Christ of St John of the Cross

When I was 10 years old, I was given a Religious Studies textbook. The front cover was illustrated with a picture of the painting Christ of St John of the Cross, painted by Salvador Dali. If you have not seen this picture before, let me show you a copy of it: he painted it in 1951.

It shows the crucified Christ, suspended on the Cross, over the earth, but the genius of the painting is not in the symmetry or the use of colour or shade, but rather the perspective the artist chose to use, with the viewer above and looking down on the figure, his head bowed in pain. 

It is a painting far from what I regard as typical of Dali’s work: or maybe not. If Van Gogh is famous for his use of colour, Caravaggio for light and shade, then Dali’s genius would be imagination. And the picture is above all a work of genius because of the imagination that went into it.

Long ago in 1991, as a callow youth I visited the little town of Figueres in Catalonia, in search of Dali. But at that time he was lying dying, in his tower in the town. I then proceeded on to Cadaques the fishing village on the Costa Brava, that long hot summer after “A levels” and saw where he had spent many summers of his own, on the Bay of Roses.

But here is the thing: although there are many copies of this painting, I have yet to see the original, even after all these years, which lies in the Kelvingrove Gallery in Glasgow. But perhaps 2024 is the year, I make that pilgrimage to the West of Scotland.

With that tortuous introduction, let me introduce you to another artist, the engagingly named DALL-E. A wry tribute to the great Surrealist, DALL-E is the Artificial Intelligence software (AI) which is part of ChatGPT Plus. It enables you, the user to create pictures using your words. Instructions to DALL-E, as they are to ChatGPT are called “prompts”.

In essence, you tell the software to do something, and it will do it for you, paying attention to your instructions. It will draw the picture you describe. The more detailed the description the more likely you are to get a picture that accords with your desire. But as the process of AI is iterative, you can refine the picture with your instructions, and you can even get it to suggest ways in which the picture can be improved.

So what, I hear some of you think, from across the ether. This is no more than a parlour game, which has very little to do with the law and practice of khosts, which is the notional theme of this blog. Not so, I respond silently. Consider the obvious uses. I am using pictures all the time, to enliven blog posts, to illustrate articles, and to pepper up Powerpoint presentations.

For the first time,I can create exactly the image that I want to show, designed by me, and drawn by DALL-E, meaning that I do not have to search the internet for a vaguely relevant picture, or wonder about the copyright consequences of doing so. The software gives me the potential to not only improve the standard of my content, but to give it a greater interest and consequential reach.

It is also a useful starting point to consider precisely what AI can do, and how it might start to disrupt particular industries. I do not believe that it will render graphic designers redundant: but it will mean that graphic designers will have to adapt AI, or risk being left behind by their competitors who do. It will change the way that industry works. And I think it is a useful analogy for how other AI software and its uses, will in turn impact on the legal profession.

Now as the secret of all good writing is to show, rather than tell, let me show you how it works. If you wish to follow me down this path, then go to Open AI’s ChatGPT page, and sign up for an account. Upgrade your package from the free version of the software, to the paid ChatGPT Plus package. It will cost you a subscription of £20/month. Then let us begin.

So clicking on DALL-E I give it the following instructions simply by typing in this Prompt:

Create a picture of a golden Labrador retriever wearing a red collar. Show the Labrador climbing a green hillside. Show far below, at the bottom of the hillside, a fast flowing river in a valley. Give the Labrador a determined expression.

This is the result. Not bad for a first attempt. But it can be improved? I ask DALL-E

Give me 5 suggestions for ways in which the picture can be improved.

DALL-E answers back in these terms:

  1. Lighting and Shadow: Adjust the lighting to create a more dramatic effect, emphasizing the time of day or adding a sense of depth and dimension to the hillside and valley. Strategic use of shadows can add realism and contrast, highlighting the Labrador’s determination and the ruggedness of the terrain.

  2. Texture Detail: Increase the detail in the textures of the Labrador’s fur, the grass on the hillside, and the water in the river. More defined fur can enhance the dog’s appearance, making it more lifelike, while detailed grass and water textures can add to the realism of the natural setting.

  3. Facial Expression and Posture: Enhance the Labrador’s determined expression and posture to convey its effort and focus more clearly. This could involve more pronounced facial features or a more dynamic body posture to suggest movement and determination.

  4. Background and Scenery: Add more elements to the background and scenery to create a richer environment. This could include trees, rocks, wildlife, or flowers on the hillside and more detailed features in the valley and river below. These elements can provide a more immersive and engaging setting.

  5. Color Palette and Contrast: Experiment with the color palette and contrast to make the image pop. Adjusting the saturation or brightness of the colors can enhance the visual appeal of the scene, making the Labrador and the landscape more vibrant and captivating.

Each of these suggestions aims to bring more life, realism, and emotional depth to the picture, enhancing the overall visual storytelling.

So I tell it to proceed, and this is the new picture:

But that is not the end. So I tell it to “Make the Labrador out of Lego bricks“. With this result:

Now we realise why, this wonderful, inventive piece of software pays tribute to Dali.

It is a tool that is limited only by your imagination.

In later posts, we shall start to unpick what else the ChatGPT Plus software can do.


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