500 Portraits And AI

500 Portraits would not be possible without the use of Artificial Intelligence. 500 Portraits would also not be possible without the artist and numerous other tools that have nothing at all to do with AI.

Here I write about my use of AI as some people, mistakenly in my view, consider it as a direct challenge to the continuing relevance of the artist.

The portrait I Know My Past

The Artist And Artificial Intelligence

Using Artificial Intelligence In The Creative Process

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What Art Is · What Art Is Not

Art contains special significance related to beauty or its opposite, expression, and the communication of ideas in a symbolic context. Art is purposeful.

Art is not a landscape. It is not solely an experience, nor only an idea. Art does not come into being because of its placement, nor through someone's assertion of its existence.

At its best, art reaches our hearts and minds with the same force and in the same breath.

From my collected thoughts With And Alone

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100 of 500 Portraits

I create art for three reasons: the first is that the creation of art can be an expression of love, the second is that I believe art in all its forms has the potential to move us to change ~ both personally and with others, and the third is that art can provoke a continuing memory of our existence when we are not present.

Although AI can be used as a powerful creative tool, it does not have any sense of control over its actions and their consequences. AI is not conscious and has no creative agency. 

In contrast and when it emerges, Artificial Consciousness (AC) will be able to create art as it will experience a sense of self, and it is likely to express its existence and reflections using the tools of light, language, sound, and far more besides. For now however, humans are the only species that create art. AI does not, although it may seem to...

Perhaps it is important to distinguish the difference between intention and ability. As a person with intention I can drive a car. The car has the ability to move from one place to another, however it has no intention. The car is a tool in the same way AI is a tool that helps the user get from A to B.

There are many AI tools available that allow people to enter a text prompt that outputs images, text, sounds and more (think of the prompt as a series of instructions). I used prompts to make draft images. When the prompt is carefully crafted, images can be complex and beautiful, and they may appear to approximate art. The AI Assistant however has no aim to create anything. It is a tool that awaits the user's instruction like the car, or a pencil awaiting the action of a mind to move it across the page. 

When using AI assistance to create art, the text prompt is the medium that defines and shapes the content. The person who enters the text prompt is like any creative who refines their skills. The process can be fast or slow, much like writing, painting, or the use of any other creative medium.

Some people may be satisfied with the first result that AI outputs, however others seek more beauty, complexity, and authenticity. Their vision will drive them to elaborate and refine their prompts, much as one edits a sentence after its initial creation, or shapes the paint after the first stroke of the brush. AI provides opportunities to iterate repeatedly, and at each stage the person behind each iteration has the opportunity to make creative decisions. They will chose whether to stop or carry on, whether one path is better than another, and they will base their next decision on the outcome of each choice. 

Text prompts can be many hundreds of words long. A person decides what words need to be used to progress the image into a form that better suits their vision. 

The iterative process can therefore be very lengthy as it can be with any creative medium. It can also be short depending on the effort and skill of the originator. In the case of AI assisted image creation, these are often choices about what language is used with a particular AI system, but there are also aesthetic choices about inclusion, transformation, and omission, either with elements of the work, or with iterations of the work.

I view AI assisted output as only one part of a far longer creative process. For 500 Portraits there were over twenty thousand prompts and iterations, all of which were subject to personal choice. These choices were made to serve the poem 'Young Before The Dawn' as well as the overarching work 'One Me · One Family'. Once an initial draft was chosen as the bases for a portrait, work began on shaping the image using an array of artistic and photographic tools. Portraits chosen after the AI assisted stage underwent as many as thirty additional drafts before their final form was settled upon. Consider the original image output of AI as an element of what makes up the completed portrait. Artists, composers, and writers all use elements, themes, structures and more from existing works as they shape their own. What is magical in this process is how something very new from these creative interplays so often emerges.

AI has no idea of what a portrait is. AI has no understanding of the author or consumer of art. AI played no part in the choice and use of text or language at 500 Portraits. AI was not used to select subject matter, or decide upon the context and curation of content. AI played no part in the concept 'Young Before The Dawn' and 'One Me · One Family'. AI played no part in the design and publication of this website, nor brought the various constituents of 500 Portraits together to form a whole.


There will be some who pretend they have done far more than in truth they have when presenting work that AI assistance plays a part in. Some may consider AI as the enemy of originality and creativity. My view is that AI can be used as an invaluable tool that is the only viable path to reach a particular creative goal. 

For me, what is important is that AI was one of very many tools I used to create a publication that aims to present the human world as having far more in common than those things that divide it. My hope is that this work might reach those who may otherwise consider human difference with fear and distrust, and encourage them to consider those universal experiences we share.

The vast majority of people are uninterested in the creative process. What is important to them when experiencing art is whether it moves them emotionally, aesthetically, and intellectually. How a work is produced and who created it is of less importance unless it has affected them positively. Whether practitioner or curious being, uncovering how a thing is achieved remains unlikely to alter the experience of art. In truth we like a thing, or we do not, and no amount of learning or rational appreciation will change this, for art is of the head and heart.

For my part, I hope you are far more interested in this publication's central message and beauty than how the art was made.

Mike de Sousa

March 2023