Jason Allen lives in Colorado, and last week ignited a debate that’s going to be up and running: Use AI to create art, and send it to Colorado State Gallery of Fine Arts (Opens in a new tab) Competition, and won the first prize. Needless to say, some people don’t like the idea.
There are some important facts to note. Allen has somewhat of a credit for what he did, crediting his submissions as being by ‘Jason Allen via Midjourney’, and also spending a significant amount of time working on the claims to produce the final artwork: “several weeks,” he says. He also worked on images that Midjourney created in Photoshop, to be completed by hand.
But of course that’s a nuance besides the central issue: the AI robot only beat human artists, and it was also clear enough to fool human judges.
Midjourney (Opens in a new tab) It is one of the many AI image creation tools emerging at the moment, and it is currently in beta. The user enters text prompts and the program creates images based on the links in them. This means that there is an element of human ingenuity in what it produces, as a given language in different combinations can lead to a wide range of results. In other words, there’s a huge element of automation to these things, but they’re still essential tools that humans have to fiddle with: as the old computer says, trash inside means trash disposal.
Allen’s photos are certainly not rubbish: they are beautiful. His winning piece is called “Théâtre D’opéra Spatial” and it won an award in the Digital Art category of the State Fair. Printed on canvas, it shows a cast of characters staring from the darkened interior toward a sunny sci-fi scene.
After the win, Allen posted about it on Discord, a post that was quickly picked up and spread on Twitter. The event was presented with TL; DR from “Someone entered an art competition with an AI-generated piece and won first prize. Yeah that’s pretty ridiculous.”
TL; DR – Someone entered an art competition with a piece created by artificial intelligence and won first prize. pic.twitter.com/vjn1IdJcsLAugust 30 2022
He quickly started the heap, although fortunately for Allen, he appears to be one of those sane people who don’t use Twitter. The arguments for and against this are now familiar, but they boil down to the potential of AI-generating software to replace human art and skill, its job-costing and cultural-production implications. There’s also the fact that these things are trained to work humans who don’t get any credit or benefit from it.
Then there’s the most obvious dividing line: AI photo-creating software is there, and it’s not going away. But does it have to be human competition?
“I won’t apologize for that,” Allen told the New York Times. “I won, and I didn’t break any rules.”
A spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Agriculture told The Times that as Allen revealed the use of Midjourney in his letter, it was already within the rules. They added that the judges didn’t know what Midjourney was at the time, but would have given Allen’s work the award regardless.
Allen believes that the prizes will eventually lead to the creation of an “artificial intelligence category,” which seems like a sane solution to a debate that can get very hot. One feels that Allen, however, is ready to fight back and to straighten the noses of few critics.
“Ethics is not in technology,” Allen told The Times. “It’s in the people. It won’t stop. Art is dead, dude. It’s over. Artificial intelligence has won. Humans have lost.”
While this is an obvious provocation, it leaves us with the messy and unanswerable question of what counts as art and what are the “valid” methods of artistic production. The method is new, but this question is not: Lots of historical examples have been pushed into the same consideration over the years, such as Duchamp’s urinal, Bullock spray paint, Warhol’s or Hearst’s line of assistants, and so on technologies such as cameras, factory molding, or logistics and operations that enter into public art.
Ultimately, it comes down to disclosure and the end result. Nobody really knows what art is, after all, but we all know it when we see it.