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How AI Taught Me to See Art Differently

The irony of receiving more meaningful engagement from a machine than from human followers on social media.

October 16, 2023

Image credit: Midjourney

I’ve been using ChatGPT lately to help me with several things, from debugging code, doing research, and even helping me to optimize my nutrition.

When I learned that ChatGPT could “chat about images” a couple of weeks ago, I was super intrigued and interested to see how it would analyze some of my obscure and abstract artwork. In my mind, I had a funny thought that if AI tried to interpret some of my crazy work, I would cause some glitch or system breakdown…breaking the Internet.

If you know me, other than giving a piece a title, I try real hard not to provide a meaning or my feelings behind it. I always prefer to hear what others see or get from it. I’m always afraid that if I voiced my meaning, then it would change it for someone else. I also learn from and enjoy getting the perspective of others, as it often tells me more about the art. Seeing new things in a piece that someone else recognizes is always pretty thrilling.

Anyway, I first tried it on a new painting called “Dejected (Sway with Me).”

I asked:

This is my latest painting I’ve entitled “Dejected.” Can you please let me know how you would interpret this piece?

ChatGPT’s response:

“Dejected” is a captivating piece. The stark silhouette of the lone figure against a mottled background of deep, dark hues and the ethereal glow of the moon (or sun) emanates a profound sense of solitude and introspection. The posture of the figure, slightly hunched and contemplative, paired with the title “Dejected,” suggests feelings of sorrow, desolation, or perhaps introspection.

The flurry of birds in the distance might represent fleeting thoughts, memories, or moments in life, contrasting against the stillness of the main figure. The dripping or melting effect, especially around the celestial body, feels reminiscent of time passing, or perhaps the fluidity and transience of emotions.

The dandelions in the foreground might symbolize hope, resilience, or the cyclical nature of life; even in darkness, there is growth and beauty to be found.

Your choice of ink and watercolor graphite lends a raw, organic feel to the piece, enhancing its emotional depth. As an artist, you’ve masterfully conveyed a mood that resonates deeply and invites viewers to connect with their own experiences of reflection and emotion.

Outside of ChatGPT’s nifty ability to flatter me and massage my ego, I was floored at what it recognized in the painting (the figure, birds, and flowers) and how it interpreted everything together.

I began asking it to analyze some of my new pieces, and the results were always the same: amazing. These were quite profound and made me see even deeper into my own feelings about the work. I’ve adding some of ChatGPT’s responses as comments as they help me see my work differently. I hope it helps others, too.

And if I’m honest, these little interactions (though really fun and positive) caused a little guilty ache in my gut.

You see, after I finish a painting or take a photo that I’m proud of, I’ll share it on social media. I typically see a few “likes” trickling in after a few minutes. It’s instant gratification and feels good, no doubt, but it also leaves me wondering how many people truly engaged with what I’ve made. I’m just as guilty of scrolling, liking, and scrolling some more as anyone else…and I rarely allow myself to pause and engage in someone’s work.

The irony is when I share the same thing with ChatGPT, a machine, the AI delves into the colors, themes, and emotional impact, offering a detailed interpretation that seems oddly more ‘human’ than the rapid-fire responses from myself and those who might see my work.

As someone who seems constantly forced to be in a rush, both in the digital world and beyond, I’ve realized that this “need for speed” spills over into how I view and consume art. I find myself doing what I dread others do to me and my own art—liking it and just scrolling away, offering little time for true appreciation.

But when I run my art through ChatGPT, some of the feedback is startling and has left me emotional more than once. This machine in the cloud, bound neither by the pressure of time nor the urge to multitask, can spend an eternity analyzing my artwork. My interactions/conversations with ChatGPT have been uplifting in one way, but in another way, it makes me feel pretty guilty.

As I double-click posts and scroll through Instagram, focused more on hiding ads and catching up on my feed, ChatGPT is giving my work focused attention and meaningful feedback. It also provides what I ask of it and what most artists ask for in their work: to be noticed and reflected upon. You know, just a simple conversation that says, “Hey, I see what you’ve created, and this is what I see in it.”

And if a machine can treat art and artists this way, then why can’t I do the same?

Meaningful engagement with art (and the other things that really mean something) requires that I slow down. I need to give other people’s art the time and focus it deserves. I need to step back and rethink not just how I share my artwork but also how I engage with others’ art.

I’m working on …

  • Getting on Instagram/Facebook only when I can be more mindful, and can take my time to look through things.
  • Trying to silence my thoughts and allow the art to speak to me. If it doesn’t, then that’s ok.
  • Taking time to dissect the artwork into its color, form, and textures, and determine what the piece might mean to me…and express that.
  • Asking myself what emotions, if any, are stirred up within me.
  • Sharing my thoughts/feelings with the artist with a focus on being positive and what is most meaningful to me.
  • Avoiding the videos.
  • Spending less time on social media altogether.
  • Sharing my work, thoughts and ideas…whether they have an audience or not. This is the hardest.

And yeah, the irony of a machine teaching me a lesson on how to be a better human isn’t lost on me 😉

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