AI won an art competition and artists are furious – CNN | Ad On Picture

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Jason M. Allen was almost too nervous to enter his first art competition. Now his award-winning image is sparking controversy about whether art can be created by a computer and what it means to be an artist.

In August, Allen, a game designer living in Pueblo West, Colorado, won first place in the Emerging Artists Division’s Digital Art/Digitally Manipulated Photography category at the Colorado State Fair Fine Arts Competition. His award-winning image, titled Théâtre D’opéra Spatial (French for “Space Opera Theater”), was created using Midjourney – an artificial intelligence system that can produce detailed images when given written prompts. A prize of $300 accompanied his win.

“I am fascinated by this imagery. I love it. And it thinks everyone should see it,” Allen, 39, said in an interview with CNN Business on Friday.

Allen’s winning image looks like a bright, surreal mix of Renaissance and Steampunk paintings. It is one of three such pictures that he submitted to the competition. A total of 11 people submitted 18 artworks in the same category in the Emerging Artist section.

The definition for the category Allen competed in states that digital art refers to works that use “digital technology as part of the creative or presentational process.” Allen explained that Midjourney was used to create his image when he entered the competition, he said.

Midjourney is among a growing number of such AI image generators – others include Imagen by Google Research and DALL-E 2 by OpenAI. Anyone can use Midjourney via Discord, while DALL-E 2 requires an invite and Imagen hasn’t been opened up to users outside of Google.

The novelty of these tools, how they are used to produce images, and in some cases access to some of the most powerful tools, has led to debates about whether they can actually make art or help people make art.

Allen realized this not long after his win. Allen had posted on Midjourney’s Discord server on August 25th excited about his win, along with pictures of his three entries; it went viral on Twitter Days later, with many artists upset with Allen’s win for using AI to create the image, 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,” wrote one Twitter user.

“This is the literal definition of ‘pressed a few buttons to make a digital work of art,'” tweeted another. “AI artworks are now the ‘banana glued to the wall’ of the digital world.”

Though Allen didn’t use a brush to create his winning piece, there was a lot of work involved, he said.

“It’s not like you’re just banging out words and winning contests,” he said.

You can feed a set like “an oil painting of an angry strawberry” to Midjourney and get multiple images from the AI ​​system within seconds, but Allen’s process wasn’t that simple. It took him more than 80 hours to get the last three pictures he submitted for the competition.

At first, he said, he was playing around with phrases that prompted Midjourney to generate images of women in frilly dresses and space helmets — trying to mix Victorian-style costumes with space themes, he said. Over time, with many small changes to his written prompt (such as adjusting lighting and color harmony), he created 900 iterations of what resulted in his final three paintings. He cleaned up these three images in Photoshop, for example adding a head of wavy dark hair to one of the female characters in his winning image Halfway through she had lost her head. He then ran the images through another software program called Gigapixel AI, which can improve resolution, and had the images printed on canvas at a local print shop.

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

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

Cal Duran, an artist and art teacher who was one of the contest judges, said that while Allen’s piece included a mention of Midjourney, he was unaware that it was generated by AI when judging it. Still, he stands by his decision to give it first place in its category, he said, calling it a “beautiful piece”.

“I think there’s a lot involved with this piece, and I think AI technology can bring more possibilities to people who might not find themselves as artists in a traditional way,” he said.

Allen is yet to say what the text prompt behind his winning image was – he plans to keep it a secret until he releases a larger related work, which he hopes will be completed later this year.

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