Conceptually, Wombo Dream is a bit of a nightmare. Our ability to express ourselves in creative, and oftentimes abstract ways is a fundamental part of being human. The idea that the artistic process can be repeated by an artificial intelligence inspires just a smidge of existential dread. For my two cents, there is a lot to be fascinated by when it comes to AI produced art, limited though it is in its current form. Anyone who has listened to stories written by AI can attest to the hilarity that can ensue — comparable to watching a toddler pretending to host a board meeting. But AI is becoming more advanced, and with that evolution comes a whole new avenue of artistic exploration.
Enter Wombo Dream, an app available for most mobile devices that lets you 'create' your own paintings with the help of an AI assistant. Simply punch in a prompt, select a style and marvel at the results. There are 17 different styles to choose from, ranging from watercolour to steampunk. You can regenerate the image as much as you want, which leads to different results each time. Then there's the option to save your creations, share them online, and even order a print version. Whilst the app description purports Wombo Dream to be a way for 'anyone to create art', this may be a bit of an exaggeration, or at the very least an unconventional approach to the concept. The AI does the vast majority of the work; it's up to you to sift through the results of your chosen prompt/style. In a sense, it's creation based in discovery.
The results were invariably abstract. While it's fun to try and make the most incongruous combination, the most elegant results tend to be when you try and make harmonious combinations, like asking for an alien in a sci-fi style. But since even these were a bit twisted, leaning into the chaos was the most rewarding strategy.
My personal first foray into Wombo Dream consisted of me prompting the AI to create a piece involving 'spaghetti and meatballs' in the style of Salvador Dali. This actually worked quite well, I had sort of envisioned a forkful of spaghetti dripping down like the clocks in his famous work The Persistence of Memory, and that's almost exactly what I got.
Even some more conceptual prompts had interesting results. 'Sad banker' produced a vague torso-like image with a tight suit surrounded by grey tiles reminiscent of blocks of cold, hard cash. Honestly, there was a lot to dissect about — the reduction of the banker to nothing but a torso dehumanising him, the background of cash and safe locks almost dragging him from foreground to background, I was unironically taken in by the composition, it was certainly the strongest example I saw from the app.
This was then followed up with a watercolour interpretation of 'happy squirrel' and I shudder at the memory of the eldritch abomination that spawned.
Watching how the AI interprets your vague ideas is very amusing. I think it would take some development for this to become a recontextualisation of creativity, or at least, you would have to be able to understand the complexities of AI coding to view this as a source of art in and of itself. As it stands, it's just a pretty fun app to mess around with. There is potential, however, for this to grow into a new and fascinating way to explore art. I think its biggest value now is the way it can let anyone appreciate abstract art. By deciding the prompt and style yourself, you are already aware of what the piece is trying to portray, and can interpret it how you see fit. Wombo Dream may have its limits, but it's still a worthwhile experience.
You can try it for yourself here.