The impenetrable hive mind of the internet is a better artist than me. It’s not a point of contention, it’s a fact. Sure, I can write, but you shouldn’t have to pay witness to the slapdash nature of my attempts at oil painting—all those atrocities lingering on a basement shelf. Even the worst AI image generators and their strange obsessions with certain wardrobes have a strange—almost disturbing—fluid quality to them that makes each attempted depiction so distinct.
Leaving the question of whether AI-generated pictures are legitimate “art,” by the wayside, the best system-produced images are more than just ways to create strange nightmare depictions of celebrities portrayed in various art styles. At the same time, it’s not enough for the digital artist to vaguely offer an impressionistic, oddly shaped “interpretation” of users’ original pictures or prompts.
There’s a middle ground amid all this crush between technology and art that even the most untrained in the arts of brush on canvas can comprehend. What can inspire us? What can intrigue us? That is what AI image generators have the capacity to do.
Most people cannot get their hands on the robust program like Dall-E, and I’m personally not willing to twiddle my thumbs until my turn finally comes up on the waitlist. Dall-E 2 does seem like a very strong contender compared to the many online versions available, though I’d be curious to see how well it does compared to the more “art-based” AI generators.
So we turn to the free AI art generators, or at least the ones that offer free trial options. To best rank each program, I gave them all the same, rather esoteric, text prompts based on some books I’ve recently read. Those books include:
Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeanette Ng
Prompt: “A man and woman stand under a pendulum sun in the heart of Arcadia.”
The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin
Prompt: “A lone mathematician stands on a dusty planet owning nothing.”
A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
Prompt: “A foreign woman struggles alone against the machinations of a cosmic empire.”
There are several image generators which require photos instead of text prompts. As much as I would like to keep it consistent, I would rather different systems rather than exclude them. For the image generating platforms that don’t allow for text prompts, I used the same image for each one:
I’m no art critic by any imagination, but at least I can tell whether AI generated art actually attempted to depict a prompt in a way that’s not derivative or that relies upon copying and replicating art found on the internet.
To be honest, I’m pleasantly surprised by some of the results from a few of the more popular free art generators. Let’s take a look, shall we?