Artificial intelligence has become scary lately, and people are starting to notice.
The internet has been ablaze in recent months with surprisingly good art and images generated by artificial intelligence. Technology has come a long way and a recent spate of websites have emerged claiming to create AI-generated images or designs from any user-submitted prompt.
They became instant hits on the Internet, and why not? The fact that I can write “a duck sitting in an office chair eating waffles,” for example, and come back with a photo of a duck sitting in an office chair eating waffles, provokes a certain respect, even in my generation of digital natives. . There’s endless novelty in all of this: I’ve spent hours on these websites asking the ever-mysterious algorithm to come up with different creations, each more esoteric and strange than the last. Like a seven-year-old impressed by the magician’s sleight of hand, I say, “Do it again, do it again,” and the AI does so.
But after a while, I wanted more. Sure, AI can generate the image of a “duck sitting in an office chair eating waffles.” It’s pretty easy to recognize the building blocks and mix them together in a way that makes sense. But what happens if I insert an abstract concept? What does the algorithm say about capitalism? What does it have to offer justice? What about love?
Sure, AI can generate the image of a “duck sitting in an office chair eating waffles.” But what happens if I insert an abstract concept?
So I spent a very amusing evening passing the term “Catholicism” through all the filters of “Dream by Wombo”, an AI image generator that attempts to create artwork in different styles based on user demand. A filter creates artwork in the Ukiyo-e style of Japanese art. Another tries to reproduce works in watercolor. In total, there are 22 different styles in which I could render the AI’s understanding of our faith.
Aesthetically, the results were stunning. Some of the images were just remarkably beautiful, even if I didn’t understand exactly what was happening. But I think many are also thematically revealing.
The first thing that stood out was the intense variety of focus in these images. Some, like the Ghibli, Origin And Watercolor filters, focused on the complexity of Catholic architecture. This class of paintings associated Catholicism with some of its most recognizable cultural icons and its unique emphasis on communicating faith through beauty. Indeed, this way of considering the Catholic “aesthetic” carries a lot of weight in popular culture, both among those who grew up in the Church and among growing internet subculture interested in a certain counter-cultural Catholic beauty.
Another recurring theme is the special attention paid to the Blessed Mother. Although often difficult to make out in some images, Mary makes quite a few appearances through the filters. There is a superb Black light Marie (who could remind us of wearing a mask?), the vague impression of a Vibrant Marywhich awaits us in all the colors of the rainbow in the Kingdom of Heaven, and even a little worrying Marie Steampunkwho extends his bionic arms to embrace all humanity.
Because devotion to the Blessed Mother is so distinct Catholic, it makes sense that it makes a few “appearances” in the algorithm. Once again, AI has been drawn to one of the “stranger” aspects of our faith, one that many other Christians don’t really understand. He enthusiastically channels the long tradition of Marian art throughout Catholic history, often with direct allusions to specific motifs in Catholic artistic tradition. The most notable for me was the Moonwalker theme, which created what seems a bit like traditional paintings of the many apparitions of Mary throughout the world.
“To Jesus through Mary”, as they say.
Other results are instructive in themselves. Take the remarkably strange and disturbing “The death“, which broadcasts any prompt in hues of reds and blacks. In it, the face of a Christ figure looks out at a cathedral that reminds me of St. Peter’s in Rome. It communicates two messages radically at once different. The first, perhaps, is that Christ looks with sadness at the many failures of the institutional Church over the years. But the second is just as instructive: we have the impression that Jesus watches over his Church, the guides and protects her.
I could go on and on. A few the characters use the styles and motifs of Eastern Catholicisms, others represent the holy city of Jerusalem. Some filters leads us towards what seems to be the Eucharist, while others show the Cross which shines in the dazzling light of Heaven. The algorithm simply had so many different angles.
But the most striking of all? When I didn’t put a filter at all, the only perceptible result in the image was the scourged, sullen body of the crucified Jesus, bowing his head as he does in the crucifix that hovers over every Catholic church. But in reality, we don’t even see the wood of the Cross. This is not the central point: our attention is directed directly to the gloriously and tragically human body of our ultimate high priest, who offers himself as a sacrifice for the world. As it should be: “For I determined to know nothing while I was with you, except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (2 Cor. 2:2).
So what should we make of this strange collection of artificial prints? I’m not entirely sure; some of these images look like Rorschach tests. I can tell you, however, that after 22 rounds of waiting for the filtered images to load, I left the exercise grateful, even joyful, that the Catholic tradition is based on 2,000 years of a deeply rooted faith. beautiful in both an aesthetic and theological sense.
I look forward to seeing what the cathedrals of the Kingdom of Heaven look like and I wait with gratitude to meet the Blessed Mother in a new Jerusalem. But more importantly, I long to run my fingers through the wounds of the resurrected Lord and believe because I have seen.
But in the meantime, I participate in a faith majestic enough, from every angle and under every possible filter, to believe without having seen. And if these AIs ever end up developing feelings, as has been so often theorized, I’m sure they’ll understand exactly what I mean.