Dani Joy and The Art of Neuromancy
Explorations of AI Art — Episode 22
[Fig.1] In and Out of Reality, credit: Dani Joy
Dani Joy is an artist based in Northern California who loves to create and experiment with traditional and technological tools. His work ranges from drawing to painting to sculpture.
He is self-taught in digital art and has studied computer science and algorithmic design. Fascinated by the new digital media, he incorporated the latter in his practice to synthesize new styles and open the doors to a new form of collaboration between himself and the machine.
In this interview he will talk about his background and the reasons that led him, at the beginning, to refuse digital tools, to then have a change of heart and insert them constantly in his work. He will share his struggle with dyslexia, his desire to become the best version of himself, the charm of being a cyborg, and his perspective on the future of AI art.
Joy's work is a stimulating example of how past and present can harmonically shape the future, promoting a dialogue between tradition and novelty to build something more than the sum of the two parts.
[Fig. 2] Happy Accident, credit: Dani Joy
Could you tell us a little about your background?
I love drawing, painting and high performance computers. I reside in rural Northern California, and started drawing when I was a young boy inspired by the comic books I purchased. I remember my mother bought me an airbrush around that time. I came of age right on the precipice of the digital revolution; so I am old enough to remember life before the internet, but young enough to quickly integrate the computer into my life. I got my first computer when I was 13. After this, I started building my own computers, networks, and exploring the internet.
In my mid 20's, I discovered Burning Man, a week long art and music festival in the Nevada desert. Actually, more than a festival is a gigantic city based around art and self expression. Burning Man reignited my passion for painting and art. I traveled the west coast and the world doing airbrush body painting at music festivals, selling my art while I furthered my self study. I absorbed as much about art as I could, art history, color theory, figure drawing. Around 2009 I realized that computers could help me make my art better, and I started a decade long deep dive into digital drawing, painting, computer science and eventually AI art. Since then, I have had success as an illustrator, animator, fine artist and I started a small printmaking company called Artist-Proof.
You are self-taught in digital and traditional art: what made you decide to code?
I wanted to free my imagination. Being an undiagnosed dyslexic for very long time, I had to face challenges for which I found creative solutions. Not fitting into the traditional system nor getting much support from it, I had to learn how to teach myself everything. When I wanted to master drawing, I decided to form my own Figurative Art Guild which attracted other artists and mentors to learn from.
I don't seek perfection in my art, but I find great value and pleasure from the fundamental study of it. Like musicians practicing their scales, there is a rhythmic lyrical element to visual arts where every artist brings their unique signature.Sometimes, I see artists been limited to the camera or to algorithms. When I was learning to draw like the old masters, I found that using photography as a reference was limiting my imagination: my art seemed flat and lifeless. Artists often overwork their art in an effort to emulate the camera; this fools the untrained eye, but not the expert one. There was nothing more frustrating to me than having an idea, but not having the skills to execute it. Figure drawing taught me I could learn skills extremely difficult.
[Fig. 3] Hominoid Mind, credit: Dani Joy
Around 2015, when I saw DeepDream and Style Transfer, I was mesmerized and terrified at the same time. Suddenly, my efforts of learning how to draw and paint seemed obsolete. I knew, like the camera did in the past, that AI would have changed art forever.
In this period I read an interview by Garry Kasparov, the great chess grandmaster who lost to IBM computer Deep Blue. He said: “Don’t try and beat AI, merge with it”. This event brought to life a new form of chess, called Advanced Chess, or Cyborg Chess. Players were using AI to take their skills and abilities to new heights. In that moment I realized I was on my way to become a cyborg artist, so I started to study computer science with the goal to create my own version of advanced painting.
I started to programming my own Libreboot BIOS, installing my own encrypted Linux operating systems, programming RaspberryPi Linux routers. I bought some basic books on Python and watched a lot of online tutorials. After a couple of years, I was good enough to create my own datasets, train custom AI datasets, and modify research code. Just recently I have finished to build a custom Arch Linux Deep learning server.
What does it mean to be creative in the digital era?
To me, being creative in the digital era means to open the doors to endless exploration. I find so many happy accidents, and new directions to explore. I paint well with oils, airbrush and watercolors, but I just find the computer to be full of great potential. I love the glitches and the artifacts; I love the accelerated speed at which I can create.
I think it is a reasonable position to reject digital tools in favor of traditional ones. However, in my case it would be a mistake because it would not reflect myself and my life. Long time ago, I had an arrogant purist view of what was art, and I rejected the use of technology. However, one day, after seeing David Hockney’s iPad drawings, I realized the mistake I was making.
You say: "My art practice, like my life, is rooted in the traditional and digital mediums, of which I am synthesizing new original styles." Could you elaborate more on this concept?
I use art to heal myself. I was born on the precipice of the digital revolution, in a poor lower class family. I had a childhood primarily without devices, but started playing with computers young enough to easily integrate them into my life. So, my art reflects this dichotomy: I am rooted in the traditional artistic practices, but fully digitized. I love experimenting and using cutting edge digital tools, and I am really good at thinking in unusual ways. I love to find new modes of expression, new ways to use these open source tools.
[Fig. 5] Nixie in the mill pond, credit: Dani Joy
You write: " I have taken brush to canvas in a personal quest to sublimate my primitive nature, with the hopes that this process turns into something that benefits my community, my country, and the world." Can digital art have a different role in our society compared to the traditional one?
This is an incredibly timely question. Much of my artistic life was still rooted in the traditional art model, even though I was creating digital art: gallery shows, art events, community events, etc. Usually I get a lot of biased opinions, I ran into a lot of barriers because most of the people I met think that computes do the job, not considering the role of the artist as the mind behind the work.
With the COVID 19 Pandemic all of my traditional art income has been wiped away, and honestly I am not sure it will come back. I have always loved digital art: the happy accidents - the glitches - are for me an infinite reason for inspiration.
Making digital art is incredibly fast and allows you to reach a wider audience, creating the opportunity for a more meritocratic appreciation of the art itself. I think we will see more and more self-taught artists in the field, and I hope that digital art will break down many of the old barriers existing in the art world. I also think it will have an increasing role in our lives, mirroring that of technology. Creating something so quickly, that can be shared at the speed of light, opens up to entirely new opportunities: digital art, although not perfect yet, is the future.
You said that being dyslexic turned out to be great "for pattern recognition and big picture thinking". This is fascinating, can you explain to us more about it?
When I was younger I noticed I could break the software and find bugs easily when doing QA. I have no regards for the rules, and often do things backwards, sideways or other weird combinations with unusual patterns. The programmers loved me because I found a lot of bugs, and perhaps I have the same ability with visual data.
I have to say, though, I am not sure if this is true anymore. In the past I have been deeply insecure about not being able to understand and learn like most of the people. Indeed, for a long time I felt inferior because I flunked and had great anxiety. Now, I think dyslexia helped me to develop novel thinking which I find to be important in a community. Many great people I admire were dyslexic, so I am finally proud, but it has been very difficult and frustrating. Writing has never come easy to me, and this has limited my exposure as an artist. Once I taught myself how to learn, I started to excel more in my personal life and endeavors.
[Fig. 6] AI Abstract Collaboration, credit: Dani Joy
What is your vision for AI art?
I want to use AI art to become the best version of myself, and to merge traditional and digital art in my own way. I will continue to make art that helps me heal. I would like to become an advanced cyborg artist, to see advanced painting taken to new heights by future generations. I think, in a way, most of us are already cybernetic organisms. We talk around with smart phones, a tiny super computer that is always connected to the internet - an invisible world where we can communicate with others at the speed of light. We can learn and share our knowledge with others and this is amazing, but also easy to take it for granted.
My vision for AI art is to combine the creativity and intelligence of men with the ones of machines, and take art to new heights. In the future, I think creators will spend more time making creative decisions, and less time doing the work. So, rather than replacing artists, I think AI will enable more creatives increase their output.
About the author: Beth Jochim is the Creative AI Lead at Libre AI, and Director and Co-Founder at Cueva Gallery. She works at the intersection of technology and arts. She is actively involved in different activities that aim to democratize the field of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, bringing the benefits of AI/ML to a larger audience. Connect whit Beth in LinkedIn or Twitter.
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