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Generative AI, Midjourney and the Renaissance Art Movement

Updated: Oct 2, 2023

When Midjourney opened it's doors for trial, thousands of creatives flexed their word muscles, giving prompts, that would generate - ethereal, high contrast imagery, much like the visuals that adorn the gaming landscape relying heavily on the technique of Chirascuro. In short, they were all like paintings. And, that too, very similar to the Baroque movement, specifically the movement just before it too, called the Renaissance art movement, whose most famous artists are - Caravaggio, Leonardo Da Vinci followed by Remembrant, who appeared almost at the end of the Renniassance movement, but cannot be put into a category for his wide variety of work influencing the next art movement of Impressionism.

A lot of talk is already out there, in vast amounts; as generative AI hits the market with new products everyday, especially for the creative industry. The news is also abuzz about how the AI was trained on existing art made by hundreds of artists before it, and how it is not fair for AI products to generate revenue without recognition and profit-sharing with those who have bedazzled the world with their creativity, that serves as fuel for all of the AI software we see today. While that's a serious problem to address, and we hope it's the one that gets addressed properly, we thought of taking a walk down the art lane of yesteryears, it may kindle curiosity and appreciation for the masters of art, whose work may now live in the algorithms of future.

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606 - 1669)

Rembrandt van Rijn was of Dutch origin and lived during the 17th century. He is one of the finest painters, a master of not only in his time, but an inspiration to many after him, including AI today. High level of drama, deep contrasts of light and shadow, and unique brush strokes define his work. He has made close to 300 paintings throughout his life and also made many self-portraits, no one painted their own image quite like Rembrandt.

Film schools, photography courses, visual arts, all of them teach about Rembrandt; and cinematographers through out the world take inspiration from his high contrast work. In commercial photography, there is even a technique named after him - the Rembrandt lighting. Below are some of his famous works!

Rembrandt Harmens van Rijn, Christ in The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, 1633, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Rembrandt, Christ in The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, 1633, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Brandgraphy blog on Rembrandt
Rembrandt, The Music Party, 1626, Oil on wood, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Oscar Claude Monet (1840 - 1926)

Monet's name is associated with water lilies like a sunflower is with the sun. Monet painted a series of 250 oil paintings from the late 1890s till his death around 1926; based on the water lily pond in his garden. The water lily series is based on views from his own garden, Monet was as passionate as a gardner as he was a painter.

He coined the word "Impressionism", a technique of painting that focused on how the light and shadows seemed at a fleeting moment, rather than symbolic or traditional story telling. It was more about how the natural scene felt in terms of colours, textures, and the atmospheric light at the hour.

Water lilies in Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny, France

Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies by Claude Monet

On the Bank of the Seine, Bennecourt, 1868, Claude Monet

Here is a link to some of Monet's works compiled in a video. Monet's brush work is identified with a vibrant color palette, a loose style of brushwork, lush, dense and as beautiful as nature itself.

In the late years, Monet produced paintings with darker colours on account of nuclear cataract in both of his eyes, and that ended a saga of paintings much before he would have wanted. Monet's work evokes romanticism, joy and a pure love for the natural world, he is established as an unparalled master of his era, and continues to inspire artists and AI softwares of today.

Raphael - Raffaello Sanzio or Raffaello Santi (1483 - 1520)

Raphael was a painter and an architect. His work was more subdued than some of the other artists of his era, his subjects have calm demeanour and a sense of grace in their body language and expressions. The lighting too, is not very high contrast, or in the spotlight effect, but rather an overall diffused, gentle pattern over the subjects.

He made frescos of the finest order, and dabbled in oil paintings.

Below is one of his best works -The School of Athens. This is a fresco in one of the four walls of the Stanza della Segnatura, where each wall was painted to depict a branch of knowledge during the Renaissance era—theology, literature, justice, and philosophy. Here is a virtual tour of the place.

The walls of Stanza della Segnatura

Heavily influenced by Leonardo Da Vinci for compositions and Pietro Perugino's exquisite style, under whom he worked for an important fresco work - Coronation of the Virgin, Raphael developed a combination of their hands.

The Madonna of the Meadow, 1506, Raphael

Raphael painted many times on wood support as a medium and also used canvas. He used a rich palette with dynamic colours to bring his paintings to life. He did not go to extremes of contrast, instead, Raphael created a more demure and diffused atmosphere in the way he exposed his characters or the background.

There are more names than one can mention in a single breath belonging to the wonderful era of Renaissance art. Today's AI tools rely heavily on these masterpieces and teach themselves the nuances and details of the way a scene can be rendered using high contrast techniques. Do try some of the AI image generators in vogue today.

We are at a cusp of how everything will fall in place, how our artists would be compensated for their contribution towards the generative image tools and how we will keep progressing on a path that blends human effort and artifical intelligence. Till then, everything is in a state of flux. Infact, in the year 2022, Mr. Allen had shared his Midjourney attempt to generate a painting to Colorado State Fair, which had a division for “digital art/digitally manipulated photography.” He won the first place.

The Midjourney image that won - Jason M. Allen via Midjourney

This made all hell loose on the debate of how unfair it was to put the work in a actual category of art. Currently we see, a growing wave of protest by artists throughout the world for training LLM on their artwork without permission, and it's a fair demand. While this may take some time to settle, we can learn a bit about the history of image generation and the incredible hard work that went into creating the artworks that exist today, by the masters of an era, who would have, may be, received AI just like us; with exciting, confusing, unpredictable emotions all at once.


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