The Future


As not enough people have noticed..

AI has made huge progress when it comes to art. A year ago AI-images were obviously computer-made; they looked off and derpy, every now and then bordering terrifying. And while there are still some things the AI struggles with (hands), most images that come out of an AI like MidJourney will fool the general and specialised public as to how it was made. The results its generating are so beautiful that every creative should feel threatened as well as intrigued. After discovering MidJourney I myself fell in a deep AI-bordered hole I need to talk about, so here we go.

First off, the process of generating art with an AI is stupidly simple. You go to the AI generator’s website, give it a prompt and it will make whatever you ask it. For the image below I used “Jazelle uglyworldwide photographed by nick knight, a new fashion series, old english house, soft light, 35mm, canon, hasselblad” which references two amazing current artists (which is very much frowned upon, more on that later), a lot of photography terms and the light and setting I wanted to achieve. In a minute you get four sketches, which you can upscale to usable images afterwards (on the right):
AI Fashion Series I sketch by Maan Limburg x MidJourney
AI Fashion Series I by Maan Limburg

It might take a couple of tries, but once you get the prompts down you can create whatever is in your mind (also more on this later). For the now-enthusiastic-creative: I use MidJourney. You can join for free and get about 25 tries for free. After that it’s about €12 per month for 200 images. I’m well on my way through those after a week. Still, totally worth it to me.

Some problems with this

But while I am amazed and in awe of these – I also have a lot of feels and thoughts about this. I am a photographer – this is my passion and livelihood – and when I see images like this I’m absolutely starting to fear for my job. Within gamedesign, advertising agencies, storyboard-illustrators and book designers you already see a loss of jobs due to this; why hire someone if it takes longer to brief that person then it does to prompt the AI? And the AI will do revisions forever without charging extra or complaining about creative ownership – contrary to most illustrators and designers. I think the next few years will especially be hard on them as the scope of commercial work within that field pretty small to begin with.

And considering MidJourney has been online for a short period of time, since march 2022, I think we can safely say that photographers and other creatives are going to feel the heat next. I envision so much customized stockphoto’s, deepfakes and in general, AI-photography to flood the market once this gets some traction. One of the MidJourney-options is to feed photo’s into the prompt, so in a year you can probably add your selfie and ask the AI to make a LinkedIn suitable image for you without a problem. Or add this image of model X plus a photo of the outfit from your brand to make a more beautiful campaign than you would normally have money for. This will cause some copyright issues, which I don’t think will even be the real problem. (Interesting to note is that MidJourney states that the he AI only references images, never uses them completely.)

The real problem

While the loss of jobs will be devastating for many artists and creators, there are also the bigger questions: What even is art? How much worth has human creation versus computer creation? How important is originality and what is originality? How will we handle this new, disruptive tool as a community of creatives? I think we really need to start focusing on our future and decide what wé think is important, and we need to start talking about it. If we don’t, AI will take our place and we will have let it.

If you think about it, AI might just turn out to be a tool like photography was in the beginning – and look where we are now. Everybody likes to take pictures but there’s still a market for specialists, people that are better at it than others. There’s more interest in and more money spent on art than ever before; never was it valued so widely as it is today. AI images will kill all of our conceptions of art, but I think the next step might be the logical next step if you look at modern art anyway: the idea ís the art.
"Passive media is dead"
"Brain with a computer interface"
The_future_is_faster Maan Limburg x MidJourney
"The future is faster"
We_humans_broke_the_planet by Maan Limburg x MidJourney
"We humans broke the planet"

Images all inspired by text from “The future is faster than you think”.

The future - how?

Quite possibly there wil be a huge future for creatives in the field of AI. I think we need artists to be visionaries, philosophers and thinkers to create this field. What images and artist you can reference, what taste you have, which artistic choices you make will be the most important tool for any artist. And that has not been that different lately. Especially in photography you see crazy amounts of repetition as it has been hard to still have an original, creative voice. As I said; what even is originality? Other than taking existing ideas, combining and building on those? True originality is hard to come by and will be more and more scarce – something you can see happening on instagram/tiktok, and definitely on the discords of MidJourney, where a lot of the creators are churning out very similar images drawing on cyberpunk, hot people, fantasy and/or whatever they’re a fan -or hater- of.

To know your own style, likes and dislikes will be more important than ever. Some creatives that are pioneering the field are Sentientmuppetfactory, Holly Herndon, Nick Knight himself with his NFT’s (which already feels old, but still) – and within all you can detect their own distinctive style. While it may not be groundbreaking to use the 70’s as a nostalgic reference, creator Beth of Sentientmuppetfactory still finds a way to really connect these very odd images to something that obviously brings feelings to a lot of people. It’s funny, scary, odd yet recognisable… And she painstakingly creates something we haven’t seen before. 

Some more issues

One thing that has been noticeable when using MidJourney is that if you don’t give the AI a skin color or certain reference, the resulting persona’s are white (Midjourney slang for the standard is Midge and Mitch). And to be more specific: a “beautiful woman” is white and has dark hair most of the time (Midge). There seems to be biases that have probably been programmed in (unwittingly?), which might define a lot of the art-to-come. Do we request transparency on the programming? Can we change the Midge if we request other skin colors enough? How do we really get ownership over the images we create in collaboration with an AI like MidJourney?

And to get back to the issue of ethics; one of the things the current MidJourney community frowns upon is the usage of currently-alive-artists to create your own prompts. It invades their livelihood, their artistic voice and can therefore disrupt their own practice. While I personally think a rule like this feels “decent”, there are still a lot of copyright questions here. How influenced can you be by someone’s style without infringing their copyright? I saw someone create a perfect Disney catalog page (Disney being notorious for copyright charges) on the discord – using that won’t go down well. But considering everyone and their mom can use AI now, is there still use for these copyright claims?

About the images I made

In my images here I used the photographer Nick Knight and model UglyWorldWide as a prompt, who to me are the epitome of creative artists. But I do feel these images are more their work than my own. Making these I realised my own style is still something different, maybe a bit more soft-spoken and visually not as strong as his yet. It was a nice reflection to use – and to build upon – in my own work. I would probably use these (as I am using them in this article) but I would also reference the artists that influenced this. And to be honest: It feels rather debatable whether creating images with other people’s work as a prompt is completely ethical.

AI Fashion Series I by Maan Limburg
AI Fashion Series X by Maan Limburg x MidJourney

To see how aware others would be I (being a photographer) tried posting an AI-made fashion series to my Instagram. All I got were “wow”’s and zero “this looks odd or fake”’s as people never noticed I didn’t pick up my camera for this. The people who follow me are usually more involved in art or photography then the general public – that’s why they follow me. So it is a bit concerning that these “specialists” didn’t notice a thing. I must admit the work I put out was hauntingly beautiful, above my skill set I would say even. I realized my ego hurt a little when it lost the battle to an AI when it came to creating beautiful imagery.

Fishes in the sky _ Maan Limburg x MidJourney
"Swimming in the sky"
Lobsterlove by Maan Limburg x MidJourney
We are (not) gods by Maan Limburg
"We are (not) gods"
Lady in blue _ Maan Limburg x MidJourney
"Lady in Blue"

Images all made by me and MidJourney, and inspired by Makoto Shinkai, Lobsters and fashion, 70’s posters and an Iranian elder lady photographed by Nick Knight.

On the topic of loss aversion

And as I was trying to talk to other creatives about the subject of AI made art, I noticed it was not something people wanted to think or talk about. And oftentimes people tell me this is “not art” and I shouldn’t post it as “I didn’t create it”. While I think there is some truth in this (I did not pick up a camera), I also feel its denial of new potential. Drawing or even visualizing has never been my strong suit – but I am a damn creative person with a huge mind-library for references. I can combine things others wouldn’t think of and I can now, more than ever, create those things oh-so-easily. I could fight this coming wave of AI-art — but I’d rather learn to surf it. So surf with me, creative people, and let’s talk about in which direction we want to head.

Email me if you’re interested! 💌


Maan Limburg x MidJourney
P.S. Interesting reads / watches:

Book: “The future is faster than you think – How Converging Technologies Are Transforming Business, Industries, and Our Lives” by Peter H. Diamandis & Steven Kotler (all the disruptive technologies that are coming in one book, go read it)

Video: “The text-to-image revolution, explained” by Vox (Thank you for the tip, Jean-Sébastien Monzani)

Video: “Who Is Midge? Midjourney Slang, Discord Tips & Other Tidbits | Midjourney Tutorial” By Future Tech Pilot (on Midjourney slang)

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