The Eye of the Artificial Imagination: Midjourney and the Crisis of "Real" Art



September of 2022 showcased two major achievements for art generated by artificial intelligence: Jason Allen won first place at the Colorado State fair for his epic space-fantasy landscape piece, Théâtre D’opéra Spatial, and “author” Kevin Hess published the first graphic novel using images entirely from an AI art generator, a 700+ page version of Olaf Stapledon’s philosophical science fiction novel Star Maker (which conveniently just entered the public domain in the U.S.). Both men used a program called Midjourney, which is owned by an independent research lab accused of utilizing copyrighted images in its databases, further questioning the shifting relationships of art vs artist in our 21st century digital technoscape. Considering that internet piracy has flattened many artistic industries, such as music, movies, books, and the visual arts, this raises an important question: are Hess and Allen cyberbeings whose skill at manipulating text-based prompts elevates them to the status of artists? Or are they simply the first grunts in a new wave of gig economy workers who will continue to devalue the status of “real art” and increase the profits of billionaire tech companies at the expense of the public good? This presentation will explore the nature of these techno-umwelts and their human users, looking specifically at the programs Midjourney, DALL-E, and Stable Diffusion, beginning with the philosophy of the Surrealist Manifesto and ending with the criticism of William Deresiewicz.


First Name Last Name
Jess Flarity

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Submission Details

Conference GRC
Event Graduate Research Conference
Department English (GRC)
Group Oral Presentation
Added March 27, 2023, 9:50 a.m.
Updated March 27, 2023, 9:50 a.m.
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