AI won an art contest, and artists are furious

From CNN:

Jason M. Allen was almost too nervous to enter his first art competition. Now, his award-winning image is sparking controversy about whether art can be generated by a computer, and what, exactly, it means to be an artist.

In August, Allen, a game designer who lives in Pueblo West, Colorado, won first place in the emerging artist division’s “digital arts/digitally-manipulated photography” category at the Colorado State Fair Fine Arts Competition. His winning image, titled “Théâtre D’opéra Spatial” (French for “Space Opera Theater”), was made with Midjourney — an artificial intelligence system that can produce detailed images when fed written prompts. A $300 prize accompanied his win.

“I’m fascinated by this imagery. I love it. And it think everyone should see it,” Allen, 39, told CNN Business in an interview on Friday.

In August, Jason M. Allen’s piece “Théâtre D’opéra Spatial” — which he created with AI image generator Midjourney — won first place in the emerging artist division’s “digital arts/digitally-manipulated photography” category at the Colorado State Fair Fine Arts Competition. – Courtesy Jason M. Allen
Allen’s winning image looks like a bright, surreal cross between a Renaissance and steampunk painting. It’s one of three such images he entered in the competition. In total, 11 people entered 18 pieces of art in the same category in the emerging artist division.

The definition for the category in which Allen competed states that digital art refers to works that use “digital technology as part of the creative or presentation process.” Allen stated that Midjourney was used to create his image when he entered the contest, he said.

Link to the rest at CNN and thanks to F. for the tip.

PG has posted about artificial intelligence in the arts previously and says these sorts of complaints/disputes can be expected for some period of time.

Perhaps there are authors who still create their books by writing in long-hand (the advances in technology that have brought us modern pens make this much easier than in former days), but he suspects someone will have to turn that into a digital file using a computer before it can be submitted to a traditional publisher and, of course, Amazon requires it.

PG suspects everyone except the most niche publishers create an ebook version of a book that they print. And the printed version of the book is produced from an electronic original that a computer likely formatted.

These are all technologies that didn’t exist 10-30 years ago have become accepted standards in this artistic field.

PG understands the complaints of Colorado artists that likely created their entries for the Fine Art competition for digital arts/digitally-manipulated photography with Photoshop, Corel Painter or Affinity Photo may have spent more time on their entries, but each of them used a computer program to generate the final piece of visual art and, PG suspects, would not have been able to produce such a product with a paintbrush.

PG’s own experimentation with ai art have taught him that the process of creating the word prompts that set various programs to work is definitely a learned skill and he suspects some people are better at using the ai art computer programs than others are.

See the post that will appear just after this one does to see that some people are better at using ai art programs than others.

14 thoughts on “AI won an art contest, and artists are furious”

  1. I am reminded a great deal of the battles over “photography as art” that took up the second half of the nineteenth century, and spilled over into the twentieth century. More to the point, motion pictures were not initially protected as copyrightable subject matter in the 1909 Act, because two senators specifically denied that pointing a camera at actors had anything to do with either “art” or “originality” — it was just repeating the player-piano-roll battles of a couple of years previously, in their minds. Motion pictures weren’t eligible until the Townsend Amendments a couple of years later.

    So based on past precedent, I expect this sort of argument is going to continue for just about an adult lifetime, resulting in a shift in who is understood by consensus to be the creator (hint: in law, it’s not the director or director-of-photography of a motion picture… anywhere, not just under the US work-made-for-hire doctrine). And then, a few decades after that, some arrogant group of artistes seeking publicity for themselves (so they can get to the top of the heap, without “paying their dues,” because They Deserve It More) will declare that regardless of the consensus view on who is the creator, that they are the “true authors” (I’m lookin’ at you, Astruc, Bazin, Truffaut, Godard, et al., with some really significant side-eye and a non-hero-worshipping perspective on both the strengths and weaknesses of the Nouvelle Vague) to the exclusion of any other contributor. I can hardly wait† — so, instead, I’ll just mutter snide comments about “integrating computer-generated rhythm elements into award-winning pop songs, and computer-generated images into film, doesn’t seem to bother anyone” and “if only more film and TV scripts went through this sort of process, and careful inception, maybe they wouldn’t seem so much the same” and such. And then I’ll point at the discouraging sameness permeating art shows…

    † Fortunately, actuarial expectation indicates I’ll avoid this one. In person, anyway.

  2. “Digital Art” caused the exact same uproar in the art world not too long ago. Perhaps, contests need a separate category for AI generated art and that will allow everyone to settle down. You’ll note they have one for digital art now, something that painters and photographers were once certain would spell the D.O.O.M. of Art with a capital A.

    • Indeed it wasn’t too long ago that the establishment only accepted creations that originated on physical media as “real art”. Didn’t take long to change their minds. Hint: $$$$$$

      These days not only is digital imagery accepted as art, it has spawned a “collectibles” side business in the form of NFTs. (I see those as digital tulip bulbs.)

      “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même… “

      • That’s an insult to flowers, Felix. At least one can eat a tulip bulb if really hungry (the semiaprocryphal† trigger for market collapse was a hungry sailor mistaking an extremely expensive tulip bulb for an onion and chowing down); trying that with a smartphone would be… dubious.

        I’m just waiting for someone to publish a proof delinking the blockchain.

        † As in “yes, it’s documentated as having happened (including a lawsuit by the rightful owner), but the connection to the market collapse is a bit fanciful.”

        • Blockchain isn’t the key to NFTs.
          Bigger fool theory is.

          It reminds me of the 90’s comic book speculation fad where a million people bought copies of XMEN#1 (1991) thinking it would go up in value tbe way ACTION#1 did while conveniently forgetting that there are at most a couple dozen mint copies of ACTION#1. The $1.50 comic currently goes for $5 on Amazon. Inflation alone drove it up to $3.25. Great investment over 30 years, right? Especially since $1.50 invested in tbe S&P 500 would’ve returned $33.

          NFTs have already dropped 77% in value from 2021.
          And there’s four months to go.

          “A fool and their money…”

  3. This can be great fun if all entries are judged without an artist name attached. The judges don’t know how it was created. (I wonder if true artists would enter a contest where machine products were handicapped.) Let entry compete with entry. Same with books when they get to that point.

    Ever since some guy sharpened the first stick, technology has been used for what people used to do. It shouldn’t be surprising that it has now moved into pictures.

  4. C’mon, PG, this is a category mistake. The conscious, critical, rational mind exists to protect us from harm and so we may absorb knowledge. Neither it nor AI “create” anything. Both are capable only of construction.

    Using modern technology (computers, etc.) to set in fixed form and deliver what the human creative subconscious has created is one thing. Sitting back enjoying your favorite beverage while a computer constructs a story or other artwork on which you only slap your name is something else entirely.

    • Uh, you do realize that the so-called AI doesn’t actually *create* anything?
      It simply rearranges data humans give it following rules humans gave it in reply to a set of prompts from a human. It’s no different at its core than a spell checker or a search engine doing a boolean search.

      The folks complaining probably don’t understand any of tbe above.
      It’s a machine doing what humans tell it to do. More sophisticated than what came before but equally clueless. The whole “AI” thing is just hype. There is no intelligence except that of the humans who figured out how to encapsulate, analyze, and present the data. In tge case of the OP the submitter spend some 80 hours iterating on the prompts and then more time editing the picture to its final submitted form, not drinking margaritas on the beach.

      If Corel Painter is a valid Tool so if tbis kind of faux-AI.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corel_Painter

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