.

And that, of course, is the “fun” of Utopian literature. Being able to bend & blend reality and imagination like that. Utopian lit is 100% hyperreal. It opens up an imaginal space which almost seems like it could become a real space in certain times & circumstances. We want to believe it could be true, even if – and possibly because – so much of it is so absurd. It’s part of why I’ve recently started feeling (for whatever my feelings are worth or not worth) that satire, especially, is one of the highest forms of art.

Maybe/probably that’s just something that satirists tend to end up thinking about themselves, because you have to be kind of an asshole to be a satirist in the first place. But I also think like, there’s no kind of commentary you can make with a serious face that ends up – for my money, anyway – being as powerful as the cutting kind that accompanies satire. And there is no kind of true expression that you might find in non-satirical art that is quite as True-Capital-T as that which you find between the tongue and the cheek of satire. In the liminal space of satire can be great power, great pain, great beauty, and great despair, all in the same moment.

Which makes this bit from the Wikipedia interesting about More’s flirtations with Utopian socialism:

“Book two has Hythloday tell his interlocutors about Utopia, where he has lived for five years, with the aim of convincing them about its superior state of affairs. Utopia turns out to be a socialist state. Interpretations about this important part of the book vary. Gilbert notes that while some experts believe that More supports socialism, others believe that he shows how socialism is impractical. The former would argue that More used book two to show how socialism would work in practice. Individual cities are run by privately elected princes and families are made up of ten to sixteen adults living in a single household. It is unknown if More truly believed in socialism, or if he printed Utopia as a way to show that true socialism was impractical (Gilbert). More printed many writings involving socialism, some seemingly in defense of the practices, and others seemingly scathing satires against it. Some scholars believe that More uses this structure to show the perspective of something as an idea against something put into practice. Hythloday describes the city as perfect and ideal. He believes the society thrives and is perfect. As such, he is used to represent the more fanatic socialists and radical reformists of his day. When More arrives he describes the social and cultural norms put into practice, citing a city thriving and idealistic. While some believe this is More’s ideal society, some believe the book’s title, which translates to “Nowhere” from Greek, is a way to describe that the practices used in Utopia are impractical and could not be used in a modern world successfully (Gilbert). Either way, Utopia has become one of the most talked about works both in defense of socialism and against it.”

I don’t especially have a horse in this race, though after becoming a Canadian citizen, can see that socialized medicine is “actually pretty cool if you think about it.” It sort of takes away the essential terrible existential fear of financial ruin over health problems many/most live with in the United States (and elsewhere). If you need help, you just have to call, basically. But if Quebec’s health system is indicative of the whole, you have to then wait a very very long time. So that part sucks. Like anything, you can make arguments for and against it. And I think that in a nutshell (to make arguments for and against and to lampoon both), is the purpose of utopias, satires, and especially Utopian satires as a genre, like I’m attempting to do myself after that grand style in Conspiratopia.

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