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  • Writer's pictureMac Boyle

Showing Nonsense to Robots

So, first of all, we all understand that the whole concept of AI art has problematic elements. That it may steal from actual artists, either through the computer-gremlins just plagiarizing from online image searches or by people deciding to use AI rather than hire human artists for their projects. These are things of which we do not approve, and I think I can go ahead and promise that if we do any projects requiring art (other than pre-existing medieval marginalia) that we can't do ourselves, we will hire and pay human artists.

Second, however, something I've been seeing in all the AI art discourse is people carefully designing and curating lengthy text prompts to feed to the robot gremlins in order to get exactly what they're envisioning to come out the other end. And this seems to me like it not only risks disenfranchising human artists, but it is also not allowing the gremlins to exercise their simulated creativity and produce things completely unlike what you would expect from a human artist. The fun part of AI art is giving them under-specified, completely nonsensical prompts and seeing what they do with it. It's the positive side of "Garbage In, Garbage Out". (Why yes, I did just reread Janelle Shane's You Look like a Thing and I Love You, and yes that is why I wanted to play with some AI art today.)

So, just for fun, I made a DALL·E account and started feeding our episode titles into it to see what happened. I swiftly discovered that if you didn't specify an art style, the examples were boring -- other than the fact that any text the gremlins try to include is gibberish, they generally just looked like the results of a Google Image Search. Someone has done too good a job teaching the gremlins how to make realistic, normal-looking images. So I tried each prompt with "medieval art" and "medieval marginalia", both of which seem to introduce just enough chaos to make it fun again. Then I picked my favorite.

This is probably something entertaining to nobody but me... but oh well, let's put it up anyway and see what happens. Besides, this is how I'm procrastinating from editing Part II of Egil's Saga. (I promise it will still be done in time, I just need a break.)


Episode I: "Emotional Support Chicken"

I don't know why the person riding the chicken is wearing what appear to be pajama pants and yellow boots, but it does look like they're getting the emotional support they need by cuddling with their giant bird. (I'm choosing to interpret the castle as being in the background and not, like, sprouting out of the chicken's back in a Baba Yaga homage.)

Episode II: "Who Gets Custody of the King?"

The apparent bedlam in this one is just charming. I have to assume the central figure in the blue gown (and what appears to be a demented grin) is the king, because everybody else present seems to be trying to seize him (maybe this is "custody" as in "he was taken into custody by law enforcement") but two of the other figures are also recognizably crowned, the remaining two are wearing golden headgear that may be crowns, and there are 2-3 crowns floating around in the text. There is far more confusion here than just who gets custody, I think.

Episode II Honorable Mention

I love this one, even though I cannot make any plausible connection between it and the prompt. But look at that guy being levitated into the air and exploded. Or whatever is happening. I love it.

Episode III: "The Virgin Mary Told Me to Do It"

I think the results for this one suffered from it being... kind of a plausible sentence someone might say if they were very religious. The "marginalia" ones tended to be fake text with little Virgins Mary in the corner. However. In this one the Baby Jesus is giving this "hey, whatcha gonna do?" kind of shrug and Mary looks like a Tim Burton character with a facial tic, so it made me smile.

Episode IV: "Blushing Kings and Kinky Nuns"

It would seem that DALL·E does not allow prompts containing the word "kinky". (At least, I assume that's the word being blocked.) Whoops.

Episode V: "The Liberal Art of Lycanthropy"

A very confusing image, but it does kind of look like someone being instructed in the art of lycanthropy.

Episode V Honorable Mention

Clearly a bestiary entry for the rare Doublewolf.

Episode V Honorable Mention II

Look how happy he is! What a good boy!

Episode VI: "Old Icelandic Call-Out Culture"

This one might have been too abstract, or maybe the gremlins just were able to focus on "Old Icelandic" and gloss over "Call-Out Culture". The ones with the "marginalia" prompt were all just manuscript text, and the ones with the "art" prompt all looked like medieval-ish artifacts. I picked this one because it could plausibly be a very odd níðstang.

Episode VII: "Medieval Ghostbusting Etiquette"

I'll give this to DALL·E: it 100% knows what a ghost is. Every image had the standard sheet-with-eye-holes-cut-in, Halloween-costume ghost. This one is actually the furthest from that standard the gremlins got: the ghost is kind of crammed into the bottom, is generally a bit off-model, and has what appears to be one leg and one serpent tail. I like it, though, because the guy depicted is a pretty plausible medieval ghostbuster. He's got an ambiguously priestly gown, some sort of... implement... that must be important because it's one of the only things colored in, and what is definitely a ghost trapped in a lantern. I think the incongruously neat hair and mustache add to the effect, honestly.

Episode VIII:

... was an epilogue with no title because we had to chop the Saga of Eirik the Red into three.

Episode IX: "Time Traveling Yorkshiremen"

This is actually one of the "marginalia" results. Apparently the gremlins couldn't reconcile that one, because only two of the "marginalia" ones even had text, and only one looked like it was from a manuscript. I think this one is simultaneously cute and unsettling. Little cartoon people on some sort of journey, which is nice. But something about it prods at my brain in a weird way. The sky is ominously stormy. Either those are beached ships in the background or they're walking on a very discolored body of water. What you can make out of their facial expressions doesn't seem happy. The vibe is just... off. I like it.

Episode IX Honorable Mention

What the F**K.

Episode X: "D*ck in a Box"

It seems the content policy doesn't allow naughty words even if they're partially censored. Probably because the AI would produce NSFW pictures regardless of the asterisk.


Ten episodes seems like a good place to stop. I'm going to get back to editing our next episode of Egil. Maybe I'll do more of these later.

Wait, one more thing.

Bonus: Can the Virgin Mary Be a Deer?

I also did a couple prompts from rejected episode titles while I was figuring out the best way to motivate the gremlins. This is a rejected title for Episode III, and I really liked the result.

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