This year, Mr. Allen, who is 39, started to try out art made by A.I. He runs a company called Incarnate Games, which makes tabletop games, and he was interested in how the new generation of A.I. image generators would compare to the human artists he hired.
This summer, he was invited to a Discord chat server where people were testing Midjourney, a program that turns text into custom images through a complicated process called “diffusion.” People send Midjourney a message with a string of words, and a few seconds later, the bot sends back an image.
Mr. Allen got so into it that he made hundreds of pictures and was amazed at how real they looked. Midjourney seemed to be able to make it no matter what he typed.
He said, “I couldn’t believe what I saw.” “I felt like demons were behind it or that some otherworldly force was at work.”
Mr. Allen eventually had the idea to enter one of his Midjourney creations in the “digital art/digitally manipulated photography” section of the Colorado State Fair. He had the picture printed on canvas at a local shop and gave it to the judges.
He said, “The fair was coming up, and I thought, Wouldn’t it be great to show people how great this art is?”
A few weeks later, Mr. Allen was walking around the Pueblo fairground when he saw a blue ribbon next to his piece. He had won the division and the $300 prize that came with it.
He said, “I couldn’t believe it.” “I thought to myself, This is exactly what I set out to do.”
(Mr. Allen wouldn’t say what exact text he sent to Midjourney to make “Théatre D’opéra Spatial.” But he said that the French translation, “Space Opera Theater,” gave him a hint.)
After Mr. Allen won, he sent a picture of the work he won to the Midjourney Discord chat. It ended up on Twitter, where it got a lot of angry responses.
“We’re seeing art die right in front of our eyes,” one person wrote on Twitter.
“This is so disgusting,” wrote someone else. “I can see how A.I. art could be useful, but calling yourself an artist just because you made something? “No way, no how.”
Some artists defended Mr. Allen by saying that using A.I. to make a piece was the same as using Photoshop or other digital image-editing tools, and that it still takes human creativity to come up with the right prompts to make an award-winning piece.
Olga Robak, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Agriculture, which runs the state fair, said that Mr. Allen had given enough information about Midjourney’s involvement when he submitted his piece. The rules for the category allow any “artistic practice that uses digital technology as part of the creative or presentation process.” She said that the two category judges didn’t know that Midjourney was an A.I. program, but that they would have given Mr. Allen the top prize even if they had known.