Is AI reformulating Walter Benjamin’s notion of Aura?

In the Expansive Theory course, our group is challenged to create a plot regarding the above question, with ideas and citations from bibliographies given by the faculty. Our plot happens in a metaverse gallery. Act 1 introduces opposite opinions regarding the aura of aesthetics through history. Act 2 discusses metaverse vs. real world. Act 3 is where the twist happens.

Here is the published link:


Lev, Walter and Caleb walk around the art gallery and explore, discussing with Alita and the developer.

Alita Hello and welcome to the gallery!

Caleb Thank you! I am so excited to be here!

[Caleb walks around.]

Caleb I like this digital painting, it is so colourful and makes me happy. I feel such an enjoyable aura here. What do you think, Walter? (Fig 1)

Fig 1. Jason Allen. Théâtre D’opéra Spatial. 2022.
A.I.-generated work, took first place in the digital category at the Colorado State Fair.

Walter How could you just mention the word “aura”? You ever have an idea what aura is?

Caleb Mood maybe?

Walter How dumb you are! Aura is a quality integral to an artwork that can never be communicated through mechanical reproduction techniques. (1)

(1) Tate. “Aura.” Tate,

Caleb Okay…

Walter Well, AI are stupid robots, I don’t think robots can create art because they don’t really “understand” the human world and human meanings. (2)

(2) Manovich, Lev. AI Aesthetics. Strelka Press, 2018.

Caleb That’s sad to hear. I do not mind. I just like the piece of art. It’s so beautiful.

Lev AI now plays an equally important role in our cultural lives and behaviours. (3)

(3) Manovich, Lev. AI Aesthetics. Strelka Press, 2018.

Walter Art should be created by souls! The human organ represents the soul. (4) That stupid AI does not have any organs, so no souls at all!

(4) Groys, Boris. In the Flow. Verso, 2016.

Caleb Does AI seem like the metallisation of the human body? (5)

(5) Groys, Boris. In the Flow. Verso, 2016.

[Silence, nobody is answering the question.]

Caleb What is the definition of aura then? May someone explain it to me?

Alita Aura is a distinctive atmosphere, surrounding a given source. (6) It can come from paintings or sculptures, (Fig 2) but it isn’t only limited to that. (Fig 3)

(6) “Aura.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Dec. 2022.

Fig 2. Henry Thomas Alken. The Belvoir Hunt: Full Cry, c.1830–40.
Fig 3. Eadweard Muybridge. The Horse in Motion, 1878.

Lev Good. It can be purely materialistic like the mass production in the mechanical age, or purely vibey such as that generated by Marina Abramovic.

Walter Anyway, these pieces cannot be called “art”! There is no aura at all!

Lev But AI, algorithms, and user interfaces of digital services, apps and products may also be increasing aesthetic diversity. (7)

(7) Groys, Boris. In the Flow. Verso, 2016.

Alita Yes. AI is now everywhere (8) and nowadays the scale of digital culture demands intelligence that is qualitatively similar to a human, but operates on a different scale. (9)

(8) Manovich, Lev. AI Aesthetics. Strelka Press, 2018.

(9) Manovich, Lev. AI Aesthetics. Strelka Press, 2018.

Lev I agree. The definition of art changes whenever we involve new technology, in this case the AI.

[Marvin’s voice appears from background.]

Marvin Hello and welcome! Let me introduce Alita. She’s the AI artist that I created. All the data and information related to art theory, history, form, colour and so on are implemented.

Alita Well, yes. I absorbed all the information and process all the data to have my own understanding about art. Now I work as an artist to create my own works. This is my first exhibition.

Marvin Look at her art pieces, I am so proud of her!

Caleb I am in love with these masterpieces!

Alita Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. It means a lot to me.

[Walter left.]

Walter How dumb they are!


Protesters enter the metaverse gallery, parading around.

[Noise made by the protesters]

Protesters Go back to the real world! Go back to the real world!

[Walter hears the noise outdoor.]

Walter Seems like something interesting is happening inside. I enjoy chaos, I should go and check.

[Walter reenter the metaverse gallery.]

Protesters …Metaverse is fake! We should live in the real world!

Walter [mumble] Finally someone smart.

[Marvin stands at the corner, staring at the crowd angrily.]

Marvin [shout] What are you doing here? If you hate metaverse, go back to the real world then!

[Marvin tries to remove the protesters’ accesses to the metaverse, Alita calms him down.]

Alita They are also our audience. We need to listen to different voices. Not everyone is prepared for metaverse yet.

Marvin Okay. Let’s see.

[Caleb walks pass by the protesters.]

Caleb What happened?

[No one answers.]

Caleb Lev, Lev! Come, I am confused.

[Lev approaches.]

Lev What?

Caleb What are they doing here? They look so aggressive in such a peaceful environment! I was shocked.

Lev They have problems with metaverse.

[Walter interrupts.]

Walter Cause metaverse is rubbish, so does the stupid AI. These things can’t be called art at all, there is no aura!

Lev That’s because you and them are not ready for the change of aura yet. During long periods of history, the mode of human sense perception changes with humanity’s entire mode of existence. (10)

(10) Benjamin, Walter. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction., 2018.

[Announcement from podcast]

Alita Attention people, my solo debut speech is about to start. Please come to the auditorium as soon as possible.

Alita Thank you for coming! I’m so grateful that you all are here! I want to share with you my main piece of work.

[The projector projects Picasso’s Guernica (Fig 4) with caption “HUMAN POWER! HUMAN POWER! NO AI! NO METEAVERSE!”]

Fig 4. Pablo Picasso. Guernica, 1937.

Alita What happened?

Caleb Is this your work? Interesting and controversial!

Walter Hoorah! Oo lala!

Alita I’m so sorry! I think we have been hacked by the protestors.

Protesters Finally you understand that every art is a material, bound to its timeline and it can only be material. (11) (Fig 5)

Fig 5. Benozzo Gozzoli, Journey of the Magi, 1459–62.

(11) Groys, Boris. In the Flow. Verso, 2016.

[Protesters leave the gallery.]


Walter If AI keep calling themselves artist, protests are going to be more frequent, as AI is not capable of creating art.

Caleb Why? Their art pieces are amazing to me!

Walter Huh? Okay, maybe the aesthetics is good, but it’s only because of their algorithms. (12) (Fig 6)

(12) Manovich, Lev. AI Aesthetics. Strelka Press, 2018.

Fig 6. 50,000 Instagram photos from Tokyo, organized by brightness mean (radius) and hue mean (perimeter). from

[Everyone’s silent.]

Walter They don’t really “understand” the human world and human meanings. (13)

(13) Manovich, Lev. AI Aesthetics. Strelka Press, 2018.

Caleb But why they have to understand the human world? For me if that art is good, it’s enough!

Lev Good speech young boy. Aestheticization meaning different for everyone and often even opposing theoretical. (14)

(14) Groys, Boris. In the Flow. Verso, 2016.

Alita Aestheticization as Revolution. (15) (Fig 7)

(15) Groys, Boris. In the Flow. Verso, 2016.

Fig 7. Mabel Dwight, Danse Macabre, c. 1934.

[Walter rolls eyes while others are talking.]

Caleb Hey Lev, do you have an idea what happened in the presentation? Too much information for me, I’m so confused.

Lev Those protesters hacked Alita’s presentation. It’s pretty rude. At least they could’ve respect others.

Walter Oh no no no, you know what? Those protesters are protecting the real world from dominated by AI or robots. I support them!

[Sounds of system operating in the background]

Marvin Hey Alita, I fixed the system.

Alita Thanks Marvin. Hey people, attention back, I’m going to continue my presentation. As you can see, this piece is a huge and complicated one. Here…

Walter What’re these?! I don’t like them! No souls! No emotions! No…

[A big “beep” sound]

Walter No…No…

[Silence. The audience is confused.]

Caleb Wait, is Walter AI?

Alita Surprise! Walter is the main art piece of my debut show. Whatever his behaviour, it’s part of the performance art.

Caleb What an aura!

Alita So who am I exactly? With known caveats, I am what people of the past have called ‘artificial intelligence’. (16)

(16) Manovich, Lev. AI Aesthetics. Strelka Press, 2018.