alignDRAW ― A Research Project's Journey to Artistic Triumph

alignDRAW, AI, art, history


2023 has been a great year for me (knock on wood). A standout moment (perhaps once in a lifetime) was the alignDRAW project making its way into the art history books. Initially, alignDRAW aimed to explore text-to-image generation, focusing on whether an AI model could generate images based on captions. At that time, captioning was gaining popularity, and given my experience generating images (albeit in the context of predicting future video frames given the past frames), I decided to give text-to-image generation with AI a try.

alignDRAW was not only accepted as an oral paper at ICLR 2016 but also accumulated hundreds of citations. Most importantly, it served its purpose in helping me get into the PhD program at NYU.

For many years, the project didn’t attract much attention beyond academic citations. That is until 2021/2022 when DALL-E, Midjourney, and Stable Diffusion began to go mainstream. People started delving into the history of such text-to-image AI systems, and a reporter from Vox Joss Fong reached out to me for a short interview about alignDRAW.

In my opinion, that video from Vox marked a pivotal moment, as alignDRAW suddenly extended its reach beyond AI scientists to a wider audience. Then, on a late April 2023 evening, I received a curious Twitter DM from Alejandro Cartagena of the Fellowship group. For context, Fellowship is a collective of artists and collectors that, in my opinion, is at the forefront of exploring the intersection of photography and AI within the art world.

Alejandro proposed transforming the generated images from the alignDRAW paper into art pieces on the blockchain and prints. He aimed to leverage Fellowship’s network to showcase these pieces to collectors and NFT/art enthusiasts, breathing new life into these once AI generated images from text back from 2015.

Alejandro DM Alejandro Cartagena’s very first DM to me pitching the idea of turning alignDRAW images into NFTs and physical prints.

What followed was a fantastic journey, marked by physical displays at Paris Photo, Verse, and engaging interviews with the head of Christie’s photography, culminating in a successful auction and sell-out on the blockchain. I am documenting these moments in this blog post for future reflection and remembrance.

alignDRAW: Entering the Archives of Art History (A Timeline) #

Very first (from my memory) announcement of alignDRAW coming to the art form as part of the Fellowship group:

Announcement of alignDRAW art works presented at Paris Photo, the largest photography fair:

alignDRAW at Paris Photo, featuring large prints from process prompts:

Head of Photography at Christie’s Darius Himes praising alignDRAW work and interviewing Alejandro Cartagena about it:

Announcement that several alignDRAW pieces, specifically the paper prompts, have been acquired by a famous American museum.

Showcasing Roope Rainisto’s generated images inspired by alignDRAW prompts and my work organized by Verse in London:

A full house at the showing:

After physical showings, the project entered the digital phase with auctions at Christie’s followed by a larger mint on Fellowship’s website.

A set of 8 images from the favored prompt “A stop sign is flying in blue skies” was auctioned off at Christie’s, fetching a top bid of 15 ETH, starting from 5 ETH. I had the opportunity to speak with the auction winner, who was very happy about acquiring this set:

Remaining 2,000+ images sold out as a Dutch auction within a few hours, receiving a great response from the NFT community:

During the physical showings and digital sales, I wrote two extensive Twitter threads to reflect on the project’s history, delving into alignDRAW’s journey and its impact over the years:

Fin #

Through a happy coincidence, my research has turned into historical art that’s now collected by museums and well-known NFT collectors, and recorded on the blockchain (alignDRAW at OpenSea NFT marketplace). The success of alignDRAW makes me excited to try and recreate it with today’s neural net technology and frameworks, just to see what might happen.

alignDRAW serves me as a reminder that the reach of your creations may extend far beyond initial expectations, often in many unexpected ways. While such recognition may not come immediately, the eventual realization is immensely rewarding. Onwards!