An A.I.-Generated Picture Won an Art Prize. Artists Aren’t Happy.

An A.I.-Generated Picture Won an Art Prize. Artists Aren’t Happy.
An A.I.-Generated Picture Won an Art Prize. Artists Aren’t Happy.

Artists Aren’t Happy.

This year’s Colorado State Fair’s annual art competition awarded prizes in all of the regular categories, including painting, quilting and sculpture.

But one participant, Jason M. Allen of Pueblo West, Colorado, didn’t come in with a brush or a ball of clay. He created it using Midjourney, an artificial intelligence program that converts lines of text into ultra-realistic graphics.

Allen’s work “Spatial Opera Theater” won the Blue Ribbon in the fair’s competition for emerging digital artists. An artist who became one of the first AI-generated pieces to receive such an award, essentially accusing it of being a fraud.

Allen was contacted by phone on Wednesday and defended his work. He said he clarified that his work, submitted under the name “Jason M. Allen via Midjourney”, was created using AI and that he did not deceive anyone about its origin.
“I’m not going to apologize for this,” he said. “I won and didn’t break the rules.”

Art created by artificial intelligence has been around for many years. But tools released this year (named DALL-E 2, Midjourney, Stable Diffusion, etc.) allow novice hobbyists to create complex, abstract, or photorealistic work by simply typing a few words into a text box.

These apps have understandably left many human artists nervous about their future. Why pay for art when you can create it yourself? They also sparked a heated debate about the ethics of AI-generated art, arguing that these applications are essentially a high-tech form of plagiarism.
Allen, 39, began experimenting with AI-generated art earlier this year. He runs the board game studio Incarnate Games, and the new generation of AI-powered image generators can be compared to the human artists who created his commissions.

This summer he was invited to join our chat server on Discord. There, people have been testing out Midjourney, which converts text into custom images using a complex process called “diffusion”. The user enters a series of words into a message for Midjourney. The bot will regurgitate the image after a few seconds.
Allen became fascinated, creating hundreds of images and marveling at their realism. Whatever he typed, Midjourney seemed to be able to create it.
Eventually, Allen came up with the idea to exhibit one of Midjourney’s works at the Colorado State Fair. He ordered a local shop to print the images on canvas and present them to the judges.

“The fair was coming up,” he said.

A few weeks later, while walking through the Pueblo Fairgrounds, Mr. Allen saw a blue ribbon hung next to his work. He won the $300 division.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I felt like that was exactly what I was trying to achieve.”

(Allen declined to provide exact textual clues for the creation of “Theater do Pera Spacial”, which he sent to Midjourney. He is said to have provided them.)

After the win, Allen posted a photo of the prize on the Midjourney Discord chat. It was posted on Twitter and caused an uproar.


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