AI and Nude Art

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In case you missed it, computers are now creating art nudes.

But this is not a “robots are coming for our jobs” essay. When I first heard about AI-generated art nudes, I thought I was going to enjoy this latest advance in my field. I really wanted to—I’m a futuristic sci fi geek after all. But I didn’t.

To understand why requires a little bit of background on AI-generated art. I think it’s a pretty impressive achievement, but it’s important to realize that AI doesn’t magically create art from a void. The programmer has to seed it with a data set—a pile of existing art that has the traits they want the AI to learn from. Whether that’s music, visual art, or even all the chapters of Harry Potter, there’s always a starting point—and that point is introduced, however indirectly, by a person. If and when AI starts coming up with its own data sets not created by humans, I’ll start worrying about our robot overlords. Until then, not so much.

That said, this has never stopped me from enjoying this type of art before. I giggled my way through the AI-generated Harry Potter chapter. I’ve written with AI-composed music on in the background. But these art nudes bothered me. I couldn’t put my finger on why until I read one of the creator’s tweets about his art:

“The AI *always* paints heads and faces the same way; with this weird yellow/purple texture. Have no idea why, but I like it.”

He’s right, and it is kind of cool. But I found it interesting that he didn’t remark on the other color scheme that all these nudes have in common. Namely that they all have the same skin tone: very distinctly white.

On top of that, all these nudes are obviously women—they’re even referred to as such in the text, without a second thought that “nude portrait” wouldn’t immediately equate to “female nude portrait.” And then on top of that, even though these figures are surreal at best, they’re still slender. Which means that even from a computer-generated blob, you can tell that these “women” are, well, white and conforming to societal norms of feminine beauty. It bothers me that we recognize this as nude art because it’s playing off the cliché that nudes are all of skinny white girls, even when they’re deformed like melted wax.

It’s an easy mistake to make. From the results, it looks like the researcher stuck pretty closely to conventional Western art canon for the images he started with for his data set. And even without a degree in art history, you can probably guess that said canon is dominated by dead white guys, and all their biases.

That’s one of the problems with AI right now. It’s a reflection of what we put into it. And unless we are aware of our own biases, we just perpetuate them.

The problem isn’t in the tech. The problem is in how we thought to use it.

I love nude art. I feel that the strength of posing nude is the ability to show humanity in all its variety—gender, race, shape, age, etc. This set of AI generated art feels like a step backward culturally for a step forward technologically. And let me be clear, the problem isn’t in the tech itself. The tech is awesome. The problem is in how we thought to use it.

Our culture changes depending on how we depict it, and how we talk about it. It’s a conversation. And art is part of that conversation. As an artist, I firmly believe that I am responsible for the art I put out into the world and what it says. It’s my responsibility to educate myself as to the consequences of my choices, and make the best art that I can. This is one of the big reasons that I pose nude: I think it’s incredibly important to show the nude form as non-sexual. And it’s why I do my best to encourage diverse models to pose as well, because we need to normalize that too.

So yes, it’s impressive that we can now generate art with a computer. But if you want to do so, you need to realize that you aren’t just creating a piece of cool tech. You’re also an artist—welcome to the conversation. We’re finally starting to move past some really repressive norms. Let’s not reassert them for the sake of a new tool.

And before I make it sound like this is all about people creating new technology, it’s not. If you’re a photographer, or painter, and all of your subjects are young, white, skinny, conventionally pretty naked girls, it might be time to take a hard look at your art too.

But here’s the beauty about art being a conversation: we’re all learning together. We’re all bringing ideas to the table so that we can share and grow. None of this is a condemnation of us as human beings if we make a mistake. I have posed for images in the past that I now consider problematic. I learned—and I try not to fuck up in the same way a second time. I don’t hate myself for it. I just try to put better art out into the world next time.

So let’s definitely keep exploring AI-generated art. But let’s also keep the conversation going too. They’re not mutually exclusive; they can and should support each other. And we have so much more to learn. 

How to Do the Dishes: A 12 Step Program

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At first glance, doing the dishes and being a professional model don’t look like they have anything in common. One of them is a fun, fulfilling creative career. The other is endless, thankless drudgery.

I’ve also been a model for far longer than I’ve had a clean kitchen. I’m not proud of that fact, enough so that I kind of shamed myself into said endless drudgery. But after I did it, I noticed that the process of building a modeling career and getting myself to regularly tackle my personal definition of hell was actually the same. Reaching a big goal like modeling is less about hitting milestones and more about learning good habits. It’s a process, not a to do list. And at least for me, it turns out adding a new habit follows a similar pattern—call it a 12 step program—every time.

Step 1: Be really bad about ever doing the dishes. Like, college student bad. Have you ever found maggots in your sink because you left food-encrusted plates? That level of bad. (Okay, that wasn’t me. That was a friend. But I’ve been pretty damn close).

Not working on your dishes? Do you want to be a writer but never actually write anything? Or have you been saying you’ll start modeling for years?

Step 2: Get good advice. Spend way too much time researching your topic on the internet, or reading experts in the field.

Me? I go out to coffee with my crush. He tells me that his work is often long-term projects that can take upwards of a year to finish, and that sometimes they’re just the glue in the background holding things together. So he always tries to do something short term and immediate every day to improve his surroundings—even if it’s just washing the dishes or pulling weeds in the garden. Specifically, he recommends working on short (day), medium (weeks to months), and long-term goals consecutively.

Wise, right? You can see why I like him.

Step 3: Ignore said advice, and spend the next few years pursuing and growing a relationship with your crush instead. Be vaguely jealous of his adult-like, functioning kitchen with visible countertops.

Hypothetically, of course. Maybe your style is just to be distracted by other shiny goals and projects, or just by life being busy in general.

Step 4: Rationalize. Tell yourself you only have so much time, and you have to prioritize. You can do anything, but you can’t do everything. And you’re doing big things. You’re a model; you’re writing hours a day. Or you’re just successfully keeping a roof over your head. Whatever—it’s impressive. You can’t be arsed to do the dishes too.

You take comfort in the fact that your bandmate and best friend—one of the most creative and successful people you know—has dirty dishes piling up in his kitchen for exactly the same reasons. You two commiserate about how limited your resources are, and how you’re both making the best choice in using them on other things.

Step 5: The turn. You realize that you’re not getting any younger. Or you realize that if you’re going to do the thing you want, you’re going to actually have to do the thing. Whether that’s sitting down and writing the book, starting the career change, or actually cleaning your goddamn kitchen like the adult you supposedly are. Slacker.

Step 6: Start doing the thing, and get positive feedback. In this case, it meant my nesting partner was thrilled that he could actually cook regularly. And I learned that I am psychologically more comfortable and work better in a clean environment.

Step 7: Get pretty good at the thing. Put in your hours. Have spotless countertops, all the time. Revel in your awesomeness and success. Realize that you actually enjoy the process.

Step 8: Notice that you haven’t had a dirty dish disgrace your sink in weeks, or that the novel is getting written, or that your modeling career is taking off. Also notice that the rest of your life is suffering, because you made this goal your top priority to the detriment of everything else.

Step 9: Actually, if you’re being honest with yourself, you’re using the dishes (or whatever you’re working on) as a way to procrastinate. How’s the writing going, you ask? Well, your kitchen is spotless. Oops, a pot got left on the stove? Guess you can’t respond to that modeling email right now. And really, is a kitchen truly clean if the spice rack isn’t alphabetized?

Step 10: Start trying to balance things. Yes, do the dishes, but also go back to doing everything else. Sometimes leave the dishes when something else important has to be done. Acknowledge that you can only do so much, and that your spice rack will never be alphabetized. Stop being such a perfectionist, and once again start working on short, medium, and long-term goals.

You can’t always learn from other people’s wisdom—or their mistakes.

Step 11: Realize the advice from your now-boyfriend that you ignored was right all along. Sulk about it. But you also realize that you can’t always learn from other people’s wisdom—or their mistakes. You can only do the research, and maybe catch yourself earlier when you recognize you’re falling into the same pattern.

Step 12: Be proud of yourself for incorporating another habit into your life. Tell yourself you absolutely won’t make the same mistakes as you eye the next big thing…