Mechanical Exquisite Corpse: Co-Creation With AI

Cadavre exquis, otherwise known as the exquisite corpse is a collaborative drawing approach first used by surrealist artists to create bizarre and intuitive drawings. It was invented in 1925 in Paris by the surrealists Yves Tanguy, Jacques Prévert, André Breton and Marcel Duchamp. When I was thinking about my process of co-creating art using artificial intelligence or AI I thought about this method, as well as sampling (for Deep Dream).

A huge debate is taking place about the role of AI in the art making process. As a first pass, I often question which AI people are referring to because I use two tools to create images and sometimes I combine the output from both tools. Since Midjourney and other NLPs such as Dall-E are popular I will consider how these tools work to generate images. After a user enters a series of words (text prompts) the AI scrapes the Web.

Dall-E basically swaps pixels for text and was trained on 400m pairs of images with text captions that were “scraped” from the internet.

John Naughton notes how reputable publications such as the Atlantic are now using NLPs to generate images for stories. Artists are concerned about potential clients using AI to make images instead of paying artists to do it. I think it’s not as easy as some think it is. For example, this is what Midjourney generated based on a “Miles Davis” prompt:

While there are some visual elements in these images that suggest Miles Davis, they don’t really look like the musician at all. The machine (AI) can only go so far. I also tried Octavia Butler.

Again, there are visual elements in the AI’s output that suggest Octavia Butler but it required a human hand (mine) to modify the image to make it look more like Butler. I used Photoshop to modify the Midjourney image.

This brings me back to the exquisite corpse and what is possible using the outpainting feature in Dall-E 2. Outpainting extends images to create larger-scale scenes based on the image’s original visual elements, such as shadows, reflections and textures. I imported my portrait of Octavia Butler and entered a text prompt for outpainting. This is the result:

In order to create this image I jumped from Midjourney to Deep Dream Generator to Photoshop, and finally to Dall-E 2 where the AI added to the original image much like in the exquisite corpse. This is my journey into co-creating image with AI and it’s the future of digital art making… perhaps art making (and design), in general.

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Nettrice Gaskins

Nettrice Gaskins

Nettrice is a digital artist, academic, cultural critic and advocate of STEAM education.