A picture made by AI won an art prize. Artists don’t feel good.
The person who made the art says, “I won, and I didn’t break any rules.”
This year, the annual art contest at the Colorado State Fair had prizes for painting, quilting, and sculpture, just like it always does.
But Jason M. Allen of Pueblo West, Colorado, didn’t use a brush or a lump of clay to make his entry. He made it with Midjourney, a computer program that uses artificial intelligence to turn lines of text into graphics that look very real.
Mr. Allen’s piece “Théatre D’opéra Spatial” won the top prize in the fair’s contest for new digital artists. It was one of the first pieces made by artificial intelligence to win such a prize, and artists were very angry with him for what they saw as cheating.
When Mr. Allen was called by phone on Wednesday, he stood up for his work. He said that he had made it clear that his work, which was submitted under the name “Jason M. Allen via Midjourney,” was made with A.I. and that he hadn’t lied to anyone about where it came from.
He said, “I’m not going to say sorry for it.” “I won and didn’t do anything wrong.”
AI-made art has been around for a long time. But this year, tools like DALL-E 2, Midjourney, and Stable Diffusion have made it possible for even the most inexperienced artists to make complex, abstract, or photorealistic works by just typing a few words into a text box.
Many artists are worried about their own futures because of these apps. After all, why would someone pay for art when they could make it themselves? They have also sparked heated debates about the ethics of A.I.-generated art, and some people are against them because they say they are just a high-tech way to steal ideas.
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.
There has always been debate about new ways to make art. When the camera was invented, many painters were upset because they thought it was a bad thing for art. The French poet and art critic Charles Baudelaire, who lived in the 1800s, said that photography was “art’s most mortal enemy.” In the 20th century, purists didn’t like digital editing tools or computer-aided design programs because they didn’t require enough skill from the people who used them.
Some critics think that the new type of A.I. tools are different not just because they can make beautiful works of art with little effort. That’s how they function. Apps like DALL-E 2 and Midjourney are made by scraping millions of images from the open web, then teaching algorithms to find patterns and relationships in those images and make new ones in the same style. So, when artists put their work on the internet, they may be unintentionally helping their algorithmic competitors learn.
“This AI is different because it was trained on artists who are still working,” Last month, digital artist RJ Palmer sent out a tweet. “This thing is actively against artists because it wants our jobs.”
Even some people who like the art made by AI are worried about how it’s made. In a recent essay, technologist and writer Andy Baio said that DALL-E 2, which is probably the most talked-about A.I. image generator on the market, is “almost magical in what it can do, but it raises so many ethical questions that it’s hard to keep track of them all.”
Mr. Allen, who won a blue ribbon, said he understood why artists were worried that artificial intelligence tools would put them out of work. But he said they shouldn’t be mad at the people who use DALL-E 2 or Midjourney to make art. Instead, they should be mad at the companies that replace artists with A.I. tools.
He said, “It shouldn’t be a criticism of the technology itself.” “Ethics have nothing to do with technology. It’s the people’s fault.”
And he told artists to get over their objections to A.I., even if it was just to help them deal with the situation.
Mr. Allen said, “This isn’t going to stop.” “Art is dead, dude. No more. A.I. won. Humans lost.”