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Michelangelo or Pope Julius II who deserves credit? And other thoughts on AI creations.

Image Credit – David S Hayden

David Hayden Photography

The Pope and an Artist walk into a chapel!

In 1505 Pope Julius II approached Michelangelo about painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I can only imagine how that conversation went. Michelangelo was a sculptor and did not consider himself a painter.

We all know how that story ended. In 1512 he completed one of the most important and impressive works of western art. He was well compensated for his work, although he did not think so. It is estimated Michelangelo earned from 30,000 to 40,000 ducats for his efforts which would be millions of dollars by today’s standards.

But, does Michelangelo deserve credit for this work?

This is where the rubber meets the road in the AI generation discussion as it relates to artwork.

Throughout the course of the years Michelangelo worked on the Sistine Chapel Pope Julius II had a fair amount of input. The Pope asked for larger more imposing figures, more figures of nudes and so on. While the Pope did have many suggestions, Michelangelo did have a lot of artistic freedom.

Now imagine I create an image using DALL-E 3 from Bing Chat. Like the Pope, I give the software some direction. I prompt the software with the following [Draw the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel floating upside down like a cup or bowl in a raging sea whipped up by a hurricane with stormy clouds and so on. But viewed from the top]

Image Credit DALL-E3

Like the Pope, I told the artist, in this case DALL-E 3, to create the image. So, no matter how complicated I make the instructions, DALL-E 3, Like Michaelangelo conforms to my wishes, with lots of artistic freedom.

So, who deserves credit for this piece of generated imagery? By AI Prompt Lawyer and Tech-Bro standards, I should get the credit. Now, if we take that thinking to its logical extreme, shouldn’t the Pope actually get credit (copyright) for the glorious art on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel?

Should Brides or photographers get credit for stunning wedding photos?

If I go and shoot a wedding, which I am not inclined to do, I would sit with the bride and groom, I would ask what they want, I would a get a shot list and so on. Basically, I would be told what to do. I am prompted for ideas, given instructions and artistic freedom.

Is not the process of wedding photography the same as creating an AI image? There is an input, an operator/actor/photographer, and an output. In the world of art, the operator/artist/photographer gets the credit for the creation.

And what about the wedding cake? Who gets credit for it, the bride who laid out the specifications or the baker who produced the cake.

Image Credit DALL-E3

In the upside-down world of AI the inputs get credit for the output.

I have a very simplistic view on the subject of AI creations. They are the output of the software (operator/creator).

In the creative process we have:

  • Inputs = ideas, paint, brushes, cameras, lighting, environments, sounds, flour, sugar, salt, and so on.

  • Operations = production / application of resources to achieve an end product

  • Outputs = the painting, photograph, musical score, sculpture, etc.

Therefore, from my perspective:

  • Inputs come from the environment, suggestions, prompts, others, ideas, infringed copyrighted materials, and so on. “Prompt Engineers” may be a source of inspiration, but are NOT the creators of the imagery.

  • The operators. Whomever or whatever actually performs the operations is the creator of the imagery and deserves the credit whether it is Michelangelo, a photographer, artist, DALL-E, Midjourney, or other software.

  • The output is the final creation produced by the operator.

Where does photo editing and blending fall into this scenario?

Then there needs to be the discussion of where that line is drawn. If I take a macro photo of a bee and have photoshop or other software generate a background, for what part of that image do I deserve credit?

It could be a small bee set against an AI generated storm cloud pouring rain through which the bee is flying? 90% of the work may AI generated, but it is my photograph of the bee?

How about replacing a sky or editing out a distraction? AI discussions are making my head hurt.

AI is a fine tool . . .but . . .

Don’t get me wrong. I think AI is a fine tool and has many applications. But, in my mind, using it to create a piece of work is not art we can claim as our own any more than Pope Julius II would have right to take credit for the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

By the same token, the extent to which we use AI to enhance our image is an area that has more shades of grey than an Ansel Adams masterpiece.

Coming next Sunday:

The first article in a series about the properties of light and how they apply to photography .

May the images in your mind become your inspired creations!

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