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Man Wins Art Competition with AI-Generated Art, But Was He Wrong?

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The AI Art phenomenon has hit a new stride this week as a Colorado AI artist claims first prize in his state fair. But the backlash has been overwhelming as people debate on the ethics of using AI-generated art in competitions with human artists.

Jason Allen’s Théåtre D’opéra Spatial was created with Midjourney, an image synthesis program available through a Discord server. I’ve written about Midjourney on this site before, and I consider myself a big fan of the process, but not everyone shares my affection for the technology.

When Allen posted his proud moment on the Midjourney Discord server, explaining the entire creation process for his art that included hundreds of variations and weeks of fine-tuning, many folks weren’t too pleased.

Discord Shot

As you might imagine, users on that Discord, Reddit, Twitter, and other social media outlets voiced their opinions on the matter.

“TL;DR — Someone entered an art competition with an AI-generated piece and won the first prize,” wrote Twitter user Genel Jumalon. “Yeah that’s pretty fucking shitty.”


While the authenticity of AI art is a highly debatable topic, the bottom line here is that most people aren’t upset at the art itself, but they are upset that the AI generation was held at the same competitive level as human-generated art. And even as an AI art advocate myself, I have to agree with them.

In fact, when Twitter users contacted the Colorado State Fair judges to ask if Allen had told them that the art was AI-generated, they said they weren’t aware. Even if Allen had mentioned Midjourney in his application (which he says he did), it’s rare that state fair art judges would know what the hell that even is.

 

So now we debate the talent that it takes to create something like Allen’s work versus the same thing painted with oil on canvas by an artist who has spent the last 20 years perfecting their craft, right? There’s no question who did the most work and who has the most talent in that situation. But that has nothing to do with the “art” of it all. Photography is art and making scenery in Speedtree or the Unreal Engine is art, but is it any less deserving of praise? Of course not, but it should be held in its own category. That’s really the only point here and we’re in a “wild west” until we sort everything out.


If we’re going to dig down deep into the moral implications of it all, I say Allen should have at least done a better job of explaining the AI art creation process to the judges beforehand. As one of the judges was quoted as saying, they would have “considered the AI piece differently if they had realized.”

Despite the viral backlash, Allen isn’t done. “I’m not stopping now,” he said. “This win has only emboldened my mission.”

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Shawn has been infatuated with the post-apocalyptic genre since he wore out his horribly American-dubbed VHS of the original Mad Max as a child. Shawn is the former Editor-in-Chief at Joystiq's Massively.com, creator of the Aftermath post-apocalyptic immersion event, and host of the Through the Aftermath podcast for over 11 years. He currently resides on top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere with his wife and four children.

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