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Image: Sherry Horowitz
Welcome to 
Volume 3.
Welcome to Volume 3 of Nextness. In this issue, we explore the idea of painting in the mind of someone else, even when that someone else is AI. We explore the work of AI Conjurer Sherry Horowitz; delve into the controversial world of AI reportage photography; and visit again with Bob Bjarke, this time hearing the story behind his Wreckommendation Engine.
Ludwig Wittgenstein was an Austrian philosopher from the early twentieth century. 
His two masterworks, “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus” and “Philosophical Investigations,” focused on how we communicate ideas to one another, and why these communications frequently go sideways.
Wittgenstein was and is still a sensation. He is the probably last philosopher to earn the title “greatest living philosopher.” He was all that.
Wittgenstein believed that language existed to paint pictures inside the minds of others. How well we paint determines how well we communicate.Communication frequently fails because we are bad painters.
Today, whether we realize it or not, we are more frequently painting in the mind of AI. We call these prompts. So the question is, “How do we paint inside the mind of a synthetic intelligence?” with programs such as DALL-E, ChatGPT, or Midjourney.In the world of image generation, everyone needs to be a poet or prompt engineer
Learning how to “speak” to Midjourney, for instance, requires first understanding how it formed its worldview.
There are three key areas to understand. 
Firstly, what data set shaped its worldview? What images form its view of the world? As much as the folks at Midjourney might want us to believe that they scraped the internet at random, their data set was built selectively and trained aesthetically.
Secondly, what words are most suggestive to AI? There are words that Midjourney understands immediately and others it simply doesn't grok.
Finally (and maybe most challenging), how do we convey our spatial intent to AI? How do we describe things like depth and space to AI? 
Articulating the world in 3D is not our native tongue. We were raised on flat images.
When I talked with AI artist Darien Davis recently, he told me it took over 30 prompts to get the relationship between a dog owner and his pet just right. The key phrase was “marked space between” which seemingly prompted Midjourney to put a dog precisely alongside his master.
Learning to effectively paint in the mind of other people or in the mind of AI is really the same thing. It’s one of humanity's evergreen problems. 
It will likely always be a work in progress.
In the last half of the 20th century, the art world went through a process that was the opposite of using words to prompt images. 
In “The Painted Word” Tom Wolfe describes how images left the canvas and became abstractions. Theories and words replaced canvas and paintbrushes. Art became the description of art, not the thing.  
In the end, all that existed was documentation.Today, things are picking up where Wolfe left off and the words are not replacing art but creating art.
We all have a stake in better understanding how the machine thinks. 
Our existence may perhaps depend upon it. It’s a cruel turning of the tables.
Yet, just as the microscope allowed us to see an invisible world with a new level of granularity, AI will help us see what we call reality with greater fidelity.
If we can only learn to speak better speak in pictures.
Welcome to Nextness. More than a newsletter, a mindset.

Michael C. Brown:
“90 Miles”
We have crossed the boundary between being able to discern what is real and what is not. “90 Miles” is an exploration of  reportage illustration that challenges our definition of what is fact and what is fabrication.
Debates around the use of AI are boiling over everywhere. But nowhere as passionately as in the world of generative AI. Unlike a great deal of AI, generative images do not live behind a firewall. They are out in the open for everyone to see. As such, they encourage all manner of opinions.
One of the more controversial AI projects is Michael C. Brown’s “90 Miles.” It’s an imaginary documentation of the conditions that exist in Cuba and across the 90 miles of water that separate it from the U.S.
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The photos are stirring, oftentimes beautiful, and always surreal. All were generated using Midjourney.
Michael C. Brown categorizes them as a form of reportage illustration. Made popular in London in the 1840s, reportage illustration seeks to provide visuals to stories where cameras are impractical such as courtrooms, battlefields, and private social events. 
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On his site ( he outlines his career to date:
“I learned to use a camera at age 13 and, as a stuttering youth who generally avoided speaking, photography became a primary form of expression and a way to see and experience the world. Early on I was influenced more by mythology and art history than photography, and now, after 25 years of working mainly as a photojournalist, through AI that inspiration is returning to my imagination.”
Using Midjourney as his darkroom, Michael has developed a world we would never see without the use of his sharp memory, artistic sensibilities, and powerful AI.
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Brown’s “90 Miles” has struck a nerve with many in the photography community. His Instagram is filled with people who decry his synthetic photos, and others who protest the idea of such images being sold commercially.
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There is a gossamer line between the purely fictional and a version of the truth that is informed by one’s experience. Brown has spent significant amounts of time in Cuba and among its citizens. 
What he has documented here is simply beyond the pale of being photographed either because the subject matter is too dangerous, inaccessible, or both.
What Brown brings to each image is his collective memory and experience of the subject matter. In that way, he is no different than anyone else who has recorded history in retrospect. 
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For a deeper take, read the outstanding article in Blind Magazine by Amber Terranova at:

AI Conjurer:
Sherry Horowitz
Words, more than ever, are vitally important to the creation of images. Behind every stellar image is a carefully crafted prompt that extracts from the machine just a little bit of magic. This is the conjurer's craft.
If there can be such a thing as an O.G. in the nasent world of generative art, Sherry Horowitz would be it.
I first came across Sherry’s work in December of 2022. I couldn’t believe it was created in something called Midjourney.
What further caught my attention, was the modifier adjoining her name, “AI Conjurer.” It was the first time that I was forced to connect prompting with something larger than just a collection of tossed together words that tried to get AI to do something.
Conjurer implied something much more nuanced.
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Sherry believes passionately in words and ideas. In fact, her relationship with words began long before she was born.
Sherry is the granddaughter of four grandparents who survived the horrors of Auschwitz and Nazi genocide. Growing up in her grandparents’ homes taught her the razor-sharp line of balancing a philosophical commitment to ideals with a world that wanted to expunge those ideals. This relationship between the philosophical and the practical is what heightened her connection to language.
“It’s what drove me to write and study poetry: The attempt to capture, apprehend and distill unwieldy ideas.”
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Despite horrific anti-semitism, Sherry’s grandparents all remained steadfast in their faith. As Sherry explains it, commitment and devotion to an ancient Jewish legacy, “halacha,” or parameters, is a nuanced balancing act between the physical and spiritual. The deep relationship to ancient Hebrew texts is part of daily practice.
Judaism mandates a practice that connects ideas to the real world so that the mundane quotidian act is elevated with the imprint of the eternal imagination of the spirit.
“Words, especially speech, are treated with sanctity and respect because how we speak is rooted in how we think, and how we think is a precursor to vision.” 
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Distilling unwieldy ideas into something that resembles sense is essentially what art is all about.
Sherry’s skill at writing is paired with another talent she discovered at an early age:
“As early as kindergarten I remember kids lining up during recess to have me draw them pictures for projects that the teacher assigned. I was always tasked with drawing things because it came naturally and easily for me.”
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A visual imagination married with a deep and poetic understanding of words appears to be fortuitous combination for unlocking the powers of generative AI.
It’s also a pairing that rarely exists in a single person. It’s why in advertising there are writers and art directors, and in film you have storyboard artists and directors who visualize the script.
Sherry mostly works in the commercial world, where the finest details are what define brands. She uses Midjourney and other tools to rapid prototype, create packaging and complete branding assignments.
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Getting proper placement of objects, creating nuanced lighting, proper colors and textures, and bringing it all together is next level stuff even for the most accomplished AI artist.
On top of this, Sherry has come to realize a mere understanding of design tools is no longer enough for success. Output is table stakes. 
“We are moving away from execution being a barrier to entry, to where the idea rules the day.”
Vision, literally and figuratively, are more important than ever.
They just need to be conjured.
You can see more of Sherry’s work at:

Bob Bjarke's Wreckommen-dation 
Music creates a love/hate relationships. We've all fantasized about hucking a hunk of detested vinyl at a wall, but never actually did it. Now you can.
Music is polarizing. We love it or hate it. We want to love and honor it -- or destroy it in a violent disco inferno. It’s something we secretly harbor in our minds, but what if we could actually do it?
Introducing the Wreckommendation Engine. One part playlist. One part video game. One part anger management counseling.
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The Wreckommendation Engine was created by Bob Bjarke and born out of an event hosted by Meta.
“Meta was putting on this hackathon for external developers to come in, and kind of kick the tires on a bunch of new immersive tech that they've built. They call it the presence platform, it's essentially a bunch of technology that allows developers to build these mixed reality experiences, like, you know, a full immersive AR.”
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Bob put his initial ideas down on paper and shared them with the group prior to the hackathon. It attracted a group of multi-disciplinary artists who thought the idea just crazy enough to want to make it happen.
“I think we were all intrigued by doing something that we all do in the real world, which is listen to music. The do, something we never do, like grab a record from your turntable and smash it against a wall.”
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After gathering the team, the real, frenzied work began.
“I was able to draw my little pictures, hand those over to our 3D artists who would create dimensional shapes and then apply those image textures to the shapes. Those would then get passed to the unity developers who would build the scene and the interactivity.”
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Bob Bjarke by Midjourney
Much of the art is in the details. The most rewarding often being the unforgettable sound of vinyl impacting plaster.
“Our sound engineer was up late at night dropping things like plastic forks and knives in his hotel room and recording those. We used those for the record hitting the wall sound and then he created even more sounds for the pieces hitting the floor.
Check out a short film and the full team credits here: 

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In the middle of the 20th Century, the powers that be decided art could not be art unless it had a theory attached to it. They believed this so fervently that they proceeded to take it to its logical extreme.
In “The Painted Word” Tom Wolfe describes – with a heavy dose of humor -- how theory and words came to replace paintings. And because of this art came close to almost entirely vanishing from the canvas.
Things went from “seeing is believing” to “believing is seeing.”
In a twist of events, the opposite is now occurring. Thanks to Midjourney, words are powering virtual brushstrokes and pure theory is no longer calling all the shots. At least for now.
Passions are high. Opinions are polarized. It's a taxing time. 
So maybe we should all just lighten up.
The world of art can be a complex tangle of theories and -isms, but to Tom Wolfe it's all one grand postmodernist joke. 

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AI changes everything. Including storytelling.The Nextness Newsletter is brought to you by Storymachine. As a leader in the AI video space, Storymachine scripts, films and delivers everything from branded content and commercials to corporate masterclasses and training films. If you are looking to unleash a new kind of storytelling, Storymachine just might be your jam.