Artistic Statement for THE GODS OF AI
AI Art reveals our collective unconscious.
AI Art Reveals Our Collective Unconscious
Why use AI to create this book?
First, a (non-technical, non-expert) explanation of how AI art works:
An AI-image generator is trained on a large dataset of pictures. A user enters text - a prompt - to tell the AI what they want to create. The AI creates a new image based on the user prompt.
AI-image generators can only create based on their dataset. If I enter my name into an image generator, it cannot produce a picture of me if there are not any pictures of me in the dataset. However, if I enter a celebrity name into the generator it can produce an image of that celebrity since there are thousands of pictures of celebrities. Even concepts like “watercolor” or “cinematic” only work in prompts because the AI has learned from pictures that fit those words.
When I first began experimenting with AI-art, I did what I do with all new technology: I tried to break it. You can learn a lot about a tool by deliberately misusing it. In this case, I tried entering terms that had no clear visual. If you ask the AI for a “car, red,” it’s pretty clear what you’ll get: an image of a red car. However, what happens if you enter a quote, like “God does not play dice with the universe” or “God of language” into the prompt?
It turns out: something amazing.
See what I’m talking about in this image:
The images that this process produced were so incredible that I began using the AI-image generator as a sort of “AI Oracle.” I’d enter concepts into the generator just to see what it would do. The breakthrough entry that lead to the creation of this book was when I tried the prompt “God of Language” and received images of a glowing king rising from an open book. It made me wonder: What does this AI think the other Gods look like? Thus, this book was conceived.
While there has been discussion of AI taking the jobs of artists, this book could only have been created with AI. If I had drawn these images myself or hired an artist to do so, they would have only come from the consciousness of one artist. This book drew from the work of every artist or person who contributed an image to the AI’s dataset. Rather than coming from the consciousness of a single individual, this book came from the collective consciousness of all recorded artists. In other words: AI-art reveals our collective unconscious.
If I enter the word “faith” into an AI-image generator, it will create an image that draws from every image the word “faith” could describe. If I enter “God of Strength” into an AI-image generator, it will create a picture that draws from every image the words “God” and “Strength” could describe, and combine those concepts in unforeseen ways. Although these images might appear new, they draw from humanity’s collective visual history. In some ways, they already existed in our collective consciousness. The AI just revealed them.
For each image, I used only the title of the image as the prompt. If a section is titled “God of Sky,” the only prompt used to create that image was “God of Sky.” Nothing more. This is rare. Prompts usually include many modifiers, such as the medium of art (“pen and ink”), the artist whose style the user wants the AI to copy (“painted by Picasso”), the genre they want (“cyberpunk”), specific techniques or stylistic aspects (“shallow focus”), or even just adjectives they want to apply to the image (“cinematic, epic”). For this project, rather than dictate my choices to the AI, I gave open-ended prompts to see what it would create.
Still, these images are the result of my artistic choices. To create this book, I made between 50 and 500 images per prompt and selected around 4-6 pages worth for each section. Although the prompt was always only the title of the image, I repeatedly upscaled, remastered, and created variations of these images. This subjected the images to a process of evolution, where they improved through repeated change. The result is as much mine as any other art I’ve created.
That said, I did not personally alter these images in any way. What you see in this book is what the AI created. Even text that appears on an image is there because the AI put it there. I simply selected. Every image you see in this book is AI-created.
This technology is new. MidjourneyAI, the AI-image generator I used to create this book, only became available to the public in July 2022. This book was made between September and November 2022. Just months before, it would have been impossible to create this book.
If I had shown you these images twenty years ago and said I spent five hours creating each, you might have told me I had talent and should keep going as an artist. Instead, I spent seconds on each and created them by tapping buttons on my phone. What would have taken a year of work was accomplished in two months. AI produced more than I could include in a single book. I could have filled several.
AI will change everything. This technology will only get better. Technological progress is moving so fast that anything I write about it will be dated by the time this book is published. We’re headed towards full Star Trek Holodeck-level technology. This technology will have immense power in our society.
While we can use this power to create anything we want, there is a second approach. AI can only act on the data it is given. Initially, that data will come from humans. This makes the AI not just a portal to whatever we want to create, but also a mirror. It will reflect who we are back to ourselves.
If you have children, you know that children pick up on everything around them, including behaviors you might not have been consciously aware you were doing. When children offer this reflection, you have a choice to continue the behavior and continue teaching it to the child or change it. Likewise, AI will make us aware of our own unconscious.
None of us have the awareness of an AI, because no one can hold the complete history of human visual representation in their mind. An AI can. Not only that, it can analyze that history and produce images based on patterns we might never have noticed. To call it “artificial intelligence” is a misnomer. It is intelligence. In time, “advanced intelligence” might be a better description.
This project uses AI to visualize the Gods. Divination is a practice that extends back before recorded history. Ancient people used tea leaves, the lines in their hands, and the stars in the sky to determine the will of the Gods. They thought their Gods were “out there” in the universe. We recognize now that “the Gods” exist in our own imagination and that when we try to interpret Their signs we are looking at aspects of ourselves as much as the universe.
I’ve given each section a tarot-style interpretation, sharing what I see in the image, but I encourage you to look at them for meaning yourself. Since these images come from our collective visual history, they have a reflection for everyone. Dwell on them. See what happens.
AI is not typically thought of as a spiritual tool, yet it can be used as one. In the divination method I developed for this book, AI acts as a channel for our collective consciousness. It draws forth ideas that already exist. On some level, The Gods of AI are already how we view the Gods.
Or maybe they’re just pretty pictures? Who can say.
Enjoy the book.
- Brendon Marotta