Feature Friday inaugural edition

I am starting up a new but old regular weekly post for the blog: Feature Fridays. This will be a bit of looking back at the previous week here and also on my fellow artists’ blogs and picking out which post I liked best for the previous week, and to drop the occasional hint on upcoming ideas I plan to draw or paint. I keep a little Nikon CoolPix digicam in my purse now, so I can snap photos when I come across something that I want to paint. Given my notorious lack of photography skills, most of my snapshots will very much look like snapshots on an old, cheap digicam, but every once in a while the stars line up just right and I can get a decent photograph. Normally though, I have a snapshot that needs all kinds of cropping and tweaking or it needs to just stay on my computer and not let anyone see it. Even out of focus photos can give me a good enough idea of how the shapes and shadows fall to draw or paint … and I am sure some of y’all have heard my personal joke about learning to draw and paint because that is actually faster and often easier than getting a good photo.

That is actually a great segue into the first link: Steven over at Backyard Image wrote an interesting post where he shows how he sometimes uses his software filters to improve his photos. Steven does a lot of fancy fine art photos, and there is no doubt he can wield his camera the way I wield a charcoal pencil, but as I confess in his comment section, there is a part of me that wants to grab a mahlstick or drawing bridge and smack his cursor away from such things. Then Bob from Carolina Footprints chimed in about how some people use software to create their art, and call it AI-generated. Since Bob opened that can of worms, I posted a short opinion about how art is communication and I have never had a meaningful conversation with a computer or software program (this excludes me cussing at a program), but it probably needs fleshing out because I don’t intend to hijack Steven’s comment section.

First of all, I do need to draw a line between photogs like Steven using various filters and editing out things in a photo editor and these so-call artificial “intelligence” programs that will spit out an image given certain inputs. This is not an intelligence at work – it is just a complex set of protocols the program runs to get its result. The computer doesn’t sit here and “decide” what color palette to use, it uses an algorithm to determine what fits the given input parameters and executes accordingly. Most of all, the program is not trying to communicate anything by running through its protocols. It is just running its program when all is said and done. Said program may be significantly more complex than the simple basic programs we used to type into the display models at the store (10 PRINT “whatever” 20 GOTO 10) but it is still a computer running through its lines of code to apply the parameters and commands.

The bottom line here is I don’t believe there is an intelligence in AI generated images, so I don’t see them as art but the results of a computer running its program. Now, if an artist is feeling uninspired, or maybe has too many ideas, or perhaps just wants to see what a program can do with certain inputs, then takes the result and tweaks it or applies filters or uses it as a basis for something worked by hand, that’s another story. I could boil all these keystrokes down to a simple criteria: to be art it needs to be the product of a human who wants to visually communicate.

So now I circle back to Steven and his photo editing. I know on the intellectual level that he is just using a different tool to achieve the same thing I do with my art tools … but the nonrational side of me is still feeling a bit …. threatened, I suppose you could call it. It took me years and many notebooks and sketchbooks and doodle pads and napkins and the backs of paper placemats over my lifetime to be able to do the charcoal sketch of a monarch butterfly that kicked off this blog conversation. I have little doubt Steven has spent many years and many versions of cameras (including film, which was not cheap) to get to the point where he can get such a great photo of a monarch butterfly, but then he just needs a filter to apply to it to make it look like mine, whereas I would need to learn all the little tricks of a camera and then the plants to attract the butterfly, and a way to keep the outdoor cats from trying to catch said butterfly … or I can do my own version of cheating, go to Pixabay or other stock photo site, and apply my own filters and learn to manipulate photos.

And the penny just dropped, right now as I was typing out the previous paragraph. Call it stream-of-consciousness journaling or whatever, but just like that the feeling is resolved. In his reply to my initial comment on that post, he mentions how the rise of the free stock photo site has put a serious crimp on photographers’ market for stock photos, and concern the same may happen to the hand-created artwork market is the most-likely reason I feel such unease when I first read Steven’s post. I’ve not been out the past two years trying to sell my art to the public much, but in the back of my mind there is the avatar of the Difficult Customer asking, “Why should I pay that much when I can get a photo from the internet and run it through Photoshop and have something better?” Oh, I have a specific face in mind with a specific voice, but I shouldn’t bust anyone out even if s/he probably doesn’t read my blog.

Obviously, I found Steven’s post very thought-provoking, which is what a good blog post should do. He posted a couple other topics this past week, but that is the post that sticks with me and therefore deserves to be shared. Some other notable posts from my blogreader list:

  • Bob Decker of Carolina Footprints wrote a rather detailed description of one of his local wildlife areas where he loves to get his nature photos, the Theodore Roosevelt State Nature Area, Pine Knoll Shores, North Carolina. He even gives specific directions on how to get to both trails open to the public. If you are in that area, or planning a trip to there, this post is an excellent introduction and travel aid. I really love the tricolor heron photo where the bird is casually preening.
  • Sharon Popek has not blogged for a while, but breaks her silence to share photos of her visit to Chicago. While I am content to stay here at the dead end of my little dirt road, if picturesque cityscape photos are your vibe, then she posted some good ones. I like the colors in the sunset one.
  • Speaking of cityscape photos, Jim Hughes was setting up for photos of downtown Minneapolis when a bicyclist rode into his frame … and ended up being the focus of that series, instead of the clouds. That cyclist looks very similar not only to an affable gentleman in my old neighborhood up in Clarksville, Tennessee but also I am pretty sure I have seen a kindred spirit on a three-wheeled cycle around this corner of the county here in rural Florida.
  • Judith at Artistcoveries wrote a very introspective post about a tendency she has noticed in herself, and explores the motives behind her self-sabotaging tendency in both her art and her blog posts. I guess you could say this was a secondary influence on my current post (that you are currently reading). Sometimes you just have to untangle your mixed feelings and mixed motivations, and some of us feel a need to do it publicly, in hopes perhaps it might help someone else.

Since this IS a visual art blog, I probably ought to include at least one image. Remember several paragraphs ago I mentioned I now carry a little digicam in my purse? That came in handy yesterday when I was waiting for my feed order and noticed these gorgeous purple flowers blooming on either side of the local feed store’s entrance. No editing of these photos except cropping out a little extraneous stuff in the frame, so these turned out rather accurate on color (I took about five or six snapshots). These will be painted at some point this year, and I have just the perfect shade of purple in watercolor, acrylic, AND oil paint!

a photo for future painting – I love the shades of purple and green together!

6 thoughts on “Feature Friday inaugural edition

  1. Katrina, I worked in software for a lot of years – “10 PRINT “whatever” 20 GOTO 10” is exactly where I started, back in the 70s. I’d say you have “Artificial Intelligence” pretty well figured out 🙂 It’s 99.9% marketing hype and it’s becoming a comic meme in the photography industry.

    Today’s definition of AI is “a program doing something that used to seem hard”.

    You’re right, it’s all about communicating something – and software has nothing to say.

    1. I had to wait until the mid 80s and the Atari 800 due to being too young prior to that, but Basic is Basic. I was tempted to reference the movies Short Circuit and even 2001 A Space Odyssey, but cut that bit out because it seemed a bit of a tangent. The memorable line from Short Circuit was, “It’s a computer – it just runs programs.” I certainly agree about the ridiculous level of hype regarding these complex programs (I refuse to call them actual AI, as you may have noticed).

  2. Very interesting analysis, Katrina, and I can certainly see where you are coming from. And thanks again for referencing my original article. It never crossed my mind that my 15-minute drawing of a butterfly would cause you such consternation, but you did explain the feelings pretty well in this article. I also remember the 10 Print etc. Mine was what was called a BBC computer as the UK TV channel helped design it for some reason.
    Nice comment from Jim about these applications making hard things seem easier – that is certainly true. Sky replacement is a case in point – used to take hours to get right, now it is pretty good in 5 minutes.
    And a great idea to talk about interesting blogs you have seen in the week as well. I’ll have to think about that approach.
    So, to conclude – excellent analysis of your feelings and thoughts about this tricky subject!

    1. Your bit with the butterfly didn’t start it – this has been moving around my brain just under the surface, with the occasional dorsal fin and accompanying two-note theme breaking above from time to time (to reference another oldish movie). Typing all that out in long form did accomplish a good thing, in I was able to pin down the why behind the unease.

  3. Don’t get me wrong – software has made great progress and is doing so many new and useful things. We just don’t need to call it “AI” – that just gets people confused.

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