Teaching Art History with an AI

And other unorthodox uses of MidJourney.

/imagine: Monster Under the Bed, Maxfield Parrish

This started because my son, who is 17 now, and in his senior year of highschool (hybrid homeschooled and community college courses) was very interested in the MidJourney images I was generating. I’ve said from the beginning that this felt as much like a game, as it did making art. Which appealed to him, too!

Now, I’ll stop here and note that while Midj offers a brief free trial, you wouldn’t want to try this with that. If you are using Midj as an art tool, and only have the $10 subscription (roughly 200 images a month) you also might not want it. But if you pick up Midj for playing around, or you have the $30 unlimited access (with relaxed mode switched on) this and the other fun game I’ll post tomorrow are options. Would it were free, but it’s not. However, if you wanted to use this as a way to get a kid interested in art history, it might be worth a month subscription, and then carry on the class later with other resources. For me, at least, where commercial work using Midj element is paying for the subscription, this was a really fun bonus. 

Here’s what we did… 

/imagine: Impossible chess game, Jan Vermeer

The Little Man had my phone, with the Midjourney bot running on my discord app. He’d type in a simple prompt. I, sitting at my desk with him behind me, and the discord app hidden, would give him an artist’s name to add to his prompt. Then he would start the generation, and I would do a quick search for the artist I’d prompted him with, and show him what their art really looked like, talking about the style, the era, and some of the history behind them. Since the prompts in relax mode only take about 3-5 minutes to run, usually, this wasn’t a long lesson. Then, when the thumbnails were generated, we’d look at them together on my big monitor (so much more satisfying than the phone screen!) and compare. 

/imagine: mossy rock, Rene Magritte

For a teenager who has had less than no interest in artists, this was fascinating for me to watch him suddenly absorbed in looking at art in a new way. He was looking at colors – like me, he was smitten with Maxfield Parrish’s blues – shapes, composition, and more. He was interested in the different schools of art (we covered from classic Renaissance to post-modernism in about ninety minutes). I think he’d have been happy to spend longer, but I was tired and besides, repetition is a much better way to retain information than binging is. 

/imagine: Ancient City Reborn, Edvard Munch

I chose to include some artists not because I like them, but because I knew he would have seen their work (as in Munch’s Scream) and I thought, correctly, this would get him even more interested. Sometimes the results were unexpected, as the Botticelli cats below. 

/imagine: robot lap cat, Botticelli

Part of the fun was, of course, his control over the prompts. He knew what they were, and he didn’t know most of the artists I gave him, so had no idea how it would look. That, and Midj is disconcertingly inaccurate in things like anatomy at times, which was entertaining. Treating it like a game is a time-honored technique for the didact, and I think with some prior planning, you could take this even further. Hence why I’m sharing it, for homeschoolers and interested parents to consider. If you get beyond this, and want another fantastic resource for art history, check out Travis Lee Clark’s youtube channel with his university-level lectures. 

/imagine: Red Pickup Truck, Jeff Koons

You could, I suppose, even use this with more detailed prompts, but I think you’ll get better results with short ones. This allows the artificial intelligence who is the wildcard in this game the most scope for seeding in creative variations. I found it ironic the ‘bot chose to put Banksy in ornate frames. 

/imagine: infinite library, Banksy

You’ll want to note as well that MidJourney is an online community with good watchdogs: gore and porn are not allowed, and certain words are banned from the prompts as they might take an image in that direction. Still, some of the more classical artists may render nude results. Part of art! You can delete unwanted images by reacting to them with the red X emoji on discord. 

/imagine: Egg carton, Hieronymous Bosch

I’m curious to hear what you’d do with this scenario! Also, stay tuned tomorrow for Marion M’s take on keeping kids occupied on a very long road trip, with the assistance of an AI. We are living in the science fiction present. 


2 responses to “Teaching Art History with an AI”

  1. […] A guest post from Marion M. As a military brat, I’ve been the kid on some of those interminable road trips, and have hauled my own along on a few all-day treks as well. Travel games are a thing… and this is a very creative one! You can find part one of my unorthodox ways to turn artificial intelligence into useful assistants here.  […]

  2. […] art. Looking at the community feed of MidJourney is a delight. Further, this can be used to inspire a love of art in ways that threaten the modern art movement’s ugly little souls on display. If the art is […]