An AI-generated image won an art award. The artists are not happy.

NEW YORK — This year, the Colorado State Fair’s annual art competition awarded prizes in all the usual categories: painting, quilt, sculpture.

But one participant, Mr. Jason M. Allen of Pueblo West, Colorado, did not enter with a brush or a piece of clay. He created it with Midjourney, an artificial intelligence program that turns lines of text into hyperrealistic graphics.

Mr Allen’s work ‘Space Opera Theatre’ won the blue ribbon in the fair’s competition for emerging digital artists – making it one of the first AI-generated pieces to win a prize. such a price and triggering a fierce reaction from the artists who essentially accused him of cheating.

Reached by telephone on Wednesday August 31, Mr. Allen defended his work. He said he clarified that his work – which was submitted as “Jason M. Allen via Midjourney” – was created using AI and that he did not deceive anyone about his origins.

“I’m not going to apologize for that,” he said. “I won and didn’t break any rules.”

AI-generated art has been around for years. But the tools released this year – with names like DALL-E 2, Midjourney and Stable Diffusion – allowed high-level hobbyists to create intricate, abstract or photorealistic works simply by typing a few words into a text box.

These apps have made many human artists anxious about their own future; why would anyone pay for art, they wonder, when they could produce it themselves? They have also sparked fierce debates about the ethics of AI-generated art and opposition from people who claim these apps are essentially a form of high-tech plagiarism.

Mr Allen, 39, started experimenting with AI-generated art this year. He runs a studio, Incarnate Games, which makes tabletop games, and he was curious how the next generation of AI image generators would compare to the human artists whose works he commissioned.

This summer, he was invited to a Discord chat server where people were testing out Midjourney, which uses a complex process called “broadcasting” to turn text into personalized images. Users type a series of words into a message to Midjourney; the bot spits out an image a few seconds later.

Mr. Allen became obsessed, creating hundreds of images and marveling at their realism. Whatever he was typing, Midjourney seemed capable of doing it.

“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” he said. “I felt like it was demonically inspired – like an otherworldly force was involved.”

Eventually Mr. Allen had the idea to submit one of his Midjourney creations to the Colorado State Fair, which had a division for “digital art/digitally manipulated photography”. He had a local store print the image on canvas and submitted it to the judges.

“The fair was coming up,” he said, “and I thought, how wonderful would it be to show people how great this art is?”

Several weeks later, while walking around the Pueblo Fairgrounds, Allen saw a blue ribbon hanging next to his piece. He had won the division, along with a prize of US$300 (S$422).

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

(Mr Allen declined to share the exact text he submitted to Midjourney to create “Théâtre D’Opéra Spatial”. But he said the French translation – “Space Opera Theatre” – provided a clue.)

Following his victory, Mr Allen posted a photo of his award-winning work on the Midjourney Discord chat. It made its way to Twitter, where it sparked a furious backlash.

“We watch the death of art unfold before our eyes,” one Twitter user wrote.

“This is so disgusting,” wrote another. “I can see how AI art can be beneficial, but pretending you’re an artist by generating one? Absolutely not.”

Some artists have defended Mr Allen, saying that using AI to create a piece is no different from using Photoshop or other digital image manipulation tools and that human creativity is always needed to find the right prompts to generate an award-winning piece.

Mr. Olga Robak, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Agriculture, which oversees the state fair, said Allen sufficiently disclosed Midjourney’s involvement when submitting his article; the category’s rules allow for any “artistic practice that uses digital technology as part of the creative or presentation process.” The two category judges didn’t know Midjourney was an AI program, she said, but both told her afterwards that they would have awarded Allen the top prize even if they had. do.

The controversy over new technologies for artistic creation is nothing new. Many painters recoiled from the invention of the camera, which they saw as a debasement of human art. (Charles Baudelaire, a 19th-century French poet and art critic, called photography “art’s deadliest enemy.”) In the 20th century, digital editing tools and computer-aided design programs computer have also been rejected by purists for requiring too little skill on their part. human collaborators.

According to some reviewers, what makes the new generation of AI tools different isn’t just that they’re able to produce beautiful works of art with minimal effort. That’s how they work. Applications like DALL-E 2 and Midjourney are created by fetching millions of images from the open web, then teaching algorithms to recognize patterns and relationships in those images and generate new ones in the same style. This means that artists who upload their works to the Internet can unwittingly help train their algorithmic competitors.

“What makes this AI different is that it’s explicitly trained on artists who are currently working,” RJ Palmer, a digital artist, tweeted last month. “This thing wants our jobs, it’s actively anti-artist.”

Even those impressed with AI-generated art worry about how it’s made. Mr. Andy Baio, a technologist and writer, wrote in a recent essay that DALL-E 2, perhaps the hottest AI image generator on the market, was “bordering on magic in which he is able to ward off, but raises so many ethical questions, it’s hard to keep track of them all.

Mr Allen, the Blue Ribbon winner, said he sympathized with artists who feared AI tools would put them out of work. But he said their anger should not be directed at people who use DALL-E 2 or Midjourney to make art, but at companies that choose to replace human artists with AI tools.

“It shouldn’t be an indictment of the technology itself,” he said. “The ethics are not in the technology. It’s in the people.

And he urged artists to overcome their objections to AI, if only as a coping strategy.

“It’s not going to stop,” Mr Allen said. “Art is dead, man. It’s over. AI won. Humans lost.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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