Just as writers can sometimes experience "writer's block," creators in the visual arts have also been known to experience "painter's block" or the equivalent thereof. The possible reasons are manifold. Anything from a lack of confidence, whether warranted or unwarranted, fear of judgment or criticism, and physical or mental exhaustion can all contribute to a decrease in motivation.

An illustration potentially addressing the theme of "painter's block" has recently become a topic of conversation online after it was posted on September 2nd, 2022, by Japanese freelance illustrator らいす Rice (@rice01200120).

In front of a wall covered from floor to ceiling with colorful, detailed paintings depicting dream-like worlds, an artist kneels on the ground, facing a new canvas on an easel. Not seeming to care that a strap of his apron has slipped off his shoulder, or that his painter's palette is lying face down on the ground at his feet, paint seeping onto the hardwood flooring, he clutches a brush and paints a giant red X on the canvas.

"You must have started because you liked it."

Reproduced with permission from らいす Rice (@rice01200120)

From his body language, it's easy to read feelings of dejection, anger and frustration. Together with the caption, you could interpret this as the emotional state of a painter who used to love his work but for some reason feels unable to continue.

The illustration seems to have struck a chord both with fellow artists and non-artists alike. The post quickly went viral, garnering nearly 134,000 likes at the time of writing, and eliciting comments such as:

  • "This happens to me too!"
  • "For me, it started out as a way to express myself but before I knew it, the goal shifted to gaining recognition and just making a living. That's when it got hard to create..."
  • "This reminded me of the way I used to be and it made me cry..."
  • "You don't have to be a painter. Anyone involved in creating can relate to this."
  • "It reminds me of the manga Blue Period."

However, the story doesn't end there.

Four minutes later, Rice quote-tweeted his original post, adding a stunning revelation:

"The background paintings are all created by #midjourney. It's ironic."

Midjourney, one of several AI-powered systems now available to the public that create images from user prompts, has an artistic focus.

Some artists have voiced caution and concern over AI tools like Midjourney, DALL-E, and StableDiffusion, citing ethical and moral issues as well as a fear that artists' livelihoods could be threatened since anyone can now "paint" even if they've never picked up a brush. The debate heated up recently after an AI-generated picture won an award for emerging digital artists at the Colorado State Fair’s annual art competition, sparking a fierce backlash online.

Knowing that the paintings in the background of Rice's powerful illustration were all generated by Midjourney opens up the possibility of a different interpretation. Perhaps the painter drawing the X is frustrated not by his own lack of motivation or other reasons intrinsic to his development as an artist but by an extrinsic factor: the emergence of AI-generated art.

The revelation about Rice's AI collaborator surprised many, eliciting comments such as:

  • "I think this is a wonderful work which should be appreciated, together with this Tweet."
  • "Maybe (the X) means 'close your tabs'"
  • "So artistic, including the revelation!"
  • "I got goosebumps..."

No matter how Rice's illustration is interpreted, however, one thing is clear: It's an example of an illustrator making creative use of AI-generated images (in this case, to create background paintings) as one more tool at his disposal. Whether wittingly or unwittingly, in so doing, Rice is leading by example, demonstrating that artists and AI don't have to be at odds, that they can work together to explore new forms of expression.

As for the artist behind the illustration, a quick look at his Twitter account in the days since his viral post will show you that he's doing just fine. He posted a new illustration on September 8th, this one a commission for Vape brand Slash, and on September 11th, he Tweeted that although he's been talking a lot about Splatoon 3, "he's painting seriously."

If you'd like to see more of Rice's illustrations, follow him on Twitter and visit his Pixiv page.

By - Ben K.