I keep coming back to this line from the Buzzfeed piece about the Pope AI image by Chicago artist Pablo Xavier:

He said he’s already seen posts in which his images have been co-opted by those looking to criticize the Catholic Church for lavish spending. “I feel like shit,” he said of his images being used in such ways. “It’s crazy.”

I’m gonna go out on a limb here – as someone raised Catholic and who is now a long way from that – but that’s a completely legitimate criticism of the Catholic Church.

I frankly don’t even know what a Balenciaga jacket is, let alone how much one depicted in that image is likely to cost. But I’m confidently able to guarantee you that it is but a small drop in the bucket of the actual price of the vestments and accoutrements that accompany popehood.

And let’s not forget the Catholic Church is the second or third largest land-owner in the WORLD. But my purpose here isn’t (at least not right now) to go on a rant about the incongruities of religious institutions…

I get this might not have been an intended or desirable outcome or message of these images for this artist, and I can relate to just wanting to make something funny and psychedelic in Midjourney, and not having to be bothered thinking through the consequences of it.

But to me, the artist Pablo Xavier here is shirking away from what is essentially the power of these kinds of AI-generated image and the entire genre. That they are intensely charged and loaded with many possible meanings and interpretations depending on the audience is exactly what’s amazing about them. They can be beautiful. They can be weapons. They can be intensely political. They can be all these things at once. This is their power. My gut feeling it to lean into that, and not shy away from it (even though exercising power like that can be somewhat scary as an artist). To use it wisely, for sure, but to use it intentionally not accidentally.

This all feels like proof positive to me around Barthe’s idea of the Death of the Author, that the game rests not (only) in the authorial intent, but in the actual material effect on the reader/viewer as the nexus of interpretation and experience.

Anyway, blah blah blah.