Major Boston A.I. Art Exhibit Draws Crowds, Concerns, And Future Collaborators
“Rather than perceiving A.I. as a threat, it can be viewed as a powerful tool that expands creative boundaries.”
Lines remain blurred when it comes to the rise of artificial intelligence. As for “Boston’s First A.I. Art Gallery,” also known as FramedByAI, it’s unclear whether it should be considered more of a startup than a gallery. Opened late last month by Boston University students John Shiller and Emily Lin at Boston University’s BUild Lab, the pop-up features a dozen A.I.-assisted paintings by the duo and is open until June 30.
As graduates and their parents flooded the BU campus around the show’s May opening, FramedByA.I. drew more than 200 students, staff, visitors, and curious onlookers to examine the prints. While neither Shiller nor Lin are traditional artists, they were able to leverage A.I. to create new takes on classic artworks like Van Gogh’s Starry Night and Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, among others. The pair also utilized the app Artivive to bring the works to life with smartphone-based augmented reality. In paintings like A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte based on A Sunday on La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat, the central character can be seen snapping a selfie.
Shiller, a popular YouTuber who focuses on video games and content creation, said he originally came up with the idea of creating an A.I. exhibition for one of his videos. While discussing it with Lin, a fellow Gen Z interested in futuristic art, the two decided to collaborate and found a real-life gallery dedicated to exhibit A.I. artwork.
“Reimagined,” the duo hopes, will be the first of many exhibitions they host on different topics this year. Both Lin and Shiller are seniors at BU, studying similar tracts. Lin is an independent filmmaker who has written, directed, and produced more than 10 student films and holds multiple art leadership positions on campus. Shiller said he’s been performing since he was young, first as a cellist and now as a content creator with more than 62,000 followers.
Both Shiller and Lin worked collaboratively to generate and select the A.I. pieces for the show. While the former focused more on the role of animation on augmented reality, Lin organized the business side of the gallery, including curating, budgeting, and management. Initially, Lin said they wanted to lean on A.I. to do everything, and even used a chatbot to create everything from the prompts, to the art, to an ‘About Us’ blurb that included a clunky description of their process.
“Originally the mission of the art exhibition was to explore A.I.’s creativity and challenge its capability to do the entire artistic process,” Lin said. “So, we tried to eliminate human bias and used an A.I. chatbot to write the art prompts for an art exhibition. However, the art result felt soulless and bland.”
So, they pivoted. Next, they started picking masterpieces, and then asking artificial intel to explain the history and provenance of the original artwork.
“We let A.I. interpret the meaning behind the artwork, and then use all of that context for the prompt,” Shiller explained. “We put in some of our own ideas, where for example a piece of artwork might be ‘inspired by Jean-Michel Basquiat,’ or made in ‘watercolor neon style.’ For some pieces, we would intentionally prompt for different camera angles and futuristic elements to achieve certain looks. … The final prompts ranged from 14 words to 85 words long. In total, there were about 1,000 generated prompts to narrow down our final collection of 12.”
Lin added that the pair were first incredibly intimidated when they first experienced A.I., but now embrace the technology. Shiller, who works as a freelance video producer, uses A.I. art generators for reference and inspiration, i.e. tapping Midjournney to determine the style and color palette for text graphics or some other element of design.
“We realize that it is crucial to have an open mind and embrace the possibilities of A.I.,” Lin said. “Rather than perceiving A.I. as a threat, it can be viewed as a powerful tool that expands creative boundaries and offers new avenues for expression. By collaborating with A.I., artists can explore uncharted territories, uncover fresh perspectives, and enhance their creative process.”
Jeremy Biggers is an up and coming artist and muralist who is trying to do just that. As a traditional painter, Biggers has a unique relationship with reference material as he typically lights and shoots his own, giving him full control of what he’s painting. In his most recent series though, Biggers used A.I. to paint people who don’t actually exist as a larger commentary on what it means to be Black in America. Biggers recently completed a mural for the Bushwick Collective in Brooklyn using A.I. and said he was divided on the results.
“Using A.I. even with a hyper specific prompt still doesn’t give me the level of control that I’m used to or would ultimately want,” Biggers said. “So I’ve used it for this body of work I’m working on to test those limitations as well as see if it’s something I want to take further but saying that I’ve ‘embraced it’ within my work isn’t something I can say comfortably right this moment.”
Even though he’s made the leap and tested the waters around A.I., Biggers said he’s still unsure about how he feels regarding the tech’s ripple effects. Since many A.I. generators are free, the barrier of entry is a lot lower than has historically been true.
“I think that scares a lot of people, because it’s been profitable for centuries to make art as exclusive and exclusionary as possible,” he said. “I’m terrified of what it could mean for the world or my industry specifically, but it fascinates me at the same time. I think it’s time for the current art world to be shaken up. So on one hand I’m here for it, but on the other hand it’s terrifying to think of how nefarious characters will use it in ways we haven’t yet thought of.”
Wendy Swart Grossman, an adjunct faculty teaching at BU’s Metropolitan School, was on hand at the opening of FramedByA.I. While she was excited to see the exhibition, she also said it brought up many issues—regarding the definition of art, the possibilities of A.I., and what it could mean for jobs around the world.
“Is art just something that makes you think? Because these pieces certainly do that,” the art professor said. “Then I think maybe this is a new form of art, and maybe we’re like people in the 1800s when cameras came out. At the very least, this exhibition opens the room up for people to talk about it and for any visual artist to have a big crowd like this it’s a big deal.”
Grossman said after initially feeling intrigued by the art, and the interaction with augmented reality, she started to question who deserved credit for the artwork. Additionally, she said, knowing that the work was A.I. generated took a “layer off” for her, as she likes to see the process and learn all about the artist’s inspiration.
“Since it’s A.I. generated, who do we credit? There are issues around who makes money off it,” Grossman added. “There’s such a small percentage of artists that can actually make a career of it full time, so it worries me that we’re taking away from them. At the same time, it could be that we’re adding to the talent pool. We’re at a starting point.”
Following the opening, Shiller and Lin said they received a number of requests for collaboration, and are planning the next popup for the fall.
“Although there were plenty of artists who were interested in learning more about A.I. and new ways for human-A.I. collaboration, we did receive some concerns,” Shiller said. “Their suggestions helped us think of ways to appreciate the artwork done by humans that the A.I. is trained on.”
You can view the gallery in person at the BU Arts Initiative (775 Commonwealth Ave, Boston) through June 30. The exhibition is free to the public from Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm. More information at framedbyai.com.