The Snows of Yesteryear

I appreciated this image so much which I generated with an early AI-art generation application called SnowPixel that I decided to paint it, but at the time, I was only willing to devote a very small 6×6-inch canvas to do it.

The resulting painting came out so well that it was purchased almost right away when I took a chance and brought it to the gallery. Because it is abstract, I knew I was pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable for the gallery.

That was back in 2020 when I first started playing around with AI art generation. It’s come a long way in the intervening years, but I have to say some of the early images I received back from my prompts were startling and beautiful – so much so that I wanted to paint them, and this is how I primarily use artificial intelligence to help me become a better painter.

I know using AI is very controversial. It has driven me away from sharing much of the work I do with my local friends because they seem to be bothered when someone uses it, or they are afraid of it, or both. Their resistance is not going to make me stop, as one local artist recently implored in a FaceBook post. It is only going to make my use of it less obvious.

The thing is, using AI to create scenes for me to paint has been almost like having a teacher who stands behind you, watches what you do, and says, “I see what you’re trying to do there,” but they’re not being a jerk, as some teachers can be when they make the mistake of using that phrase.

That’s because we’re not giving them some sort of agenda other than to produce the image you ask for with your prompt, however exact or lenient your ask has been.

In the case of this visual idea, the ask was simple. It was “The Snows of Yesteryear.” This phrase is loaded in Western literature and sprinkled liberally through stories like Pier Ghent and Catch 22, where the phrase has been changed to “Where are the Snowdens of yesteryear.”

“The Snows of Yesteryear” is a phrase attributed to the 16th-century poet François Villon, reflecting on the passage of time and the fleeting nature of life’s joys and sorrows. It encapsulates the theme of nostalgia, longing, and the inevitable march of time. In literature, this reference often evokes a sense of melancholy and reflection on the past, highlighting the beauty and transience of moments gone by. Whether used metaphorically or literally, “The Snows of Yesteryear” serves as a poignant reminder of the impermanence of life and the importance of cherishing each fleeting moment.

In Joseph Heller’s novel “Catch-22,” the phrase “Snowdens of yesteryear” is used to refer to the memories and traumas of the past that haunt the characters, particularly the protagonist, Captain John Yossarian. Snowden is a young gunner who dies tragically in a bombing mission, and his death deeply affects Yossarian, symbolizing the loss and senselessness of war. The phrase represents the weight of past experiences and the psychological burden carried by soldiers, echoing Villon’s theme of the transience and sorrow of bygone times. Yossarian’s struggle with the memories of Snowden’s death serves as a central motif in the novel, illustrating the absurdity and brutality of war and its lasting impact on those who endure it.

Facebook and Instagram analytics are telling me this painting’s post has received more engagement than most of my others and it gives me hope that I might eventually find representation as an abstract painter. I joke and say it’s like how many actors, if you ask them, say what they’d really like to do is direct.

I love my colorful and small paintings that depict rural life here in Taos. I think that view could also be expanded to include some of my more expressive abstracts. Here’s hoping.

And to my friends and acquaintances who are fearful of AI, I understand your fear, but to me, it is something we have created in OUR image. It’s just feeding back what we showed it or told it. If you don’t like what you see, then something needs to be adjusted.

I am asking you not to hate me for using it. I feel like I am alone most of the time and it’s helpful to at least have a teacher who doesn’t get worn out with me and my questions or obsessions. Using AI in the ways I am using it has been one of the most freeing and exhilarating collaborations I could ever have hoped for at this very creative time in my life. Don’t tell me what I can or cannot use to enrich my artistic vision, I am begging you.