Unraveling The AI-Generated Spiral Art Phenomenon

BY Keisha Oleaga

September 18, 2023

This past weekend, a new kind of artwork made waves across the Internet: AI-generated spiral art. On Sunday, a Reddit user, “Ugleh”, introduced a captivating image of a medieval spiral-shaped village, meticulously crafted using AI technology Stable Diffusion, paired with ControlNet. This geometric artwork quickly spread like wildfire across social media, prompting a whirlwind of reactions from enthusiasts, skeptics, and renowned artists alike.

Breaking the internet

Almost instantly the post went viral on X (formely Twitter) surpassing eight million views, thousands of retweets, and initiating a trend of other artists creating their own version of the spiral phenomenon. What made Ugleh’s creation stand out? Some could say its geometric intricacies struck a chord with many or the mere quality of the art itself surpassed what we have currently seen be done with AI.

AI artist Kali Yuga commented: “Honestly, I’ve seen a lot of AI-generated art, I’ve been in this field for a long time, and this is one of the most amazing works I’ve ever seen. You have done an outstanding job.” It wasn’t long before recognized names like Beeple and Jack Butcher offered their spin on the trend, underlining its massive appeal.

But as with every overnight trend or viral movement, it faced its share of skepticism. While some users expressed their gravitation and awe around the artwork, others perceived it as just another passing fad or a bigger reason for us to further fear or avoid AI. Yet, precisely this alien touch, this departure from conventional norms, may have fanned the flames of fascination.

A Changing Perception of AI Art

For a long time, AI-generated art has faced its share of critics. Often dismissed as lacking the ‘soul’ or ‘genuine touch’ of human-created artwork, AI’s contributions to the art world were met with intrigue and derision. However, the narrative is shifting.

Paul Graham, co-founder of Y-Combinator, has been a leading voice in the tech community for years. Graham’s remark, “This marked the moment when AI-generated art, metaphorically speaking, passed the Turing Test in my eyes,” added a layer of authority to the ongoing discourse on AI art.

The Turing Test, conceived by Alan Turing in the mid-20th century, evaluates a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior indistinguishable from a human’s. While traditionally used in computational science and AI conversations, Graham leveraged it as a powerful metaphor to describe his impression of the artwork.

By saying the artwork “passed the Turing Test” in his eyes, Graham suggested that the AI-generated art piece achieved a level of sophistication and emotional resonance that it could be easily mistaken for human-generated art. This is a powerful statement on the capability of AI not only to mimic but to create, stir emotions, and resonate deeply with human sensibilities. In his eyes, the artwork blurred the lines between machine output and human creativity to such an extent that the difference became negligible.

Moreover, as AI-generated pieces gain traction in distinguished settings – from renowned museums to elite installations – the line between traditional and AI-driven art is blurring. This transformation in perception mirrors a broader cultural shift, wherein we’re beginning to see technology as a tool and a collaborator in the creative process. Further reshaping the conversation around AI’s role in the art domain and its connection to us as humans in general.

Behind the Art

Many may be wondering how exactly the art piece was created in the first place. The secret sauce is ControlNet. Originally introduced in a paper titled “Adding Conditional Control to Text-to-Image Diffusion Models,” ControlNet enhances the Stable Diffusion process by adding deeper guidance based on extracted information from source images. This means artists (or rather, artist-AI collaborators) can replicate specific shapes, patterns, or subjects from an image with increased precision.

In simple terms, while Stable Diffusion creates the general image, ControlNet fine-tunes the details, helping bring the artist’s vision to life. Ugleh shared that he will soon do a more detailed walkthrough of his process for the spiral artwork but did share a bit on his workflow behind the “Checkered Village“, which used a similar approach.

Charting the Future

The spiral art trend offers a compelling look into the evolving world of AI art. As the narrative shifts from skepticism to appreciation, and as more esteemed artists dip their toes into the AI realm, it becomes evident that technology and art aren’t just intersecting; they intertwine in captivating ways. While questions about copyright, authenticity, and the true essence of creativity will persist, only time will tell how this synergy between humans and machines will further redefine artistic frontiers.

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