This is a blog, and being so, is about writing as much as on photography. I tried ChatGPT to write this post. I put it questions around the idea I’ve been lately considering; the use of photography by Australian artists. I found what AI cannot do.
Reading about journalists’ experiments with Chat GPT since its recent release, and cognitive scientist Tim Kietzmann’s claim that “Essays are dead,” I expected I’d have this post written in a flash by posing the bot a few questions…
JMCA who are 20th century painters who have used photography?
The AI bot, from out there somewhere in the cloud, answered capably, identifying correctly 3 international artists, one Englishman (though now living in America), an American and a German, all male (showing a gender bias?), who use photography, giving brief descriptions of their various approaches
ChatGPT : There are many 20th century painters who have used photography as a tool or inspiration in their work. Some notable examples include David Hockney, Chuck Close, and Gerhard Richter. Hockney is known for incorporating photographic elements into his paintings, often using Polaroid prints as a starting point for his compositions. Close, on the other hand, uses a grid-like technique to create highly detailed and photorealistic paintings based on photographs of his subjects. Richter, meanwhile, has used both photography and painting in his work, often blurring the lines between the two mediums.
JMCA who are Australian painters who have used photography? I got back the “Sorry Dave, but I can’t do that..” answer to this more specific question;
ChatGPT : I’m sorry, but I am not able to browse the internet to provide specific information about Australian painters who have used photography. I am a large language model trained by OpenAl, and my knowledge is limited to what I have been trained on. I do not have the ability to browse the internet or access new information. I can only provide general information based on what I have been trained on.
JMCA Did Russell Drysdale take photographs? I needed to name specific Australian artists to find out if ChatGPT could tell me anything about them, and on Drysdale, the answer is vague but accurate as far as it went, identifying a “similar aesthetic” between the artist’s canvas, compared to camera, images;
ChatGPT : Yes, Russell Drysdale was an Australian painter who also took photographs. He was known for his depictions of the Australian outback and rural life, and often used photography as a way to document his subjects and gather reference material for his paintings. Drysdale’s photographs often had a similar aesthetic to his paintings, with a focus on the harsh realities of life in rural Australia.
JMCA Did Sidney Nolan use photography in his art? A false response; Nolan’s extensive and quite expert use of a variety of photographic media throughout his career is detailed in my previous post;
ChatGPT : Sidney Nolan was an Australian painter who did not use photography as part of his artistic process. Nolan is best known for his series of paintings based on the Australian bushranger Ned Kelly, which were characterized by their bold, stylized forms and flat, simplified shapes. Nolan’s work was heavily influenced by European modernism, particularly the paintings of Paul Cézanne and Henri Matisse, and he did not incorporate photography into his practice.
JMCA Did Australian painter Jeffrey Smart use photography in creating his artwork? As we have seen, the extent to which Smart made photographs for himself is not clear, a distinction not made clear in this answer;
ChatGPT : Yes, Jeffrey Smart was an Australian painter who often used photography in his work. Smart is known for his highly detailed, photorealistic paintings of urban landscapes and industrial scenes. He often used photography as a way to document his subjects and gather reference material for his paintings, and his compositions often had a strong sense of perspective and depth. Smart’s use of photography in his work helped to establish him as one of Australia’s most important and influential painters of the 20th century.
JMCA Eric Thake was an Australian printmaker and painter. Did he also use the camera? ChatGPT shows it is sketchy on Australian art;
ChatGPT : I’m sorry, but I do not have any information about whether or not Eric Thake used photography in his work. As I mentioned earlier, I am a large language model trained by OpenAl, and my knowledge is limited to what I have been trained on…&c
JMCA Was Albert Tucker known to take photos?
This question elicited what seemed to be knowledge of particular photographs taken by Tucker, but which really was a parroting of pronouncements on his painting…
ChatGPT : Yes, Albert Tucker was an Australian artist who used photography as part of his artistic process. Tucker was a painter, printmaker, and photographer, and his work often explored themes of violence, sexuality, and social conflict. He was known for his dark, expressionistic style, and his photographs often had a similarly moody and atmospheric quality. Tucker’s use of photography helped to inform his paintings and other works, and helped to establish him as a significant figure in Australian art.
JMCA Which photographs by Albert Tucker are “moody and atmospheric” in quality?
…so asking for the detail brings the stock answer;
ChatGPT : I’m sorry, but I do not have specific information about which photographs by Albert Tucker are considered moody and atmospheric. As a large language model trained by OpenAl, my responses are based on general knowledge blah, blah…
Having determined that ChatGPT actually did know Australian painters who have used photography and so could have answered my second question, I framed it differently, and asked again.
JMCA Write an article about Australian painters’ use of photography, photographs and the camera.
The first response was still sketchy so I clicked “Try again,” which this time produced at least a better gender balance;
(Second attempt) ChatGPT : Australian painters have long been known for their distinctive and vibrant art scenes, and many of these artists have used photography as part of their artistic processes. Photography has played an important role in the development of Australian art, and many of the country’s most notable painters have used the camera to document their subjects and gather reference material for their work.
One of the earliest and most influential Australian painters to use photography was Russell Drysdale. Drysdale was known for his depictions of the Australian outback and rural life, and he often used photography to document the people and landscapes he encountered on his travels. His photographs often had a similar aesthetic to his paintings, with a focus on the harsh realities of life in rural Australia.
Another notable Australian painter who used photography was Jeffrey Smart. Smart is known for his highly detailed, photorealistic paintings of urban landscapes and industrial scenes. He often used photography to document his subjects and gather reference material for his work, and his compositions often had a strong sense of perspective and depth. Smart’s use of photography helped to establish him as one of Australia’s most important and influential painters of the 20th century.
In addition to Drysdale and Smart, many other Australian painters have used photography as part of their artistic processes. Albert Tucker, for example, was a painter, printmaker, and photographer who used photography to document his subjects and inform his paintings and other works. Norman Lindsay, on the other hand, used photography to gather reference material for his paintings and other artworks.
Overall, photography has played an important role in the development of Australian art, and many of the country’s most notable painters have used the camera to document their subiects and inform their work. From Russell Drysdale and Jeffrey Smart to Albert Tucker and Norman Lindsay, Australian painters have used photography to capture the beauty and diversity of their country and its people.
Australia has a rich history of art and photography, with many talented artists and photographers having come from the country. Some of the most notable Australian artists include Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd, and Margaret Preston, who were known for their distinctive styles and contributions to the Australian art scene.
Australian photography has also flourished over the years, with many photographers using their work to capture the unique landscape and culture of the country. Some notable Australian photographers include Olive Cotton, Max Dupain, and Bill Henson, who are known for their striking images of the Australian landscape and people.
Australia has also produced many contemporary artists and photographers who are known for their innovative and thought-provoking work. These artists often explore social and political issues in their work, as well as the unique aspects of Australian culture and history. Some of the most notable contemporary Australian artists and photographers include Tracey Moffatt, Wendy Sharpe, and Bill Viola.
Overall, Australian art and photography have a strong and vibrant tradition, with many talented artists and photographers having made significant contributions to the field.
What comes out is the sort of waffle that one would expect to hear from a high school debating team given an unrehearsed topic. It’s as if written by the unfortunate who has been given the task of summing up the thinly evidenced case of the team members before them. There they are at the wobbly rostrum, gesturing impressively and projecting boldy at the judges the phrase “used photography to document his subjects and gather reference material for his work” but repeating it four times with only slight variations. Knowing none, the poor speaker can summon up no examples of the ‘work’ mentioned, grasping desperately for names but including Bill Viola who is not an Australian. Their desperate words are monotonous and pointless, and the other team members look down at their shoelaces.
The main fault of this ‘artificial intelligence’ is not just that it isn’t intelligent, it’s that it has no real engagement with knowledge. Even if more facts could be thrown into the argument, it appears incapable having conviction in its material to creatively synthesise a cohesive persuasive discussion. Even if the repetition and rephrasing of the same “general knowledge and information that I have been trained on” that is currently so obvious were expanded with a better vocabulary, an emptiness of sentiment remains. ChatGPT needs to go back to school where it might partake of the joy of childhood and endure the horrors of adolescence to develop real consciousness, ‘life experience’ as it is called, which we humans all have and which makes our utterances empassioned.
Mauree Applegate Clack was a teacher who in 1914 was sacked at seventeen from her first school when she couldn’t control her classes, but who persevered, attending Platteville State Teachers College and the University of Wisconsin before earning a masters degree at the Northwestern University, returning to teaching in the 1920s, in Wisconsin. You will find her first media mention in the The Oshkosh Northwestern of 1 March 1944 as a “grade teacher” attending a “wartime conference on education of the American Association of School Administrators,” advocated for creative writing being encouraged in American primary school students. In her 1963 Freeing Children to Write she speaks from her first-hand teaching experiences of children discovering the ‘telling word’ and drawing picturesque analogies.
Having encouraged her pupils to compose letters in words they would use on a visit in person, she felt that freedom to express oneself accurately and clearly is a process that in many adults remains undeveloped; citing the example of people buying a greeting card containing some acceptable epigram in the belief that they cannot express themselves as well as does the copywriter, a complete stranger, who has penned the generic and ready-made sentiment for them. Applegate’s best remembered poem exposes the key failure of ChatGPT. She would demand of it, as she did of her elementary school charges; “be specific!”
Don’t say you saw a bird: you saw a swallow,
Or a great horned owl, a hawk, or oriole.
Don’t just tell me that he flew;
That’s what any bird can do;
Say he darted, circled, swooped or lifted in the blue.
Don’t say the sky behind the bird was pretty;
It was watermelon pink streaked through with gold;
Gold bubbled like a fountain
From a pepperminted mountain
And shone like Persian rugs when they are old.
Don’t tell me that the air was sweet with fragrance;
Say it smelled of minted grass and lilac bloom;
Don’t say your heart was swinging;
Name the tune that it was singing,
And how the moonlight’s neon filled the room.
Don’t say the evening creatures all were playing;
Mention tree toad’s twanging, screeching fiddle notes,
Picture cricket’s constant strumming
To the mass mosquitoes humming
While the frogs are singing bass deep in their throats.
Don’t use a word that’s good for all the senses
There’s a word for every feeling one can feel.
If you want your lines to be terrific;
Then do make your words specific,
For words can paint a picture that’s real
Accordingly, I asked ChatGPT to write, just as Applegate had, a “persuasive poem about writing a poem. Use original, specific observations of the real world transformed into metaphors, fresh expression and originality”. The result?…
As I sit by the window and gaze at the sky
I see the clouds rolling by, oh so high
They’re like a canvas, blank and vast
A blank slate, ready to be cast
Into a world of metaphor and art
Where the clouds are a work of the heart
And with each brushstroke of the pen
A new image, a new tale, begins
For in the art of poetry, there’s a power and a charm
To take the world around us and transform
It into something fresh and new
With words that are original, and true
So let us open our eyes and our hearts
And let the words flow from the start
As we craft our poetry with care
And let our metaphors paint the air
For in the art of poetry, there’s a magic to be found
When we open our minds and let the words resound
With meaning and beauty, with rhythm and rhyme
Our poetry will sing and our hearts will climb
To the heights of creative expression
Where our words can take on new dimension
So let us embrace the art of poetry
And let our words flow, wild and free.
Obediently repeating the words in my request it came back with verse that mostly scans and loosely joins relevant parts, almost clinching the idea with “Where the clouds are a work of the heart” in the second verse. However it selects a cliché metaphor that is as vaporous and insubstantial as the subsequent unconvincing and undemonstrated claims it is to make for poetry. In failing to ‘be specific,’ its effort is on a par with William McGonagall‘s passionless The Tay Bridge Disaster, known as the “Worst Poem Ever Written;” no comfort to the families of those killed.
OpenAI is also the developer of DALL-E image-from-text which shocked and threatened creative artists when it first appeared in beta in 2021 for all to try, bringing a cascade of copyright claims, from which our only rescue, as humans, is our capacity to detect deception, ambiguity and imprecision which we started to develop, painfully, as teenagers and to expect and seek originality.