The whole concept of computer art, or more accurately, ‘art created by computers’ is one that countless academic papers have been written on – and for good reason. There are a host of interesting questions – both philosophically and legally – around what the nature, value, and ultimately ownership of such work is.
Up until very recently though, art by artificial intelligence has not been… well. Very good. At least not the type that is available in an accessible way to ‘regular’ folks. However, Midjourney appears to have changed all that.
The premise is fairly simple, or at least… the machinations of using it are. You join the Midjourney Discord chat server, and tell the software what you want it to come up with. This can be anything (within reason – there are restrictions on terms like ‘sex’, and the Terms of Service prohibit the creation of images such as ‘gore’ etc). Midjourney will then generate four images based on your input, which you can then choose to vary further, or ‘upscale’ (generate a more detailed, higher resolution image).
Fair warning: These images are (almost) all pretty high resolution, and I didn’t down-size them for the purposes of demonstration. If you are on terrible Internet like me… well. You know the drill.
In the following example, I asked Midjourney to imagine: ‘President Trump screaming and on fire’, and then upscaled the results.
and what I think is my personal favourite…
In the following example, I asked Midjourney to imagine ‘a team of lawyers with gavels dispensing justice on the Internet. Freedom of speech’.
And for this one, I asked it to imagine ‘Fire in the Galley’, which is the title of a song by my band Hog Wyld (go listen and buy our album!).
I have to say that I was blown away by the results. I’ve experimented with AI image generation in the past, and it has always been awful, but Midjourney manages to produce imagery which feels like it is more than just the sum of keywords being lumped crudely together.
Of course, sometimes it works better than others. In this example, I asked Midjourney to imagine ‘a flamingo in a fez dancing in a discotheque. Disco ball‘.
Once you get by the basic features and dive into the online manual, you quickly realise that there are a lot of different parameters that you can adjust for the image manipulation, including art style, aspect ratio, and the individual weighting of terms. All of these are pretty fascinating, but so far I have been happy just plugging in words and seeing what the AI comes up with.
At this point, if you are like me, you are probably realising the potential here for the generation of artwork. In my case, I am always looking for imagery to accompany music that I make, and some of the results I’ve gotten from Midjourney are exactly the type of thing I am after.
Of course, the elephant in the room is what this means for smaller independent artists. I fairly regularly commission folks to make art for my different projects (or for my tattoos), and one of the biggest thrills with that is seeing your ideas come to life through somebody else’s interpretation of what you’ve said. Midjourney scratches a large part of that itch. However, like anything, it isn’t going to get you the perfect result if you are looking for something specific. I can see it being used as part of the creative process for ideas generation – a sort of ‘collaborative’ back and forth where you provide the initial thoughts, and Midjourney develops it further… until you land on a solid idea that you can take to an actual, human artist to realise it.
Sometimes the weirdness it spits out is good enough on its own though.
Pricing wise, there are various tiers, based on the amount of resources that you use. You get an initial free trial where you can test things out, but it’s fairly easy to burn through that (especially if you are fascinated with it, like I am). After that, it’s around 10USD per month for 200 minutes of processing time (with each ‘fast’ operation taking about 1 minute to compute), or 30USD per month for 15 hours of processing time. With the latter, you can also get unlimited operations in ‘relaxed’ mode, where each request takes about 4x that of ‘fast’ mode.
In terms of licensing, you are free to use the images generated by Midjourney for almost any use, with the exception of very large businesses, who need to pay for a commercial use license. This seems like a very fair model, though with my legal hat on, I would be curious to dig into that a bit more. What is also interesting, is that while Midjourney says that you ‘basically own all Assets you create using Midjourney’s image generation and chat services‘, the images are generated publicly by default, and in public mode, anybody can use or remix these for themselves. This is effectively a CC-BY-NC license, for the Creative Commons geeks out there – though the NonCommercial portion of the CC license does appear to be more restrictive than Midjourney’s explanation of permitted use, which means that if you wanted to use ‘your’ creations for album art which then got very successful, there could be a potential problem in there. Luckily for me, that is unlikely to ever happen.
As an example of the CC license in action though, I spotted the following images generated in Discord in response to the prompt ‘capitalism’, and liked them, so I chose to use some of my credits to upscale them.
and these interpretations of Donald Trump, painted in the style of German Artist Franz von Stuck.
and this prompt, which had a strangely personal connection to my past.
I am really impressed by Midjourney so far – more so than I expected to be. Whether or not I actually end up using any of these for anything is a different question, but also probably moot. Ultimately the process itself of exploring and creating new imagery in this way – especially with the encouragement to remix works by others in the community – is rewarding in of itself.
If you are a musician that cranks out tracks, or write regular blogs, or does anything that requires some kind of interesting, custom imagery, but you can’t afford to continually commission artists… or if you simply like experimenting with different kinds of creative…. stuff, then Midjourney is worth a look.
Here are a bunch of other creations…