Vice reported on Wednesday, citing a viral tweet, that a synthetic media artist called Jason Allen had won first prize in the Digital Arts/Digitally Manipulated Photography category in the Colorado State Fair fine arts competition for AI-generated artwork.
In order to make a trio of pictures, Allen consulted Midjourney, a commercial image synthesis model accessible via a Discord server. Then, in early August, he blew them up, had them printed on canvas, and entered them in an art contest. One of the photos he submitted (entitled “Thétre D’opéra Spatial”) ended up winning, and on Friday he boasted about it on the Midjourney Discord server.
Allen’s victory sparked heated debates on the meaning of art and what it means to be an artist on social media and the Midjourney Discord channel. Because of artificial intelligence, some critics believe, human creativity may soon be extinct. Some people believe that art will develop and change along with the introduction of new technologies; they point to the use of synthesisers in music as an example. In July, Wired covered the heated discussion.
An issue of fairness arises because it is unclear whether or not Allen disclosed his use of picture synthesis to the judges. However, several Twitter users have apparently contacted the judges to learn that they were unaware of the technique. Strangely, the artwork was seen to be good enough to trick human painters, and someone on Twitter remarked that it ended the discussion of “whether AI art is art.”
It’s worth mentioning that the introduction of the camera in the 1800s provoked similar criticism of photography as a medium, since the camera appeared to do all the work compared to an artist labouring to produce an artwork by hand using a brush or pencil. With the advent of colour photography, some worried that painters would become extinct. Photographs have taken the place of time-consuming illustration techniques like engraving in some contexts, but human fine art painters are still active today.
There is still a significant amount of human supervision and “cherry-picking” involved in using existing image synthesis technologies to get impressive results, but this is changing quickly. Nonetheless, so long as there are individuals to debate the topic, “Is it art?” will certainly be a hot topic for as long as there are new artistic mediums to explore.