That’s a brilliant idea—just imagine this. Everyone is either wildly enthusiastic about all those style references in generative AI or fervently against it. It’s no surprise, really; being a creator has never been easier, and not just any creator, but a stylish one with a wide audience. You can take any image or find a style reference you like and use it to make your art. Of course, making it work the way you want requires considerable skill, but you don’t need to be Hieronymus Bosch to achieve a Bosch-like quality. Or do you?! Now, what if you take the process one step further, like the folks at Smack, a Netherlands-based creative studio, did?

“The Garden of Earthly Delights” – have you heard? For all those art enthusiasts it’s a must see! A triptych exhibited in Madrid painted by Bosch somewhere between 1490 and 1510, renowned for its intricate details and surreal imagery. What an imagery!!! “The Garden” is made of three panels. The left panel, “The Garden of Eden,” depicts God presenting Eve to Adam amidst various animals and a fantastical landscape. The center panel illustrates a world filled with naked human figures, fantastical creatures, and oversized fruit, representing earthly pleasures and indulgence. The right panel portrays a dark, nightmarish vision of Hell with grotesque figures, torture scenes, and chaotic imagery.

Now, in 2016, the Smack trio, Ton Meijdam, Thom Snels, and Béla Zsigmond drew inspiration from 500 years old Bosch’s triptych and spent two years creating SPECULUM, an animated contemporary interpretation of it. This incredible piece reflects on our identity and society through a wealth of visual stories. BTW, now permanently displayed also in Madrid.

Then, they came up with this crazy idea of asking AI to interpret it back the way Bosch would (sic!) and print it out on a 53 meters long and 8 meters tall banner displayed in Breda, NL. Using AI, SMACK explored the possibility of a reverse interpretation, culminating in their work, Speculum Reversion. Thousands of digital image elements were generated from experiments, with numerous versions created using merged prompts as a collage. This interpretation, moving from medieval to contemporary and back to Bosch’s era, reveals much to discover. AI also created new narratives merging different eras, inviting spectators to unleash their imagination and interpretation.

“We were blown away by the scope, precision, quality and enormous ease with which AI creates an image. At the same time, this can be daunting and frustrating when you think about how much effort it would take if you had to do it yourself,” says Thom.

Where other artists fear a loss of originality, SMACK knows how to use artificial intelligence in a way that complements their practice.

“Sometimes you think you have the technology under control, but then the program suddenly takes a different direction. It’s like working with someone who suffers from acute memory loss and can’t remember what he did a minute ago.” But, they add: “That is also very entertaining and often inspiring, given the surprising results that such unguided experiments yield.”

You can check out the incredible process here – SPECULUM_REVERSION – The Making Of.