Tuesday, March 21, 2023


You could study 1,000 anatomy books but none would teach you to draw a mouth like this:

ChatGPT would never create such a mouth for you.  Neither will a camera.  Neither will Photoshop.   

The mouth is a detail from this febrile drawing by Horst Janssen.

Janssen's drawing includes none of the features artists normally focus upon when drawing higher life forms: eyes, facial expressions, a forehead, posture suggesting vertebrae... even a chin would be useful.  If there's body language here, it conveys little more than heated fumbling. Instead, everything is reduced to those chewed up lips, swollen from too much heavy kissing.  You can almost hear the panting from this drawing. 

A corporate letterhead seems like an odd choice of paper, except it suggests Janssen was not in the mood to wait around for proper art supplies.

Other drawings of this subject display far more technical skill.  For example, here's an embrace as visualized by Fragonard:

Note the details in the fabric, the staging with the door and the use of facial expression

In the 19th century the romantic movement turned away from precise academic drawing by artists such as Ingres and David.  Romantic artists felt that a better way to capture the true character of life and experience was not the mimetic representation of nature.  Rather, they turned to the expression of feelings and memory and emotions, setting us on the path to Janssen's lovely, raw drawing.  

Sometimes Janssen's approach to drawing misses.  When you're in the business of inventing new mouths it doesn't always work out.  But when he does connect it can result in marvelous pictures.

Here are other examples of Janssen's work that I admire.



Sean Farrell said...

I was unfamiliar with Janssen’s work and that they built a museum for his work says something about the way Germany esteems their artists. Looking over some of his drawings a self criticism seems at work that isn’t reflected in say, Klimt’s wavy lines and dreamy flowerings which delighted voyeurs and left eleven of his models with children. The first Janssen poster down the list draws from Egon Schiele’s posters of his earlier angst driven work. Later on, Schiele’s angles offset his masterful use of curves and undulating linear forms with a confident physicality that startled viewers by their boldness.

Janssen’s drawings and paintings are no match for either Klimt or Scheile but share a point of view that reminds me of Richard Lindner’s, where the male volunteers his presence as a nameless victim to be devoured by women of powerful exaggerations. Lindner’s setting is a public cosmopolitan battleground of mechanical shapes and bold colors. Janssen’s work is more self critical and private, his self portraits nearing that of ogres.

In his poster derived from Schiele, the subject is a prisoner of both his female captor and his own beast. Sensitive and self conscious with some compassion are his contorted figure drawings. Sensitivity and compassion are dispositions that find their home in humility and charity where there are no limits to their beauty and flight, (and Janssen may have had such sensitivity personally) but the same sensitivity in self conscious engagement may give itself to self pity, fear rejection or possibly slither over to misogyny in the bottom image. In the image above it, a combined Schiele and Klimt figure is a victim of the dreamer’s self satisfaction in what appears to be a fantasy of advancing the work of the previous artists.

Janssen did bring his own self conscious sensibilities to the simpler notions of conquest shared by Klimt and Schiele. He can’t be faulted for a lack of honesty, sensitivity, compassion or even seeking happiness. People really know very little about themselves and self consciousness is a secret torment to all human beings and for some a real torture.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for introducing me to Janssen's work. It's good to see such new unconventional work.

António Araújo said...

Thank you for Janssen. After all these years, you keep showering us with gifts.

But... I have to comment on this:

>ChatGPT would never create such a mouth for you.

Never say never. It will likely produce it indeed. Blindly, unknowingly, irresistibly.

That line of defense of the human condition has been overrun, just as I predicted here, long ago. The machines will do it. Pointless to discuss whether it's "art". It can produce things that would be art if we did them. It can just as likely produce things that would be high art we if did them. It's all the same to it. Just pixel vomit.

I am not gloating for having called it (ok, a bit). It is a great tragedy. Also a great adventure.

We had this conversation long ago, and I told you exactly how it would happen - although the space of all possible pixel melanges is not accessible to blind monkeys typing away at random, the complexity can be reduced, the state space can be geometrically partitioned by reverse engineering what we meatbots like. It is happening, and what is happening is just a preview. Who knows where the boundary is.

So the last line of defense of Art is not what the machine can't do. We will likely lose that fight at some point, and it is the wrong fight anyway. It misses the point. The last line of defense is that art is the experience of making art, not the product. Even drawing the mediocre drivel that I draw is for me a greater experience than I could ever have by contemplating the most sublime art that the greatest artist - or the blindest bot - has produced. ChatGPT (well, Midjourney, or whatever new beast) cannot draw for me; it can only draw instead of me, and since drawing is the experience and not the product, that is the last thing I would want it to do. I might as well have it think for me, or make love for me. We want to make love ourselves, not because it was never done before (oh, innovation!), not because we are the best at doing it (oh, excelence!), but because we want to have the experience. Even if rumour had it that the mailman does it better, I would hardly gain by having him satisfy the missus for me, would I? (she might gain, but that is another matter!) Why would I quit drawing because a bot can outdo me? If that was the case then I would have quit before because sure as hell Kim Jung Gi and millions of other meatbots could already outdo me!

The only thing that is at stake is the job. Maybe that can be taken away by the bot-fluffers (oh, sorry, "prompt engineers") writing their crappy prose. Perhaps the production of commercial visual art will have its final defeat at the hands of the verbalists. It is a tragedy, but the last redout still remains. The experience itself is untouched.

Art will be fine - but don't lean againt the wrong wall. "Can't" and "Won't" is no longer convincing. That wall cannot bear the load.

Meet you all at the lithium mines. We can sketch together when the boss bots aren't looking.


Laurence John said...

Antonio: "The last line of defense is that art is the experience of making art, not the product. Even drawing the mediocre drivel that I draw is for me a greater experience than I could ever have by contemplating the most sublime art that the greatest artist - or the blindest bot - has produced"

Since we can never re-experience the subjective experience that a particular artist went through when producing a work - and therefore never really know what they went through during the production, good or bad - all we have is the final artwork to experience for ourselves.

kev ferrara said...

Thoughts are predicated on meanings, and meanings are predicated on experience.

The better it is qualitatively, the more art is a recording of aesthetic thoughts organized into a complex epiphany structure (or a complex of epiphany structures) masked by naturalistic performance.

To have long-term experience with the language of art as a language and its pigmented performance as a kind of theater is to be able to read art as thought. Closer to the real internal process than, say, English. And thought is a process. A process of memory, a process of imagination, a process of formation and realization and reasoning. Even craftsmanship is a process of thought manifested as pigment. The organization of thought via imagination - the creation, selection, editing, and marshaling of improvisations to a desired end - is also a craft that betrays its own thought process.

Great art, then, records/manifests the subjective experience of its creation and offers it to us as/within the final artwork.

Works that are not made through thought and craftsmanship, of course, will not and cannot offer a thought process. There are no memories to appreciate, no experiences to symbolize, no imagination by which to develop material, no synthetic mode by which to integrate all of the above, no person or personality to do the performance and tone the work with an original sensibility, and no performance in pigment and pattern.

What 'we meatbots like' is a mad chimera. Rats in a box in a lab will keep pressing the cocaine prompt until they're dead. The great test to develop the world's most appreciated work of art (from a few years back) resulted in the most banal landscape possible. Art cannot be done by committee nor via advanced averaging and prediction engines.

The vast majority of people cannot distinguish meaning from pseudo-meaning, confuse virtual acquaintances for actual friends, and are fooled by empty calories, advertising, headlines, and porn.

Since AI has no life, no personality, no emotion, no longing, no physicality... it can only function parasitically dependent on prior human symbolizations of these things. It can only ever be derivative and banal if it tries to be an actual poet.

The worse tack is that it learns how susceptible humans are to the hypnosis of pseudo-meanings, which spellbind with the promise of intense content, but then offer nothing but more promising coincidences and symmetries. This was what I saw from Midjourney; transfixing repetitive gibberish.

António Araújo said...

Laurence John: "all we have is the final artwork to experience for ourselves."
About other people's work I agree completely. I mentioned strictly the experience of our own work, which is what is accessible to us. The rest is just imagination - many people will say they feel a "human connection" to a painting if they are told it was done by a fellow human and won't say it if they think it was done by an AI. Well, if it is the same picture, that is just empty talk and meat-bot protectionism.

Kev: The mass market eats up the bot poop eagerly. Few care for or can recognize high art, and most Midjourney requests are for anime soft porn/superheros/meme fodder. Hence the AI may kill (or radically change) the market that feeds most artists. As for the higher levels, all I will say is that three years ago most artists would scoff at the possibility of what we have now - subject coherence, basic composition, etc etc. Once that foothold is achieved the core is exposed for assault...well, I won't try to convince you, all I'll say is that nobody can tell where the hard boundary is except by bouncing against it.

My bet is that probably the only thing that can stop the AIs getting to higher levels is not the difficulty of the task in principle but the fact that the AI is relentlessly being fed crap, and being streamlied into blandness. Example: as you know the initial versions couldn't count fingers, and so on. This actually risked creating some rather interesting scribblings. It was like looking at an alien toddler with crayons. In the last version of midjourney the hand thing is practically solved. Progress? In a sense. But I was dismayed and bored, it was like watching the alien toddler changing into a trained accountant. It will be great for stock images, but will probably make everything duller.

So yeah, maybe the juggernaut will just fade out on a bad diet and we'll never even test the hard boundary. That is just a boring outcome, but possible.

I've been teasing my illustrator friends who want to keep works of living artists from being fed to the machine: "are you sure you want your competitor to be strictly trained on such second-raters as Leonardo and Leyendecker?"

One of them surprised by saying "yes, I do. Their style of work is not what's most sought".

She had a point. Art talk is very nice, but she kept her eye on her next meal.

kev ferrara said...

AI may kill (or radically change) the market that feeds most artists.

I have no doubt - barring political intervention - that AI will take over all the creative processes it degrades, even if indirectly, as all shortcuts do. It will, just as photographs and photoshop did, sneak in the backdoor of studios and bullpens, whispering Faustian offers, become integral to process, and then metastasize, take over the degraded work, and walk away with the jobs it has devalued.

My bet is that probably the only thing that can stop the AIs getting to higher levels is not the difficulty of the task in principle but the fact that the AI is relentlessly being fed crap, and being streamlined into blandness.

I think that is secondary to the deeper truth involved here: AI's have no life, no existence, no love, no adventures, no fears. That is the real "hard boundary problem" of an AI level-up in Art. An incorporeal, unfeeling, uncomprehending computational process cannot derive reality from photographs and a legacy of artistic suggestions that depend on prior human physical, sensual and emotional experience. So it must be derivative. Thus, in some essential sense, banal. (And/or, again, visually addictive irregardless of the delivery of content. As with diamond and coin dealers, who oscillate the product under the mark's eyes in order to create mesmerizing repetitive glinting effects by catching the light.)

All to say, the way shortcuts work is not by leveling anybody up, but by being cheaper and easier and quicker. Standard "multipolar trap" situation. Purely destructive to human life, culture, and commerce.

As I see it, only poetic uplifting physical art made by people living real lives will be valuable in the long run. Anything infinitely scalable is ultimately worthless. Meanwhile, the increasingly sick Faustian digital world will continue to do everything in its power to addict people to eye-destroying screens, dopamine-sucking negativity, false goods and false gods to keep the ranched demographics online, indoors, distracted, ignorant, and spiritually and economically enslaved.

Chris James said...

Even if AI completely takes over commercial digital art production, nothing much is lost in my eyes. The bar was already lower than ever, as anyone with even basic ability could lend their work a superficial slickness, of the airbrush van-art variety. Those with even less than basic ability, they just painted over/filtered/kit bashed others' images. And this was enough for current "professional" standards. Let AI generation take over, it doesn't appear to produce any worse now than the norm.

When wondering if it can achieve a higher art, what is being talked about specifically? The ability to render well? Countless human artists throughout history could do that, but few created images that were more than that. Were Rubens or Leyendecker great just because they applied paint well and nicely? In my view, a work is only as good as the ideas within Compositional ideas, color ideas, figure ideas, gestural, narrative etc. Ideas, not rules of craft. And then those ideas in the form of the final piece have to resonate with the viewer. I have a large book on Italian painting, hundreds of great technical painters. The least of them are beyond the vast majority working today in that regard. But how many produced images that stop you from turning the page? Their ideas weren't on par with their craft. Still the sophistication of their ideas was still orders of magnitude beyond digital Gamer Art.

And even if an AI work manages to have all those elements in place, it still has to compete for attention with other works* that have those elements in place, just like any human has to, and then all bets are off. Your AI comic has to compete with One Piece, something giants like Marvel have trouble doing. I'd been more interested in seeing whether AI can figure out a consistently winning market formulations of themes, settings, characters, etc

In my opinion, the question isn't Can, but What and Who(will care).

*Talking about art that is the finished product, not production or marketing assets.

David Apatoff said...

Sean Farrell-- I agree with you that Janssen is inspired by, but not in the same league as, Klimt and Schiele. I feel that way partially because I think a number of his drawings miss altogether. There is so much freedom and looseness in his unfiltered, high risk drawings that when he misses he misses by a mile. At first glance I was skeptical of his drawing of the amorous couple (I've often quoted Robert Coane who said, "you can't drool and draw.") But on closer inspection I think he pulled it off brilliantly. When he connects-- boy, I think he is just terrific. I especially like that watercolor portrait.

I would distinguish him from Lidner, whose work doesn't seem to share that trademark looseness.

JSL-- Yes, after all these millennia there is still new and creative work being done.

António Araújo-- I laughed out loud at "Meet you all at the lithium mines. We can sketch together when the boss bots aren't looking." The main reason I keep doing this blog is that I'm so delighted by such smart, funny comments.

I thought twice before claiming that ChatGPT would "never" create such a mouth for you. I generally agree with you that it is foolhardy to say never (especially when predicting the future of technology). I was emboldened to use the term here because Janssen's mouth seemed so untethered from all previous databases as well as any programming, that one might use to instruct ChatGPT to come up with a mouth. You could scan every mouth ever photographed, drawn or painted, but how would that lead any machine to Janssen's unpredictable, puffy, swollen invention? Perhaps a poet could come up with a set of adjectives sufficient to bring ChatGPT close, but then the artistry would reside in the poet, not the software. After all those excuses I will concede: yes, you're right.

I don't take as much comfort as you from the notion that "The last line of defense is that art is the experience of making art, not the product." Doesn't that strip art of any last fragment of objective standards of excellence? If someone produces terrible art but enjoys the process, how does that compare with someone who produces great art but for whom the process is torture? How do you distinguish the finger painting that a child loves to make from a painting by an accomplished professional? Are we saying that eventually a machine will paint better than both of them, so let's ignore the question of quality and redirect our gaze toward the process by which we do it?

António Araújo said...

"I laughed out loud"

Oh no, The boss bots hate it when we express amusement by pushing air through our meat holes. Just pick up your lithium so we can end the shift and get our soylent green.

"Doesn't that strip art of any last fragment of objective standards of excellence?"

I see what you mean, but I wasn't going in that direction at all. I am concerned mostly with an argument I keep hearing from some quarters about how drawing has become pointless, and that art is now all about having "the idea". I remember when they said that knowing facts was useless because we have google and therefore education had no place for memorization. I suppose that if the machines learn how to think then reasoning will also become passée. And for that matter what will the artists do when the machine itself generates the prompt better than them? Not a hard task to beat 95% of all human prompts out there. One wonders what is left to do but polishing the machine's knob. Hence my proposal for "bot fluffers" as an appropriate designation for the "AI artists" (they have been calling themselves also "prompt *engineers*", which shows that it is not just chatGPT that suffers from halucinations :)).

So, back to clarifying my argument: I can say that the internal experience of the process of making art is the most crucial aspect of the thing, and yet I don't have to lose my standards. I can say that drawing what I can draw is more important for me than looking at a masterpiece - but I still utterly enjoy (and profit from) looking at the masterpiece, and I still mantain that it is important to distinguish between the value that making my drawings holds for me and their actual value as pieces of art. I can enjoy my drawings in their mediocrity and still recognize that unfortunately they are mediocre, and that I would like to improve them, and that I recognize - or at least do my best to recognize, since my taste is also limited - that the drawings of other people (or bots) are superior to my own, and that, in the case of the humans at least, the aesthetic experience that they are deriving from their own drawings is probably deeper than my own.

Or, going back to the mailman analogy :D....I can surely say that the personal experience of the process of love making is what most matters, but I would still be a fool if I did not recognize that alas, the mailman (a luvBot 2000 model) performs remarkable feats that I can only aspire to. Having a sense of reality - and of the competition out there - is a basic sanity requirement and it works in the same way towards the bots as it has always worked towards the Kim Jung Gis out there.

António Araújo said...

ps: Your talk of standards just reminded me of a character I met at a life drawing session. You know the type: the one that "feels" a lot and only ever does the losening up exercises where the drawing is not supposed to look good; the type, that learned Nicolaides and thinks that it is not a way to get somewhere else but a great excuse not to learn the hard bits. She kept pushing her laundry list of exercises on another student, as one who shares the mystical Secrets; it started reasonably, with the classic blind contour drawing "have you tried drawing without looking at the page?" and went through the unavoidable "have you tried drawing with your non-dominant hand" but then it kept going ("ever tried drawing upside down") and on ("with your eyes closed") and on ("hanging from the ceiling" or something, I dunno, I sort of blanked out) until I finally lost it and finally asked:
"I have one for you. Have you tried drawing...well?"
Awkward silence.
"Well, what does drawing 'well' mean? I don't know."
And to this day I regret having controlled my impulse which was to look at her drawings and say:
"Yes, I can see you don't". :D

David Apatoff said...

Laurence John-- I agree with the presumption that "all we have is the final artwork to experience for ourselves." However, I am repeatedly reminded that this presumption is rebuttable. Sure, a picture should speak for itself, and often we have nothing more than the picture to go on, but how many times has your appreciation of a picture been enhanced by learning about the back story? No picture should require a manifesto or treatise to justify it, but at the same time I recently wrote about Cy Twombly's "Orpheus," a drawing which I believe worked as an abstract design, but which means so much more if you know about Orpheus' descent into hell. Suddenly the letters in the drawing, "smudged, and mostly erased, spread to the right and downward, like descending notes on a musical stave. There is a sense of resignation or fade-out in the script's formation, as if the word were not worth completing" mean a lot more.

I guess my point is that I've become more humble about pressing that rebuttable presumption.

Laurence John said...


My previous comment wasn't about back story. See the post Dec 06, 2022 for my feelings on that (I would prefer not to know any). I actually thought you were making a similar point to my previous comment when you asked "If someone produces terrible art but enjoys the process, how does that compare with someone who produces great art but for whom the process is torture?"

I'll try to reiterate: Since I can't see into the brain of any other person and see how much they were enjoying their personal art-making experience, all I have to go on is the final product. To be blunt, If you had the greatest day of your life producing a painting and the result was 'mediocre drivel' (Antonio's phrase) then I'm afraid I won't judge it kindly. To me, the viewer, it's irrelevant how much fun you had. It's still mediocre drivel.

So, while it's true that you'll be giving the fun away if you use an AI instead of creating something the physical way, I can't accept that "art is the experience of making art, not the product".

Again, all we have of long dead artists is the final product (the artwork) to judge, not a brain-scan of their dopamine levels while they were making it.

teri green said...

Hmnn.. I think I learned the basics of these from the one I searched from Google, I believe it was www.pencilkings.com

I tried it at first for a 3 days trial then went deep into it when I liked it, same as the content of this one...from the basics all the way up.

'Hope you can add up more contents!