April 2, 2024

AI Aesthetics and Art? A revolution? Or an oxymoron?

It seems some AI theorists are beginning to attribute an aesthetic to AI art generation, and finding lots to talk about in the process. I do experiment with AI in my work, and have quite a bit of respect for its mechanical capacities for production, generation and iteration. I think that AI does add something very powerful to artmaking as a form of amplifier and relational appropriator. Yet, I have determined that AI, when left to its own processes, rarely generates work that I am satisfied with. And the AI art that I've seen is not often satisfying or compelling either.  Can there really be a critical dialogue about 'AI's artistic ability' or 'aesthetic'? I decided to have a fundamental discussion about  this 'AI Aesthetics' with Google's Gemini. 

Dain Olsen: Is there an authentic "AI aesthetic" that can be discussed beyond the sophistication of its programming? Since aesthetics is neurologically based in embodied sensory experience and visceral meaning, can we truly attribute an aesthetic to AI? Just as with 'intelligence', I think we are talking about a machine's programmed capacity for mimicking sensory meaning, which doesn’t amount to 'meaning' as humans equate it with art.

Gemini: You raise a fascinating question about the nature of an "AI aesthetic." Here's how we can break it down:

The Challenge of Embodiment: You're right. Aesthetics are deeply tied to our embodied experience. The way light hits our eyes, the texture of paint on a canvas, the music that resonates with our emotions – these are all rooted in our biology. AI currently lacks that physical experience.

Mimicry vs. Intrinsic Understanding: Current AI art excels at mimicking existing styles and generating novel variations. It can be incredibly impressive, but it's like creating a collage of existing works. Can AI truly understand the deeper meaning and emotional impact inherent in human-created art? That's a question we're still grappling with.

The Emergence of Something New? However, there's another way to look at it. AI can explore vast creative spaces beyond human limitations. It can generate nonsensical yet strangely beautiful forms, or create music that bends the rules of harmony in intriguing ways.  This exploration might lead to aesthetics that are entirely new, ones we can't even conceive with our human-centric understanding of beauty. 

A Collaborative Future? Perhaps the most interesting aspect is the potential for human-AI collaboration. AI can be a powerful tool for artists, generating new ideas and pushing boundaries. The human artist can then infuse these creations with their own emotional depth and understanding, creating a truly unique aesthetic blend.

The "Meaning" of Art: Finally, your point about "meaning" is crucial. Art isn't just about mimicking sensory experiences. It's about provoking thought, sparking emotions, and offering new perspectives on the world.  Can AI achieve this? Maybe not in the same way humans do, but it could develop its own unique way of conveying meaning, one that challenges our current definitions of art.In conclusion, an inherent "AI aesthetic" in the human sense might be debatable. However, AI's role in creating new forms of beauty, exploring uncharted creative territories, and potentially co-creating with humans is an exciting prospect that could redefine our understanding of aesthetics altogether.

Dain Olsen: Everything you’ve said begins and ends with human intention and determination. AI has done nothing intentional. Correct? And certainly it is agreed that AI can push the parameters faster and further, although ultimately limited to pathways formed by humans. Real ‘collaboration’ then would be limited to similarly intentional, selective humans. With AI, it is human controlled from beginning to end. It is more like working with a lifeless dynamo which has its own gravitational force. 

Gemini: You make a strong point about the current state of AI and its role in aesthetics. Here's how to consider your perspective:

Human Control: The Puppeteer and the Dynamo: You're right, current AI art creation is very much under human control. We set the parameters, train the models, and ultimately interpret the results.  Your analogy of a dynamo with a gravitational pull is apt. AI throws out possibilities, and we, as the puppeteers, try to guide and shape them into something meaningful.

The Blurring Lines of Intention: However, the line between human intention and what AI contributes might blur in the future. As AI becomes more sophisticated, it might start introducing its own "mutations" into the creative process.  Imagine an AI that, after ingesting massive amounts of artistic data, starts generating works that challenge established styles or even propose entirely new forms of aesthetics.  Is this still just human intention playing out, or is there a hint of the AI itself shaping the outcome?

The Long Game of AI Evolution: Perhaps the "authentic AI aesthetic" you seek won't emerge overnight. It might be a long evolutionary process where AI, through trial and error, starts to develop its own internal representations and preferences.  We might be far from that point now, but as AI continues to develop, the boundaries between human control and AI's own contribution could become fascinatingly ambiguous.In essence, you're right that current AI art is human-driven. But the future might hold a more collaborative space where AI's own "voice" starts to emerge, subtly shaping the aesthetics we create together. It's an exciting yet thought-provoking scenario to consider.

Dain Olsen: You sound as though your programmers have somehow infused your responses with their own idealism regarding your prospects! When AI gains embodiment, somehow through some form of bio-technology, then it can possibly gain these attributes. But that only proves my point. This conversation seems to have confirmed the value of actual embodiment for forming aesthetic meaning. I wonder why we so easily invest in machines to make human products, rather than invest in our children's education and their aesthetic development. Imagine a world where we encouraged our children to make art! 

THE BOOK, forthcoming from Routledge: 

MEDIA ARTS EDUCATION: Transforming Education Through Multimodal Cognition, Holistic Learning, and Techno-Embodiment presents the ultimate, paradigm-shifting solution to the many problems and limitations of contemporary K-12 education. Our current school system, which originated in the early industrial era, is commonly acknowledged to be too regimented, top-down, assembly-line, one-size-fits-all and test driven, with disappointing results in learning for the majority of students, and particularly for the underprivileged. Learning Amplified persuasively argues that through the full integration of digital media arts, schools can become more student-centered, interdisciplinary, effective, engaging, adaptive, and inclusive, with greatly improved learning results for all students!

January 30, 2024


Dain Olsen

President & CEO, NAMAE

Author: Media Arts Education, Routledge (forthcoming)

Human cognition Is Multimodal

Not ‘text-based’!

Sound familiar?


That’s because AI is now ‘multimodal’, and moving beyond text-based!

AI is now trained on multimedia: images, text, video, speech, graphics, etc.

'Multimodality' has caused a quantum leap in AI’s ability to mimic human thinking,

Resulting in greater capacities for empathy, generative multimedia, and generalizing intelligence.


Similar to the 'old' AI, our educational system is text and language-based, not multimodal.

Students learn indirectly, through the code of academic language, and book study,

Which makes the learning less interesting and engaging, and more abstract and hard to understand.

Because our cognition is multimodal, all students learn better through multimodality.

Media Arts Education (MAE)

Is highly multimodal, multisensory,  direct, interactive, and embodied

Across all of these forms: photo, video, sound, animation, graphics, web design, social media, 3D design,

AI supported, game design, e-journalism, interactive and virtual design

Which makes MAE creatively unlimited!

Furthermore, MAE is 'transparent' to all contents, across both arts and academics.

Which means, MAE can use all of these forms to translate, represent, and simulate text-based content in multimodal projects

Therefore, MAE can make all learning and schools more multimodal, engaging, interactive, and understandable!


photos of math in the world: clock, sign, schedule, geometric shapes, money, etc.

Graphic designs for sales showing discounts

Cooking shows, measuring ingredients

Short dramatic videos enacting word problems

Digital game designs that exercise mathematics skills

Stock market analysis webcasts with percentages, graphs and analysis using algebra

3D physics animations using algebra to explain and predict angles of a thrown ball

3D bridge designs and engineering using geometry and calculus

3D animations showing space travel simulations of trajectories using calculus and trigonometry

Algebra and calculus in programming algorithms and UI design for app design


MAE students can create, learn about, construct, simulate and translate anything imaginable!

Video game designs that exercise programming, mathematics, design thinking, engineering, marketing, etc.

Interactive 3D animated models that exhibit understanding of scientific or historical concepts

Interdisciplinary projects that combine all arts and academic disciplines in live and multimedia presentations

This leads to a new MAE-centered model of education, 

which is more student-centered, engaging, flexible, inclusive and effective.

NAMAE is seeking to create a network of associated members and organizations who support the inclusion of media arts as a core component of 21st century education for the benefit of all students. 

Please join us! and support us!

December 6, 2022


In my forthcoming book, Media Arts Education: Transforming education through multimodal cognition, holistic learning, and techno-embodiment, this is my fundamental argument for Media Arts as the the center of contemporary education:

Media arts has these three properties:

Media Arts can therefore function as a transdisciplinary hub discipline within schools and educational systems that supports all students in learning and creating anything imaginable through projects, productions and experiences that are engaging, enriched, real world and student-driven (e.g. all digital media, including science videos, math-based 3D designs, engineered video games, virtual simulations, informative augmented reality), with these results:

September 10, 2022


The LA Times reported today that “L.A. student scores show deep pandemic setbacks, with 72% failing to meet math standards”. 

This was my Letter to the Editor (unpublished):

Dear Editor,              

Sadly, low test scores, particularly for the socio-economically disadvantaged, is not news. And it isn’t surprising that this was exacerbated by the pandemic and conditions of remote learning. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which has maintained a consistent standard for testing the breadth of academic proficiency for over 50 years, only about 37% of students are regularly proficient in literacy and numeracy, with significantly lower performance among the same students. The headline should actually be that this educational system is detrimentally flawed and intrinsically biased, apparently with little intent or understanding of how to fundamentally reform itself.

The fundamental problem is that this system is based in narrow, culturally biased assessment, which begets narrow forms of instruction, which are ineffective, passive, non-engaging, decontextualized and irrelevant, particularly for the socio-economically disadvantaged. A more advanced educational system, such as one centered around media arts education (, would measure individual student progress in rounded cognitive development, which would not be narrow or culturally biased. This would engender more effective and equitable forms of instruction, which are engaging, active, contextually rich, and relevant to all students and our current 21st century society. 

Dain Olsen

Co-Chair, Media Arts Committee, National Coalition for Core Arts Standards

Media Arts Teacher and Administrator, LAUSD (Retired)

Parent of LAUSD Students

July 25, 2022


Why are we seeing dramatic declines in student enrollment across the US? 1.3 million less students nationwide. New York and CA are both down 9%. You would think, as the pandemic wanes, we would be seeing the opposite, families clamoring to return to in-person learning. 

Where are all the students going? Apparently, one major reason is that many of these students have come to prefer online learning and homeschooling. This doesn’t seem to make sense, because the general sentiment was that remote learning was a disaster, both in its low appeal, and for student learning, which has set students back nearly a year in their proficiency. 

But from my perspective, and the perspective of Media Arts Education, it does make sense. During the pandemic, I believe that students and parents realized something important through remote learning. Remote learning wasn’t as far removed from the live classroom experience as we previously thought. For most core subject areas, the method is essentially the same - the teacher presents the lesson, models the learning activity, and then the student carries it out, with a bit of teacher monitoring. Thus, not a whole lot different, except that remote is through a video camera. The student doesn't have to be in the room in order to have this kind of lesson, as we see from online educational platforms, such as Kahn Academy and even Youtube.

In addition to its similarity to in person learning, online learning is safer, more convenient, flexible in scheduling, and seemingly just as effective, at least for parents who can support it, and students who are somewhat self-directed and motivated. 

Remote learning exposed the essence of our standard teaching practice, which is passive, not very interactive, engaging or even personalized. Students don’t need to go to school in order to experience that. Then, students may be asking, why go to school exactly? 

Schools should glean this lesson from the remote learning disaster by asking,  "What are we doing in classrooms that is greatly different from online learning, and achieves more meaningful and deeper learning objectives?" That is what we need to start offering in order to compete with online education and advancing education as a whole. If going to school was tremendously engaging, socially vibrant, meaningful and purposeful, then students would probably be much more enthusiastic to return to in person instruction. 

MAE can offer and support that kind of enriched learning experience and more robust learning outcomes.

July 16, 2022


I recently attended and presented at the annual conference for the National Association for Media Literacy Education. I got a lot out of the experience. It was enjoyable just to spend time with a lot of intelligent and passionate people with a great cause - making sure our society has healthy habits for consuming and critically analyzing media. They pulled off a great online forum, where many presenters shared compelling research, curricula and methods for approaching and expanding media literacy.

My talk was centered around the conference theme of “scaling up”. NAMLE, like Media Arts Education (MAE), is at a pivotal moment, where they feel they need to and can significantly expand their presence and impact within schools and society. In their case, in order to deal with the potency and prevalence of bias and misinformation proliferating globally. No small task. I shared where MAE was in a similar process of scaling up, 8 years out from publication of national media arts standards. I hope what I shared was helpful for them. I also appealed to them that NAMLE and MAE are natural partners and should be rather indivisible in their mutual endeavors. Media literacy is a core aspect of MAE, as exhibited in our standards, and needs to be emphasized more and in more vigorous and consistent classroom practices. We can learn from and support one another in this joint venture. 

I’m posting this excerpt from the CA Media Arts Framework for the NAMLE and MAE communities to let everyone know what MAE’s standards-based approach means within MAE. In this case, we are stressing "creative empowerment" and “critical independence”, or the ability to think for one’s self within a media-saturated environment. To that end, we are emphasizing the ability to analyze the media’s “management of the viewer’s experience” that exhibits one’s mindful awareness of how and why we are affected by media environments and technologies, no matter the platform or application we are experiencing. 

NAMLE is in the process of revising their core principles, so that they more accurately reflect the contemporary experience of media - as an immersive, distributive environment that is no longer monolithic and one-way, from corporation to consumer. I feel that MAE’s approach is relevant and effective to this new, evolving environment, including the rise of VR, AR, MR and the “metaverse”.  I believe that all learners need to increase their self-awareness and capacity for self-reflection in their relationship with their digitally enhanced lives. 

Please let me know, through the Contact portal,  if you think this works, or how it does not!



Digital Literacy and Citizenship for Creatives

“Students should gain fluencies in the evolving languages of interfaces, mediation, codes, and conventions, as well as contingent issues of power, persuasion, and cross-cultural collaboration, thus empowering them to critically investigate and use the effects and possibilities of various media.”

—National Coalition for Core Arts Standards, in The Inclusion of Media Arts in Next Generation Arts Standards (2012)

“Digital Literacy” is a critical aspect of media arts literacy as framed through media arts standards. California’s digital literacy legislation, SB 830, states: “‘Digital citizenship’ means a diverse set of skills related to current technology and social media, including the norms of appropriate, responsible, and healthy behavior.” In a media arts-centered culture, we are dependent on multimedia texts and experiences for our understanding of and ability to participate in and contribute to our culture and society. The importance of educating all students in forming, navigating, and negotiating digital environments is crucial to their well-being, as well as for our culture and democratic society.

Media arts standards-based education serves a proactive, leading role in developing all students’ capacities for critical autonomy. Critical autonomy is defined here as the independent ability to discern the value, veracity, and intentions of multimedia experiences. A significant aspect of this quality is conveyed through media arts production processes and the student’s resulting cultural agency. A selection of Responding and Connecting standards that address digital and media literacy include:

●      Adv.MA:Re8: Analyze the intent, meanings and impacts of diverse media artworks, considering complex factors of context and bias.

●      Acc.MA:Cn11a: Examine in depth and demonstrate the relationships of media arts ideas and works to various contexts, purposes, and values, such as markets, systems, propaganda, and truth.

●      Acc.MA:Cn11b: Critically investigate and proactively interact with legal, technological, systemic, and vocational contexts of media arts, considering civic values, media literacy, digital identity, and artist/audience interactivity.

The creatively empowered media arts student knows their way around the digital environment, is grounded in their culture, and is confident in being able to assert their own perspectives. The creative empowerment of students can mitigate many of the negative aspects of digitally immersive environments that younger generations will increasingly encounter, including media misinformation, propaganda, and influence, as well as digital abuse, addiction, and social misconduct. This is another beneficial outcome of a distinct and fully established media arts education program. When combined with the mutually strengthening interrelationships among all arts and other subject areas, the entire system can unify and positively support students’ creative empowerment, critical autonomy, and cultural agency. Students of media arts can attain these specific standards-based outcomes toward digital literacy:

·      creative capacity to produce impactful, multimodal works for specific audiences and contexts;

·      ability to analyze diverse media artworks for bias and intention, manage multimodal experience, and form influence and persuasion through systemic communications;

·      experiential understanding of the dynamic interrelationship of media arts and culture within virtual environments, global networks, and legal and market systems;

·      capacity for appropriate, solutions-based, and ethical construction and use of multimedia; and

·      capacity for critical investigation into and strategic interaction with legal, technological, systemic, and cultural contexts of media arts, considering digital identity, civic values, and community impacts.

Students of media arts are given unique opportunities to produce and create artistic work, just as artists and creatives in professional contexts. Media arts teachers must authentically and rigorously convey the benefits, rules, responsibilities, and safety issues to enable students to fully participate and create in ethical and meaningful ways in the context of our larger civil society.

June 20, 2022


My first blog post is this video explaining how media arts education (MAE) can transform learning and education. It is the distillation into the simplest terms of over 30 years of experience in teaching and developing media arts instruction, programs, curriculum and pedagogical theory.  This video was commissioned by the state of Virginia and will be hosted on their professional development website for this next academic year.