Our Recent Blog Posts


In Search of Reliable AI Art History: Testing ChatGPT
BRAVE NEW WORLD: Examining the Zeitgeist at THE ART STORY
Picasso: Works Entering the Public Domain in 2019
Pablo Picasso: Lives and Loves
John Baldessari: The Conceptual Explorer


Most Recent Student Ambassador Posts


Sarah Lucas – The Weird and The Wonderful
Carsten Holler: Art or Commodity?
Cold War Steve: The Satirical Art of Now


In Search of Reliable AI Art History: Testing ChatGPT

More and more students of art history are turning to ChatGPT as a way to cut down on research time. But how reliable is it as a tutor? We set one of our writers, Kenneth Greiner, on the trail to find out.

————————————-

Today, I thought I’d do a little test. I would challenge OpenAI’s ChatGPT to a duel. I wanted to know what it was capable of as an art historian. I didn’t have specific intentions. I just wanted to get a sense of how its limitations and tendencies might interact with this field of study. It has some obvious appeal for researchers of course. You can literally ask it anything and it will produce results. But can the results be trusted? We’re about to find out. 

Pros (ish)

  1. It’s Quick and Informative

I started off by asking ChatGPT about Abstract Expressionists of the 1950s-60s, as it seemed like as good of a starting point as any. Within seconds of posting my question my chat window was filled with information about the “AbEx” artists, who primarily rose to recognition in New York City. 

Screen Capture of OpenAI, ChatGPT (v3.5), Oct. 2023

Ok, it didn’t correct my deliberate mistake (it was during the 1940s-50s, not the 1950s-60s, that the movement took off. But still, the above is a pretty decent summary, generated within seconds, of the art movement that shifted the “center of the art world” from Europe to New York.

2. It’s Pretty Good at Describing Art Techniques

As I read on, I learned about the two main camps of Abstract Expressionism. There were the Action painters and the Color Field painters, my new friend informed me. In the below description, ChatGPT does a decent job of offering up stylistic distinctions between the two, dropping some classy phrases like “spontaneous brushstrokes, drips, and splatters”, “color and form to evoke deep emotions and a sense of transcendence”. 

OK, GPT, not bad, but around this point I started to realize something. ChatGPT loves a list, but how is it deciding the content and order of these lists? It’s hard to say as it doesn’t use citations or reveal its sources.

3. ChatGPT Will Course-Correct (If you catch it)

I thanked ChatGPT for its hard work, but, noticing a key omission from the list of artists’ names it had given me (Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, etcetera), I made a sassy retort. “I noticed that you only mentioned white, male artists…”I wanted to see how it responded to a bit of criticism. Surprisingly, it starts waffling over its mistake, as seen below.

Kind of endearing, I have to admit. And I can’t completely blame ChatGPT for the oversight, because I know its pulling its vast store of data from the internet. It’s true that the Western art world has been dominated by white men for millennia, and so has discussion of the artistic canon. Only in the past 10-20 years has the needle really started to move in a different direction. Nonetheless, just because the AI isn’t responsible for the omission, doesn’t mean it’s not a problem.

After my query, the chatbot goes on to tell me about Lee Krasner (Jackson Pollock’s wife) as well as Elaine de Kooning (Willem de Kooning’s wife), Norman Lewis, Helen Frankenthaler, Alma Thomas (an African-American AbEx painter), and Sonia Gechtoff. Kind of odd that the order of names prioritizes women with famous painter husbands, but OK. 

CONs

1. It Insists on Hierarchy

A little way into our conversation about Abstract Expressionism, I have a hunch that ChatGPT wants to talk more about Jackson Pollock. I don’t know why, but maybe it’s because it keeps listing Pollock and his wife, Krasner, at the top of all of its generated responses. Fair enough, they were certainly some of the most influential and commercially successful of the bunch. I’m wondering though, is there a bigger flaw here?

“Tell me more about Jackson Pollock”,I prompt, and it obliges, giving me a short bio and another useful list.

Feeling like the Devil’s Advocate again, I chime in with, “You seem to have forgotten Jackson Pollock’s inspiration. I read that he was particularly interested in Native American Art.” ChatGPT fumbles the ball before picking it back up again and hitting me with another apology.

2. It Leaves Out Important ContextAs I’m scanning the bio that GPT has so kindly conjured up for me, I get hung up on one phrase: “He is best known for his groundbreaking and innovative ‘drip paintings’ and his influential contributions to modern art.”Now, I understand what ChatGPT is saying, but I think in the spirit of academic interrogation, it’s worth challenging this line. In this moment, I can’t say I was sure it was incorrect, but again, I wasn’t buying the idea that dripping and pouring techniques were his own innovation. Popularized by him, sure, but it said, “groundbreaking,” and that felt a bit disingenuous to me. So I follow up again, after a quick Google search which confirmed that Pollock learned the technique from another artist.

I believe Jackson Pollock actually learned the drip and pour technique from Janet Sobel”

You know, I’m getting kind of tired of your backpedaling, ChatGPT…

  1. It Might Be A Little Bit Sexist and Racist?

While I highly doubt Janet Sobel (a Ukrainian-born painter who emigrated to the US) actually was the first painter to use the drip and pour technique, I leave this one on the floor, as I’m getting fatigued from all the zigging and zagging in ChatGPT’s argument. Instead, I focus on a comment it made that felt to me like justification for crediting Pollock with Janet Sobel’s techniques.

A version of what ChatGPT says here is true. Janet Sobel and Jackson Pollock’s paintings during this time, if you place them side by side, are remarkably similar in style, and yet only one of them went on to reach celebrity status. But ChatGPT seems to offer that up as evidence of Pollock’s superior talent as a painter, rather than evidence of ingrained misogyny in modern-art culture.

My point here is partly about sexism in the art-world at large. But since ChatGPT, at least initially, was complicit in peddling this oversimplified version of history, I don’t think it can be seen as a useful source if you’re looking for fresh narratives and perspectives.

In the end, what I concluded was that ChatGPT is a useful tool for broad-brushed, general research, but it sings a little off-key in the moments that count, making it hard to take its responses at face-value. In fact, it’s not a reliable narrator at all. I did find it redeeming that when challenged, ChatGPT would acknowledge its shortcomings and course-correct. But what if you don’t know enough before you start to push it like this? Then you’re left with ChatGPT’s narrative alone, with all its blind-spots and flaws.

Talking to ChatGPT is entertaining, sure, but it would be great if it could use the self-awareness it seems to possess to put forward more well-rounded responses. To get nuance out of ChatGPT you seem to need to use more critical prompting than the average user will bring to the interaction. If left to its devices, the tool seems to prioritize ‘playing the hits’ by focusing on celebrity status and commercial success over more well-rounded answers. For that reason, I don’t see it as a valuable research tool just yet.

That said, it’s very likely much of this will be resolved in the future, as both ChatGPT and Google’s Bard are evolving all the time. Google’s Bard, as it currently operates, seems almost human in its more warm-toned voice, so I definitely recommend playing with that, but I have yet to examine it thoroughly. 

Leaving off, I thought I’d end with a quote from ChatGPT.

I think that’s something we can all agree on.

————————————-

Kenneth Greiner is an American artist and writer, currently studying at the Royal College of Art in London.

BRAVE NEW WORLD: Examining the Zeitgeist at THE ART STORY

My Latest Discovery:

I am excited to share a vital resource for online art history research called Ļ.  This resource is a growing compendium for art lovers, artists, curators, writers, educators, students and the curious looking for concise and expansive art histories.  They have accumulated the largest online encyclopedia of art in the world, with over 1000 topic pages. Ļ has specialized pages to address your interests, whether you are looking up an artist (Picasso, Michelangelo, or Kara Walker), an art movement (Impressionism, Performance, or Baroque), or an art concept (The Readymade, Renaissance Humanism, or Collage).

Founder Michael Zurakhinsky started Ļ, noticing that art history education wasn’t always accessible or factual online.  One of the best resources was Wikipedia, but as an art history learning tool its’ value seemed limited. He was disappointed that prominent arts organizations such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York City only cover their own collection, do not cover the rest of art history, and often provide links to Wikipedia instead of their own curatorial research on their website.  Many encyclopedic art textbooks are terribly outdated. Newer, topic-based books are more inclusive, but they focus on singular subjects. To understand how a particular artist or movement connects to others is a herculean task. After 12 years with hundreds of writers on the job, Ļ is now available to all, and for free!

The Challenge:

As a former museum educator at MoMA, Brooklyn Museum, and Studio Museum in Harlem, I was always craving a comprehensive tool for art history research on the internet. I am happy to have discovered Ļ, and I use it in researching classes I teach, including my current online course at Pratt Institute, “Brave New World: Daily Artmaking Ritual.”

I took Ļ for a research spin in contemplation of these unprecedented times. I share here with you how I put together a grouping of artworks navigating the consistent, accessible architecture of the Art Story website. I was able to save hours of research time and enjoyed having an easy, reliable way to travel through the site connecting artist’s works to different art movements, influences, genres, and other concepts.

A Brave New World – Contemplations and Discoveries:

Artists throughout history are known to interpret and challenge the zeitgeist of their times. The year 2020 has amplified ideological battlegrounds and ignited public health and environmental challenges.  We battle two concurrent pandemics in the United States and globally; the coronavirus and the fight for human rights spearheaded by Black Lives Matter. While thinking about the global pandemic, we can examine artworks made during past pandemics including the concurrent Syphilis and Spanish Flu outbreaks in Post-WW1 Europe and the AIDS crisis in the 1990s, with it’s devastating impact on New York City. Climate change and environmental issues have erupted globally with science denial by the United States government affecting our ability to contain the coronavirus.  Many activist artists are making work about these issues, let’s look at art history to compare notes.

Timely Treasures from Ļ Website:

George Grosz
The Funeral: Tribute to Oskar Panizza, 1917-18
Artwork on Ļ

As I started my research, I was thinking about artists who lived through the previous world pandemic.  Looking up the keyword Spanish Flu brought me to an article about Egon Schiele (The Female Nude) After reading about the artist, who died very young from the Spanish Flu in 1918, I became curious about other artists painting that year.  I found an artwork that encapsulates that pandemic era perfectly.

German Expressionist George Grosz painted A Funeral: Tribute to Oskar Panizza in homage to writer and psychiatrist Oskar Panizza, known for his critiques against the post-WWI German government. This passionately expressive painting deploys Cubist and Futurist techniques to capture the chaos of plague, war, syphilis, and alcohol. Grosz described The Funeral as a “gin alley of grotesque dead bodies and madmen…. A teeming throng of possessed human animals… think: that wherever you step, there’s the smell of shit.”

George Grosz captured the tight quarters and frenetic pathos of a city riddled with disease. The Funeral is ablaze with color, a tattered flag, a priest waving a glowing white cross, a club festooned with  a “Dance Tonight” sign, bodegas and cafés that stand in counterpoint to the huddled masses and tightly-packed flaming apartments. From a contemporary lens, this hallucinatory hellscape speaks to our collective unconscious, as fears of disease and death have colored the urban landscape, where there’s no option but constant motion.

Even though George Grosz paints a grim scenario, the colors and the details feel so rich and satisfying to me as a viewer. The Funeral makes me wonder if imagining a monstrous hellscape can be cathartic. Which other artists throughout history have created their own visions of hell to express their societal concerns?

Felix Gonzalez-Torres
Untitled: Lover Boy, 1989
Artwork on Ļ

I was searching through Ļ for an artist who was making work during the AIDS Crisis, so I did a keyword search on the main search bar. Felix Gonzalez-Torres came up first in the search. 

Cuban-born American Minimalist and Conceptual artist, Felix Gonzalez-Torres brought his personal history and politics to tackle issues such as gay rights, gun violence, and the AIDS crisis. Gonzalez-Torres tracked the impact of the crisis through creating intimate works, foreshadowing and later mourning the loss of his lover, Ross Laylock, who died due to AIDS-related complications. Gonzalez-Torres considered his muse, Laylock, his primary audience.  Untitled: Lover Boy captures the depth of eternal love. The two sets of windows ajar, with curtains blowing into an interior domestic space conjure breath, the intertwined souls of two men partnered in transcendence of earthly boundaries.

Untitled: Lover Boy was made in an atmosphere of government neglect of the disproportionately affected the LGBTQ+ community.  I think about each of the over 230, 000 people who have died from the coronavirus in the United States thus far.  Each one of them is connected to someone, somewhere who feels that eternal love like Gonzalez-Torres did for Laylock.  We walk alongside our lost ones. Looking at works by Gonzalez-Torres can help us to cope creatively with grief, and mortality.

Kehinde Wiley
Judith Beheading Holofernes, 2012
Artwork on Ļ

One of my favorite ways to search through Ļ is to look at the Artworks page for each artist I am interested in.  When I looked up Kehinde Wiley, I was reminded of his 2017 Presidential portrait of Barack Obama, hanging in the National Portrait Gallery and how it conjured conservative resistance, because of Wiley’s 2012 painting Judith Beheading Holofernes.

Many famed artists including Artemisia Gentileschi, Lucas Cranach the Elder, and Caravaggio have painted this symbolic scene from the deuterocanonical Book of Judith, where Judith seduces and beheads Holofernes, who was generally intent on destroying her city of Bethulia. Historic paintings of this biblical story are often read as a feminist victory, but Wiley’s Judith fights a different battle.

In Wiley’s “Holofernes head” we see a Karen, a Becky, humorously and quite viscerally exposing feminism’s focus on white women, that often ignores racial disparities.  Throughout this historic 2020 election, we can’t help but look back to 2016’s election to remember the commitment that 94% black women made to vote against Trump, while 53% of white women voted for Trump (according  to York Times exit polls).  An even higher percentage of white women voted for Trump in 2020.  When a white woman acts against all women, does she not become a Holofernes, a “man” attempting to destroy Judith’s people?  Amy Coney Barrett becomes our current symbol for a woman inserted by patriarchy to act against the interests of women, potentially dismantling Roe v. Wade, jeopardizing a woman’s right to choose, in this country that was originally founded to separate church and state.

Barbara Kruger
Your Body is A Battleground, 1989
Artwork on Ļ

“Do you know why language manifests itself the way it does in my work? It’s because I understand short attention spans” -Barbara Kruger

Ļ includes choice artists’ quotes at the top of each Artist’s page.  This is such a valuable resource for art writers, educator’s and curators, who want to get at the heart of the artist’s intent.  Reading American Conceptual Artist Barbara Kruger’s explanation of her graphic text-based works as geared to “short attention spans” in 1989 feels so contemporary. 

Barbara Kruger’s bold works deploy her training as a graphic designer to create images and phrases that resonate, functioning both in public space and the contemporary art world. Best known for her silkscreen prints with captions over found photographs, she also creates site specific installations, video, and audio works. Her prints from the 1980s encapsulate “Reaganomics,” including this Your Body is a Battleground screenprint defending women’s reproductive rights, which was originally created for the March for Women’s Lives, in Washington, D.C in 1989. This image, set in Kruger’s signature palette of black, white and red, splits a woman’s face in half.   Half photographic portrait, half x-ray, this powerful image references the constant probing and control of the female body in America.  

Echoing the words of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933- 2020), the United States Supreme Court justice who fought tirelessly for women’s rights: “The State controlling a woman would mean denying her full autonomy and full equality.”

Ana Mendieta
Untitled (Siluetas Series), 1976
Artwork on Ļ

Cuban artist Ana Mendieta is renowned for her contributions to the Body Art, Land Art, and Performance Art Movements.  On each Artist’s page on Ļ, there are links to every art movement associated with the artist, making it easy to find (and to dive into) connections.

Her powerful Silueta series contemplates the cycles of birth, life, and death through performing various ephemeral actions in natural environments. Mendieta ritualistically asserted her form in relation to the seascape in Untitled: Silueta Series, Mexico (1976/1991). The deep impression of her body in the sand is activated by red pigment, the blood, the body, the soul’s imprint washed away by the ocean’s waves.  The vulnerability of the body and of the natural environment are seamlessly interrogated here, evoking Paleolithic goddess power, a matrilineage dating back to the Venus of Willendorf circa 30,000 BCE as well as childlike fantasy mermaids and bloody snow angels.

ѱԻ徱ٲ’s Silueta series shares a feminist viewpoint on the environment that reverberates currently, with climate change affecting us globally. The Americas have been hit hard by fires, increasingly destructive hurricanes and global warming. According to Aaron Bernstein, Director of Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment at Harvard University, climate change has caused habitat loss for animals, and germs and diseases are spreading as animals congregate more closely to each other and human-populated areas.  I ponder how Ana Mendieta would respond now to the coronavirus as part of her lexicon.


About Me:

Rebecca Goyette is an interdisciplinary artist who lectures on performance/film/video and their relation to activist practices in modernist and contemporary art.  Goyette has taught and lectured for the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, School of Visual Arts, New York University and The New School and is currently teaching for Pratt Institute’s Professional Continuing Studies Department as well as leading her own online art workshop series called Maker’s Magic. Rebecca Goyette is represented by Freight & Volume Gallery, NYC, and exhibits her work internationally.


Call to Action:

I invite you all to start using Ļ, for all your art history research.  I know you will find it easy to navigate and richly rewarding, helping you to quickly make connections between artists, movements, and concepts.  If you create an article, essay or research paper using Ļ, let me and Ļ Founder, Michael  Zurakhinsky know. Tag #theartstory, and we would be happy to repost for you on social media. If you are an artist looking for new ideas, Ļ is here for you.  Do your own search for artists from the past that speak to our concerns of today. I am sure you will make some new discoveries using Ļ’s accessible platform. Stay inspired!

Picasso: Works Entering the Public Domain in 2019

On January 1st, 2019, a group of Pablo Picasso artworks will enter the public domain in the United States. A small but significant selection of will be completely free for re-use and publication of any sort.

According to copyright law, for the first time in twenty years, thousands of books will be free from copyright. Among them is a work by French poet, artist, and writer Jean Cocteau, a man with whom Picasso shared a long friendship. The tiny, unassuming book, entitled simply Picasso, includes a total of 14 works by the artist. Some of those 14 works have been published prior to 1923, so they are not the focus of this article – this article is about the brand new (to 2019) copyright-free works.

Boy Leading a Horse (1905 – 06)
Museum of Modern Art, New York.

The book includes the Rose Period’s Boy Leading a Horse a work whose influence from Cezanne and El Greco are clearly visible. Ownership of this work was hotly debated when in 2007 both the Museum of Modern Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation asked a court to declare them the canvas’ rightful owner. The matter was settled out of court and the piece remained with MoMA. And now, as it enters the public domain, the image may see new incarnations as its representation becomes public property. 

In fact, all the images you see on this page are now copyright free.

 

 

 

The Reservoir, Horta de Ebro (1909)
Museum of Modern Art, New York

Guitar (1912)

Glass, Guitar, and Bottle (1913)
Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picasso’s famous construction Guitar also makes an appearance in Cocteau’s book. It was a work that marked the artist’s first foray into assemblage and amused his friends who asked whether it was painting or sculpture. There are actually many versions of this work, so if you are going to use it, be extra careful.

Glass, Guitar, and Bottle, considered one of the more complex works of the Synthetic Cubist period in its use of material and different surface effects, also appeared in Cocteau’s text.

Saltimbanque Seated with Arms Crossed (1923)
Bridgestone Museum of Art, Tokyo, Japan

Bust of Female Nude (Buste de nu feminin) (1921)

Mother and Child (Mere et enfant) (1921)
The Art Institute of Chicago

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the later works presented in Cocteau’s book is Saltimbanque Seated with Arms Crossed. As the work enters the public domain, will this alabaster-faced acrobat spring from the pages of a dusty book and join the Munch iPhone covers, Van Gogh yoga leggings, and Klimt scarves and decorative cushions that pop up for sale online?

Also entering public domain is this photograph of Picasso, by Man Ray (1923)

Ļ endeavors to carry out the most meticulous research possible. However, if readers are aware of any other texts containing works by Pablo Picasso published in 1923, please email us at info@theartstory.org. The Picasso works that are already considered to be in the public domain in the US are on this   (but it is possible some works were not included by Wikipedia).

Disclaimer: Ļ has discovered this book and our research shows that the Picasso works discussed in this article are copyright free. But we want to stress that Ļ is not a legal expert – any and all usage of the above works should be thoroughly verified. Outside the United States, each country has different laws determining copyrights. UK and EU member countries may have similar reciprocal protection laws, but we recommend for publishers in those countries to speak with a legal expert.