Social media channels had a field day this week on awarding Colorado (US)-based emerging player and artist Jason Allen – who won the top prize at the Colorado State Fair Fine Arts Competition with his work. Théâtre D’Opéra Spatial (French for Space Opera Theatre).
The winning work is an epic – an almost allegorical scene – in which a group of characters in period costume gaze out through a circular window at a distant landscape.
The criticism is that this first participant created his work using Midjourney, an artificial intelligence program that transforms lines of text into hyperrealistic graphics. Allen estimated that it took him around 80 hours to create the artwork.
While the US$300 (AUD$440) price tag is hardly a career, global commentary around her work has definitely put her name on the map – to the point that media sources such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, Aljazeera and art news all joined in the joke.
The noise kicked off with a social media post from digital artist Genel Jumalon who tweeted a screenshot of Sincarnate’s post from Allen’s gaming handle, celebrating his win (on Midjourney’s Discord channel ).
Jumalon’s post states, “Someone entered an art contest with an AI-generated work and won first prize. Yeah, that’s pretty shitty.
Within hours, Jumalon’s post had been liked over 85,000 times.
In an interview with the Pueblo Chieftain, Allen said, “I wanted to make a statement using artificial intelligence artwork. I feel like I accomplished that, and I’m not going to apologize.
So what does this win mean for digital art awards going forward, and more so, what does it mean for collecting practices?
A case of automated plagiarism
In part, it’s social media that has made it such a noisy topic.
Artists have been working with the digitally-enabled generation of artwork for a long time. The highlight of the social conversation is that, unlike a digital tablet using drawing applications for example, this work is created entirely by algorithms.
Dr. Mike Seymour, Lecturer at the University of Sydney Business School, is an internationally renowned expert on digital humans and virtual production, and leads the workshop “Design Thinking with DALL-E to DISRUPT.SYDNEY.
He said of Allen’s victory: “The question of AI art may seem difficult, but the AI engine is just that: an engine. It makes no creative judgments – it responds to the “intent” of the operator, or in this case, the artist, however. How to guide the AI, what changes to make, and when to stop and say, “I think this has artistic merit!” is directly up to that artist.
He continued, “The question of the role of the artist in the artistic endeavor has been a much-discussed topic due to the winning artwork produced by AI, but frankly, it’s also a key question. in the art world for decades, if not longer.’
Seymour emphasizes that art is the intention of the artist and the reaction of the viewer within a societal context.
‘By this account Space Opera Theater ticks all the boxes: it was produced with intent, it was received with a huge emotional response, and in the context of our current thinking about AI, it is relevant,” Seymour said in a statement.
I feel like right now the artistic community is heading for an existential crisis if it hasn’t already. A big factor in this is…disruptive open AI technology.
Jason Allen, AI Artist and Game Winner
“A lot of people say, ‘AI will never take over creative jobs, it’ll never be something artists and sculptors have to worry about.’ And we’re right in the middle of that, dealing with it right now,” he told the Chieftan.
Drew Harwell writes for The Washington Post: ‘Text-to-image tools like DALL-E 2 and Midjourney have rapidly grown in sophistication and become one of the hottest topics in AI. They can generate not just fake people, objects, and places, but mimic entire visual styles.
“Users can require the artwork to look like a cartoon storybook, historical diagram, or Associated Press photograph, and the system will do its best to comply.
But AI-generated art has been criticized as automated plagiarism because it relies on millions of ingested artworks that are then repeated en masse. It also fueled deeper fears: decimating people’s creative work, blurring the boundaries of reality, or stifling human artistry.
Drew Harwell, The Washington Post.
Many have argued that AI is just one tool among many, like a brush or a potter’s wheel, and that the pushback is based on fear and ignorance, rather than a future expanded practice. .
The other side – as Harwell suggests – is worried about copyright issues.
Midjourney has become one of the most popular AI art generators largely because it allows anyone to freely create new images on command. Using the “/imagine” prompt, a user can input what they want to see and the AI will return four newly created images in 60 seconds. The user can also ask the AI to improve or increase the visual quality with new variations on the same idea.
Yes, that sounds great – but who owns the images that are collected and collated?
“What makes this AI different is that it’s explicitly trained on artists who are currently working,” echoed digital artist RJ Palmer in a tweet last month. “This thing wants our jobs; it is actively anti-artist.’
One of the problems is the lightning speed at which this technology is advancing because copyright and controls cannot keep up.
While the art world may be grappling with today’s problem, these platforms have already created the next problem. And as far as copyright is concerned…well, we’re still in the dark ages if we’re talking about proportionate action when it comes to market.
Disapprovingly, Kevin Roose writes in The New York Times: ‘AI-generated art has been around for years. But the tools launched this year – with names like DALL-E 2, Midjourney and Stable Diffusion – have enabled serious hobbyists to create complex, abstract or photorealistic works simply by typing a few words into a text box.
The reference here is “rank amateurs”.
Roose continues, “What makes the new generation of AI tools different, according to some critics, is not just that they are able to produce beautiful works of art with minimal effort. That’s how they work.
He explained that these new programs fetch millions of images from the open web, then teach 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.
Obviously, this topic is just the tip of an iceberg worthy of a Titanic collision, and one to watch closely.