The Youth Lab

AI Art & Midjourney

The horizons of contemporary art are forever expanding - especially with the help of new technologies. Mainstream digital culture is rapidly and quietly being reshaped by AI (artificial intelligence) artwork and creativity. Awe-inspiring AI technologies are moving from the hands of the few into the hands of the many at pace - to delight and dismay. This week’s 52INSIGHTS explores the rise in AI image-generators like Midjourney.


AI image generators make it possible to create a visual representation of literally anything at the click of a button. Essentially many of them work in a similar way to Google - you type in a word or a few words of what you would like to see and then a generated image comes back to you immediately. It’s all about new ways of creating and co-creating art. The breakthroughs in AI machine-learning that led to the tools being possible have been in it being able to 1) understand language and 2) have the ability to create images. The results that appear on social media timelines are beautiful, uncanny and arresting.

DALL-E is an example of an image generator that took over the internet recently - it can create original, realistic images and art from a text description. It can combine concepts, attributes, and styles. Astronaut on a horse? No sweat. Alternative version of the Mona Lisa? You got it. The AI tool works by learning the relationship between images and the text used to describe them: “It uses a process called “diffusion,” which starts with a pattern of random dots and gradually alters that pattern towards an image when it recognizes specific aspects of that image.” Check out some of its creations on Instagram here - it’s the best way to get to grips with the scope of what’s possible to create. There’s also other AI generators like Stable Diffusion, Imagen by Google, Midjourney and smaller projects like Craiyon. There’s even robot artists like Ai-Da.


A new tool that’s gripping the creative-tech community is Midjourney. It is created by a research lab called Midjourney - described as “an independent research lab exploring new mediums of thought and expanding the imaginative powers of the human species.” The now open-beta testing of the AI generator is on Discord (an instant messaging social platform that allows for community hangouts) - which means that the space is flowering as a ‘co-imaginative’ space - now reaching hundreds of thousands of people. People can create themed communities to create AI art and experiment together. Here’s the ‘how to’ guide.

A lot of people ask us, why don’t you just make an iOS app that makes you a picture? …But people want to make things together, and if you do that on iOS, you have to make your own social network. And that’s pretty hard. So if you want your own social experience, Discord is really great.David Holz, Midjourney founder, The Verge

Since its launch, at THINKHOUSE we’ve been dabbling in Midjourney, and enjoying the simplicity, speed and playfulness of it. We can see the potential of it and the aesthetic influence it will have on traditional and digital marketing and advertising over the next few years. We’re excited. But we see the concerns too - particularly around artistic integrity and data-heavy tech.

Into the future, Holz predicts that within the next year or two, “you’ll be able to make content in real time: 30 frames a second, high resolution. It’ll be expensive, but it’ll be possible. Then, in 10 years, you’ll be able to buy an Xbox with a giant AI processor, and all the games are dreams… the humanistic element of that is kind of unfathomable.”


All of these text to image AI generators are causing a stir within the creative industry itself. Many creatives are worried they may be out of a job in the future because of them - the art looks human made. Artist RJ Palmer explains ‘dystopian dread’ associated concerns on Twitter: “What makes this AI different is that it's explicitly trained on current working artists. You can see below that the AI generated image(left) even tried to recreate the artist's logo of the artist it ripped off. This thing wants our jobs, its actively anti-artist.” A contentious topic here is also in the subject of copyright. Current US law says you can’t copyright AI-generated art, but it’s not certain whether people can assert copyright over images used in training data - which means that styles could be used by AI bots (who are inspired by the things people make).

Despite AI art looking human-made, AI’s like Midjourney also still have their own style - a bit whimsical, abstract, weird.. There’s also plenty of longstanding debate around bias in AI and tech. For multiple reasons many AI generators are not available for open public use yet - Google has said that Imagen isn’t suitable for this, and plans develop a new way to benchmark “social and cultural bias in future work” and test future iterations.

Elsewhere, others recognise and welcome the potential for artistic innovation and new forms of expression that exist due to these fast evolving technologies. David Holz, Midjourney founder speaks about how these tools can help stretch our imaginations and become engines for greater creativity and scope: “...we don’t think it’s really about art or making deepfakes, but — how do we expand the imaginative powers of the human species? And what does that mean? What does it mean when computers are better at visual imagination than 99 percent of humans? That doesn’t mean we will stop imagining. Cars are faster than humans, but that doesn’t mean we stopped walking. When we’re moving huge amounts of stuff over huge distances, we need engines, whether that’s airplanes or boats or cars. And we see this technology as an engine for the imagination. So it’s a very positive and humanistic thing.”


Those who can embrace the new digital realm coming, I think they’ll do very, very well…the future of art will be embracing the change rather than resisting it.”Ai-Da creator Aidan Meller, in Dazed

I think AI, as well as gaming, has changed the new, modern aesthetic enormously. What’s considered ‘cool’ has changed fast - it’s so exciting. I think there’s an enormous opportunity for (certain) brands to show up in a relevant, new, ‘cool’ way to cut through. Like all creative and tech innovations - it’ll be first-mover advantage. Where will ‘/imagine: prompt’ take your brand?Jane McDaid, Founder & Head of Creative Innovation, THINKHOUSE.

New Visual Languages & Content Creation Tools: AI is transforming the way that we think, experiment and create. It provides new visual languages of expression. It’s important to be open and curious about the world of AI creativity and all emerging forms of expression - they help you to see where visual language is going, especially through the lens of digital connection. It’s also important to consider the challenges with emerging technologies and that creativity is protected. No doubt the best artists, art directors, designers and photographers create the best AI work, but it’s still good to understand that new territories come with questions and controversy. Equally, scepticism is not going to stop the explosion of this artistic creation. How could your brand experiment with supporting creatives in this context of new visual language? Are there ways you could embrace emerging technologies to experiment with and/or advance your brand’s visual identity?