CAN Journal Summer 2023: Nothing Artificial

In August 2023, Cleveland artist Bob Peck made some early trials with the DALL-E AI image generation platform. The above images were produced in response to the prompt “A scary hot dog monster who is an artist and he’s creating an abstract painting.” Image courtesy of Bob Peck.

While we were in the early stages of choosing stories for the Summer 2023 issue of CAN Journal, the prospect of content generated by artificial intelligence was all the rage in media and social media. As an experiment, I considered illustrating the phenomenon by publishing a story generated via AI. How would artificial intelligence navigate the world of regional art, specifically of Northeast Ohio?

This might be intriguing, I thought. This might have some value. So I visited ChatGPT. And it had some value—but not in the sense that we got something we’d actually publish.

“Discuss, in 1000 words, the nonprofit art sector in Northeast Ohio” was the first prompt I tried.

The robot responded with this bit of banality: “Northeast Ohio is a region with a rich cultural heritage, and the visual arts have always played an important role in the area’s cultural identity. The region is home to a diverse range of nonprofit visual arts organizations that contribute significantly to the artistic and cultural landscape of the region.”

Sure, the grammar is fine. And to be fair, the robot did correctly identify the major institutions and the dates of their founding. But in the face of its overwhelming shallowness, I decided to have another go, aiming this time for something more specific.

“Tell me in approximately 500 words who are the most important living visual artists in Northeast Ohio.”

Acknowledging the subjective nature of the question, and allowing for robots to have their own taste, and while absolutely agreeing that ChatGPT’s first choice—Michelangelo Lovelace—was indeed among the region’s important artists of late, we have to note some errors. Lovelace made some prints, but overwhelmingly his practice was devoted to paint: no intelligent writer would give those two descriptors equal weight in describing this artist, as ChatGPT did. And while many people no doubt learned from him and his work, the robot was at best misleading in describing the painter as an educator: he worked by day as a nursing assistant. Finally, we might think that the multiple reflections on the occasion of his passing—in outlets such as The New York Times, ARTnews, and CAN Journal, among many others—might have helped the AI do better at choosing “living” artists.

We won’t quibble with the remainder of ChatGPT’s choices, even if anyone who has any real intelligence on the subject might have taken up the debate. But we asked the same question again.

In our second round, the late Michelangelo Lovelace surfaced again. After that, though, the robot named four entirely different artists. “Make up your mind,” we said to ourselves, quietly. And we read on. This time, the robot’s failure to grasp the meaning of the word “living” brought to bear the late great Julian Stanczak—along with other choices both reasonable and dubious.

We moved on to curators, asking a similar question. ChatGPT named one curator who is no longer in the region, crediting him with helping to “establish the Akron Art Museum as a leading institution in the region.” But that curator—whom we won’t name, by way of protecting the innocent—never worked at that museum. And another who—contrary to AI’s assertion—never worked at SPACES, and had nothing to do with Oh Gods of Dust and Rainbows.

We’re going to just go ahead and suggest that art students, collectors, and anyone else looking for reliable information about art of the region look to sources other than artificial intelligence. Like these pages, for example. In this issue of CAN Journal you will find profiles of the artists (including Cleveland-based Lauren Yeager) chosen by SPACES for the 2023 Venice Biennale, which opens at almost the very same time as this magazine hits the streets. You’ll also find profiles of the following: Tiffany Graham Charkosky, who is the new director of art and culture at Cleveland Public Library; artist Morgan Bukovec, who has been making art from comments made to her by restaurant customers; author and curator Key Jo Lee, who left the Cleveland Museum of Art to become chief of curatorial affairs and public programs at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco; Parade the Circle lead artist Hector Castellanos Lara; collectors Joe and Elaine Kisvardi; and CAN Triennial / ARTneo Exhibition Prize artist Eva Kwong.

Of course you’ll also find a multitude of organizations previewing their upcoming shows. We look forward to seeing you.

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