Art

We asked AI to create images of Santa and the results were... disturbing

Mark Neil, Art Director of The Big Issue asked AI to lend a hand with the magazine's festive cover. Here's what happened

Images: Microsoft Bing

It’s the big one. It’s the Big Issue Santa cover. Every year we are presented with the same conundrum: how do we illustrate Santa this year? With AI being one of the year’s big topics, we wondered what the bots would make of our Santa cover. Last month, using Microsoft Bing, I briefed the bots with my image requirement: Santa selling The Big Issue.  

Initially, I had to applaud AI’s thought process with its range of media. Ideas began as photography then after a month-long pause (I’m assuming it went back to the AI drawing board) adapted to illustration. Yet the more times the bot was briefed, the odder Santa revealed himself.

But what really intrigued me as a graphic designer is what AI thinks Big Issue magazine looks like. We got massive broadsheets, tabloids, regular magazines, and stacks of magazines in storage boxes. Mostly, AI thinks The Big Issue is a newspaper. 

There was such a broad mix of design too. A typical red top tabloid was common with many covers having downtrodden faces on the cover – is this what AI thinks our content is because homelessness is typically perceived as wrong or negative? 

Overall, an AI image is not true art to me. I’m calling it Airt, which sounds like a new term for flatulence – “Who’s airted?”  That makes more sense to me. 

Here’s some highlights of AI’s take on our Big Issue Santa – which I will call a bad case of the airts…  

The first image of Santa selling The Big Issue AI created for us. Image: Microsoft Bing
Could The Big Issue be any bigger? Don’t let those children give you nightmares.  Image: Microsoft Bing
I let the brief sit for a month. I don’t know what happened to the bot’s creative juices during this time, but it had lost all interest in photography and decided to go down an illustrated route. Maybe it was listening in on our conversations in the office? Image: Microsoft Bing
Santa can be anyone and anyone can be Santa – I like this idea. But what’s wrong with the people in the background? Image: Microsoft Bing
There seems to be a dishevelled Santa on this Santa’s cover. Image: Microsoft Bing
Good lord, things have taken a dark turn. A request for a ‘photograph’ created this sombre black and white image. Look at those scoundrels laughing at Santa.… and who is that on the cover?. Image: Microsoft Bing
Whoa, make it stop! Please. Image: Microsoft Bing

Get down with it – how AI helped with our Noddy Holder cover

Noddy Holder
Image Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock Photo

There are positive aspects about AI in creativity. It allowed me to make a black-and-white picture of Noddy Holder full colour the other week, but this example is like a remix of a song – taking an original piece of art, and crafting something new. True cover art is akin to the writing of the song. There’s a creative process and a human craft behind it all. That is the difference between an AI image and the cover image you hold in your hands. 

Swing back to the front page and have a think about all the human decisions made to make this magazine for you, for your vendor. No bot can come close to that. 

Mark Neil is art director at The Big Issue.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy!

If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue or give a gift subscription. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play

Support your local Big Issue vendor

If you can’t get to your local vendor every week, subscribing directly to them online is the best way to support your vendor. Your chosen vendor will receive 50% of the profit from each copy and the rest is invested back into our work to create opportunities for people affected by poverty.
Vendor martin Hawes

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