Elman MansimovalignDRAW

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Elman Masimov’s alignDRAW, presented by Fellowship, is widely credited as the first text-to-image model, developed in 2015. With text prompts revolutionizing the guidance of AI’s creative process, these works represent the beginning of a new paradigm in image making.

In 2015 Elman Mansimov developed a new idea to create images via a computer model called alignDRAW. By this time, neural networks could already label images, i.e. convert them to descriptions of their content. That same year, a group of researchers introduced a model called DRAW to generate coherent images using a series of numbers. 

Mansimov combined the two ideas and showed that text descriptions can be converted by a deep network into images. He and his collaborators published a paper “Generating Images from Captions with Attention” which used as illustrations images produced by their new alignDRAW model. These 168 images were generated using prompts describing non-existent scenes such as “a herd of elephants flying in the blue skies.” At that time, Mansimov also saved another 2,057 images created by the same alignDRAW model. 

a brown horse is grazing in a field

a brown horse is grazing in a field

an airplane flying off into the distance on a clear day

an airplane flying off into the distance on a clear day

a picture of a dark sky

a picture of a dark sky

a yellow school bus is flying in blue skies

a yellow school bus is flying in blue skies

The alignDRAW project marks the beginning of a new paradigm in image creation. Photography was already two hundred years old at the time, while computer graphics were fifty-five years old. The first 3D wireframe computer graphics appeared in 1960. Ivan Sutherland, an MIT student, created Sketchpad, the first interactive CAD system, in 1961-1962. Sketchpad gives visual commands to the computer via the interactive screen, and the computer responds by drawing lines. 

However, generative media has brought yet another surprising method of creating visuals with computers. You can now describe a desired image using natural language rather than creating it by hand, using mechanical or software devices, or capturing it with a lens. You are able to generate an infinite number of visual universes simply by naming them, which is extremely amazing. While we can debate whether AI is “creative” or not, in my perspective, it is already technically more proficient than most art students and adult artists. 

When we look at the initial low-resolution and hazy images from nearly two centuries ago, we see the whole future potential of photography, which eventually became the dominating imaging and communication technology of our time. And when I look at comparable low-resolution alignDRAW pictures, I see a similar promise for a new major visual method that could very soon become as essential as lens photography was in the last two hundred years. This is why these images are valuable, magical, and worth collecting. 

Text by Lev Manovich

Elman Mansimov, *alignDRAW*, on view at HERE

Elman Mansimov, alignDRAW, on view at HERE


Elman Mansimov

ELMAN MANSIMOV was born in 1996 in Baku, Azerbaijan, and currently lives and works in San Francisco, United States. He studied Computer Science at the University of Toronto in 2011 (aged 15). He led a team of developers who created the alignDRAW model, widely credited as the first text-into-image generation model. The artwork from alignDRAW was first published in the academic paper, ‘Generating...
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Fellowship aims to connect the past and present to shape the future of art. Founded in 2021 by artists, collectors, and Web3 pioneers, the organisation connects the lineage of art’s rich history to break down barriers between the traditional and the new, paving the way for an inspiring and vibrant future. To date, Fellowship has showcased remarkable collections from pioneering and contemporary...
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