March 29, 2023
"AI is nothing without a human brain using it. People who are afraid will be replaceable in the future by people who are unafraid and use AI and take it seriously."
Meet Olivier Teepe: Artist, Creative Director, and pusher of boundaries. As one of the handpicked artists who participated in OpenAI's Artist Access Program, Olivier's contribution helped to shape DALL·E's development before it launched to the public in September 2022.
Olivier was a speaker at TechDays on March 28 2023. Curious to find out more about his work, we invited him for a friendly chat about all things art and AI. Here’s what we discussed.
How did you get started using AI in your art?
Well, the very, very first experience was back in art school. I was in an editing suite, the old school ones. Basically you could zoom with a handle as big as a gear stick. And I zoomed into a pixel of an image I created in the forest. And I went closer and closer. At some point I was at the pixel, and I went through the pixel.
Behind the pixel was an entire world which didn't exist. So I realised, something is generating visual information that didn't exist until I went through the pixel. That opened my brain to thinking we should always explore what's behind the presets and the known things.
So using AI is really an explorative experience for you?
Yeah, I kept doing that — even with the most new, high-tech camera. I would make a pinhole lens with just a little hole in a piece of carton, and I would reconstruct the most expensive camera on the planet at that time to capture light breaking through a crystal in a church, and in a really analog way.
So I use AI like I use old cameras, new cameras, anything. It's a toolkit to craft something in the way you envision. It's not a slot machine where you just pull a handle and it does something, which is what it is for most of the world right now.
"[AI] is a toolkit to craft something in the way you envision. It's not a slot machine where you just pull a handle and it does something"
How did you get involved with OpenAI’s Artist Access Program?
I was co-creating with a partner of mine, Rodger Werkhoven. We were working together and experimenting, and then he got in touch with the team over there. Natalie Summers from Open AI invited me and five other artists in total. They asked me if I would like to work on it, and I was like, ‘I'm totally open’. Anything that can bring something to my process and will keep my brain open for now and for the future, I'm fully open to it as long as it's not abused.
What kind of role did you have in working with DALL·E and OpenAI?
Very hands-on. We had a contact person in the organisation, but also unlimited access to play with the tool and to make mistakes. We could do whatever we wanted and meanwhile, the feedback was also in what we created and what we came up with. Because that's what AI does, it learns from behaviour and from input.
AI is nothing without the humans using it. It's an interpretation loop, which you can feed a lot of information, but you always get back something that's remixed from what it was taught.
Did DALL·E change a lot from when you first worked with it, compared to the end product?
Absolutely. And that's fun. And then I was curious about other platforms. So I experimented with everything that is in the market right now.
Do you use the same version of DALL·E that the public uses, or do you have access to an exclusive version?
I think I'm using the same DALL·E 2 that other people are using now, unless they gave me access to something else without communicating it.
It's a bit like saying: ‘You take amazing photos with your phone. That's such a cool phone.’ But it's the person who takes the photos, his eye and his mind, and not the tool. I would love to resell my phone if people think my phone takes better photos.
Will you continue using DALL·E when you create artwork in the future?
Yeah, I would still use DALL·E. Not because I'm inflexible, but because I like to see how it develops and because it was one of the first that I deep dove into. I really feel like I have a relationship with it. It's a bit emotional, but it's like you know the tool and the team behind it and it feels a bit like a personal relationship.
Would you say it’s easy to get the results that you want when co-creating with AI?
It's difficult and challenging and it's never the same. It keeps evolving. Shaping a prompt, to me it's like learning a new language, which can become one of the more important languages next to the ones taught at school. It's communicating — and talking to an AI is a language in itself.
And literally as an example of this process, I was creating something and then I realized I wanted to be touched by a sense of gender fluidity and non-racial background. And at the very beginning that wasn’t showing at all. So I keep researching and pushing where that is. In creating, and also the other way around.
With some prompts, I'm not steering into super specifics, but I'm readjusting it in response to what it shows me, to go left, right, until I'm exactly where I want to be. And then I look at the final result and I'm like, ‘Why is everything so crispy, sharp in the background? I want a bit of a depth of field’. So I keep processing and I'm like, ‘why are the colors so intense? I want something more faded like a Polaroid,’ and in every part of the process you have the control.
But that's why my answer will always be: it's complex and not easy.
What are the advantages to co-creating with AI? Are there any downsides?
Yeah, the downside is the amount of screen time. I think reconnecting with nature, forest bathing, being out in natural environments at least once per day is essential to keep your brain fresh enough. To keep the perspective on the tools, on the AI, on everything that's happening right now without getting sucked in too much.
I want AI to be there for good and for the human race and the future, and I don't want it to be the next distraction that makes people even more disconnected and manipulated.
"I want AI to be there for good and for the human race and the future, and I don't want it to be the next distraction that makes people even more disconnected and manipulated."
A lot of people feel threatened by AI and what it means for their profession. But looking at your website gave us a different perspective — the co-creation really makes it a powerful thing.
Yeah. It's another layer that you can use to express yourself. So I think the fear is only in the legal angle of copyrights. And I think deep down it's an ego thing where people think ‘something I have done in my life will make other people famous because they remixed it’. But that was already the case in the art of sampling. Basically you take something that exists, remix it and bring it to an audience with a new look and feel.
It was one of the topics that really, really inspired me. Video sampling, audio sampling, art sampling, the whole art of remixing. It's reviving in AI with a bobsleigh kind of speed. It’s super interesting, I like that it triggers people.
Who do you think the work belongs to when it's co-created by humans and AI?
I think in the future it should belong to the kindred spirits that made it possible for a machine to create it.
If I'm making a portrait of Andy Warhol in The Factory, it's because I know what happened back then in that era. Who was there, what the light was — it's my photographic way of visualising it that helps me create that portrait with the help of AI. I cannot time travel back with my Polaroid and snap him the way I would catch him. But then it's an image that refers to the photo of a person that was not volunteering to being in the image I want to create. And that's interesting.
We need a way to credit famous photographers/artists who shot that person in the past, those who inspire us when we prompt and we should credit the person themselves. We need to be honest when we feed the AI and give credit to our inspirations. It is a matter of morality as well as the recognition of our human culture. NFTs might be a solution here, at least regarding royalties and copyright.
AI has the potential to change art. But looking at it the other way around, can art change AI too?
AI only works if multiple ideas get cross-bred into something that opens a new way of thinking, philosophising, a new way of creating, and a new way of creating output that triggers people to rethink old values.
So yes, art influences AI. AI is nothing without a human brain using it. People who are afraid will be replaceable in the future by people who are unafraid and use AI and take it seriously.
Whew, what a fascinating guy! He’s blown our minds wide open 🤯. Check out his creative portfolio over at olivierteepe.com. Want to join us at a future Kickstart AI event? Find out more about TechDays and our Meetups, or sign up for our newsletter to get event announcements sent straight to your inbox.