Robot overlords win blue ribbon (not really)

I’m teaching Philosophy of Art this semester, and a student pointed me to an Ars Technica story with the headline AI wins state fair art contest, annoys humans. Jason Allen used Midjourney (the same AI that I was playing with recently) to make some images and enter them in the Colorado State Fair art contest. One of those images won first place in the Digital Arts/Digitally Manipulated Photography category.

There’s lots of discussion about whether this is the end for human artists (it’s not), whether this shows that AI are now making real art (no), and whether the submission of AI-generated images to the State Fair was dishonest (maybe).

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Icons and symbols

Two unrelated things.

One of my longest-running things on the internet is The God-Man Fan Page. I updated it today with a recent adventure— by my count, the 74th appearance of the character.

In preparing for tomorrow’s class, I discovered Raphaël Julliard’s 2005 work 1000 Chinese Paintings. She commissioned a Chinese factory to make square canvases painted a uniform shade of red and reserved a booth at a Paris art fair to sell them. All of the canvasses were sold by the end of the pre-show, so the result was an empty booth during the fair.

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I for one welcome our new robot watercolorists

Today I discovered Midjourney, an AI image generator that’s rather more high-powered than other free ones which I’ve tried. Riffing on prompts by other users, I had it generate a Frank frazetta painting of a wombat newscaster. The result was pleasant enough that I’ve adopted it— for now— as the blog header.

ai image of a wombat newscaster

Clusters without cluster concepts

Philosophers try to understand things. One traditional way that goes is to provide a definition. Q: What is knowledge? A: Something is knowledge if and only if it is justified true belief. K=JTB.

Attempts to give necessary and sufficient conditions in this way typically fail. JTB is insufficient, and a literature pops up suggesting some additional condition, so that K=JTB+X. Some later philosophers pass quickly over the difficulty, not bothering to fill in a value for X and suggesting that for their purposes we can just focus on the JTB part.

A popular alternative since the mid-1900s has been to analyze in terms of cluster concepts. When X, Y, and Z all seem relevant but none seem either necessary or sufficient, say instead that the concept is a cluster formed by those criteria. This has been a common move for analyzing art.1

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The magic of allusion

I’ve been thinking about allusion recently, specifically the claim that “it is impossible to properly appreciate an allusion without considering what it is an allusion to.”1

Of course, it is impossible to understand an allusion in a semantic sense if you don’t know what it’s alluding to. But that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to properly appreciate it in an aesthetic or artistic sense.

Take this example, from the Paul Simon song “The Late Great Johnny Ace”:

I was living in London
With the girl from the song before2

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Winding down the on-line class, art

My Philosophy of Art class this term was synchronous, meaning that students and I typically logged onto a real-time Zoom meeting for class. I had students fill out a survey about their experience of the course. One question was about how the on-line experience compared to a face-to-face class, and this was the result—

From the standpoint of learning and engagement, having this course on-line was ____ having it in person.

…better than… 23%…about the same as… 41%…worse than… 36%

I would have said about the same, but that’s not quite right. There were definite differences, but some were for the better. On balance, it was a good course. Although I was adapting to the format as I went along, I’m not sure it would have been a better course face-to-face in a classroom.

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