Artificial intelligence has won an art contest and artists are furious

Jason M Allen was almost too nervous to enter his first art contest. Now his award-winning image is sparking controversy over whether art can be computer generated and what exactly it means to be an artist.

In August, Allen, a game designer who lives in Pueblo West, Colorado, won first place in the “digital arts/digitally manipulated photography” category of the emerging artists division at the Colorado State Fair Fine Arts Competition.
In August, Jason M Allen won first place in the “digital arts/digitally manipulated photography” category of the emerging artists division at the Colorado State Fair Fine Arts Competition. (Courtesy of Jason M Allen) (Courtesy of Jason M Allen)

“I’m fascinated by these images. I love them. And I think everyone should see them,” Allen, 39, told CNN Business in an interview Friday.

Allen’s winning image looks like a bright, surreal cross between Renaissance and steampunk painting. This is one of three such images he submitted to the contest. In total11 people entered 18 works of art in the same category in the emerging artists division.
The category definition in which Allen competed, states that digital art refers to works that use “digital technology as part of the process of creation or presentation”. Allen said Midjourney was used to create his image when he entered the contest, he said.
Midjourney is one of many such AI image generators, including Google Research Imagen and Open AI DALL-E 2. Anyone can use Travel Medium via Discordwhile DALL-E 2 requires an invitation, and Imagen has not been opened to users outside of Google.

The novelty of these tools, the way they are used to produce images, and in some cases the control over access to some of the most powerful have led to debates about whether they can really do art or helping humans make art.

This was worked out for Allen shortly after his victory. Allen had enthusiastically posted his victory on the Midjourney Discord server on August 25, along with photos of his three entries; it went viral on Twitter a few days later, with many artists angered by Allen’s win due to his use of AI to create the image, such as a story from Vice’s Motherboard reported earlier this week.

“This sucks for the exact same reason we don’t let robots compete in the Olympics,” one Twitter user wrote.

“It’s the literal definition of ‘push a few buttons to create a piece of digital art,'” tweeted another.

“AI artworks are now the ‘banana stuck to the wall’ of the digital world.”

Still, although Allen didn’t use a paintbrush to create his winning piece, there was a lot of work to be done, he said.

“It’s not like you smash words together and win competitions,” he said.

You can send a sentence like “an oil painting of an angry strawberry” to Midjourney and receive multiple images from the AI ​​system within seconds, but Allen’s process wasn’t that simple. He said it took over 80 hours to get the final three images he submitted to the competition.

First, he said, he played with the phrasing that led Midjourney to generate images of women in frilly dresses and space helmets – he tried to mix Victorian-style costumes with themes spatial, he said.

Over time, with many slight tweaks to his written prompt (such as adjusting lighting and color harmony), he created 900 iterations of what led to his final three images.

He cleaned up these three images in Photoshop, such as giving one of the female figures in his winning image a head with wavy black hair after Midjourney rendered it headless.

Then he ran the images through another software called Gigapixel AI which can improve the resolution and had the images printed on canvas at a local print shop.

Allen is happy that the debate over whether AI can be used to make art is getting so much attention.

“Rather than hating technology or the people behind it, we need to recognize it’s a powerful tool and use it for good so we can all move forward rather than sulk,” Allen said.

Cal Duran, an artist and art teacher who was one of the competition’s judges, said that while Allen’s piece included a mention of Midjourney, he hadn’t realized it had been generated by AI when judging. Still, he stands by his decision to award it first place in its category, he said, calling it a “beautiful piece”.

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“I think there are a lot of things involved in this piece and I think AI technology can give more opportunities to people who might not find themselves artists in the conventional way,” said- he declared.

Allen won’t say what the text prompt behind his winning image was yet — he plans to keep it a secret until he releases a larger related work he hopes to complete later this year.

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