Artists’ Envy, AI’s Pride

Artists have been furious about an AI generated image winning an art competition but the internet is still in splits.
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Recently, an artwork created on Midjourney by Jason Allen titled, “Theatre d’Opera Spatial”, won the first prize at the Colorado State Fair in the category of “Digital Arts/Digitally-Manipulated Photography”.

Though the artist gave adequate credits—Jason Allen via Midjourney—many of the judges were unaware about the AI-driven art generating tool. This has resulted in major backlash and heavy criticism from the digital artists community while others have argued that AI is merely a tool just like any other tool that artists use.

To understand why there is a discussion in rounds about the competition, one has to understand how midjourney uses a database to create/generate images. There has been a rise in text-to-image tools recently like DALL.E 2, StableDiffusion, and DreamBooth.


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Several users on Twitter argue that the generated art won in the category of “digital art”, which itself is a category heavily dependent on tools like Photoshop or Illustrator and which helps artists draw straight lines, objects or create compositions. 

Artists take a stand

Artists took to Twitter and Reddit in discussions about how art is more about the “process” than the “result”. 

“Would you consider yourself an artist for deciding if the outcome of your text prompt is worthy of a submission in the contest?” said an artist on Reddit.

Another Reddit user pointed out that people comparing a Midjourney generated image to digital artists creating on Photoshop is a false equivalent. “In an AI-generating tool, you do not have control over the output image unlike Photoshop or Illustrator, where the artist has to decide where to put the objects and decide the composition.” 

“The generated image though is an art, but the person who typed the words into the AI is not an artist,” said artist Chris Shehan. The decision-making part in an AI generated art is outsourced since there is no human cognitive process involved, apart from writing the prompts and being able to tweak it further with just texts.

A common argument put forth by several artists is that artworks created using AI are based on millions of images on the internet. The question of plagiarism pops out when delved deeper into the working of the topic. A user on Reddit said, “When this text-to-image tech extends to text-to-music, and people prompt an ai with—a love song in the style of taylor swift,” are they then musicians?

All artists use tools

“Should you give credits to the person who created the paint brush or the artist for the painting?” said a Twitter user. Everyone has the tools to create art—be it paint, Photoshop, camera, or in this case, Midjourney. The person who inputs his imagination into the tool deserves credits to be the artist. 

When moving out of Midjourney into the broader digital art category, we find that artists have a lot more control over the composition and style of their art. The artist Andy, or Andrew, explains the process of creating art using stable diffusion. You can check out the process here.

Tweaking and modifying the basic structure of a generative tool is also a technique that a user has to learn before creating art.

Jason Allen, the creator of the image, said that he is glad that the image is starting a conversation around the use of AI in generating art. He further added that, “Rather than hating this AI technology, we need to recognize its power and expand on it.”

“Banana taped to the wall” of the digital art world

Cal Duran, one of the judges of the competition called Allen’s art a “beautiful piece”. Duran further added that the piece mentioned Midjourney but he couldn’t pinpoint if the result was generated by an AI.

Since the inception of artificial intelligence, the discussion about whether the jobs of millions of people in various fields will get replaced has been gaining momentum. An architect on a Reddit thread talks about how his job will be replaced by construction tools in 10–15 years. “Right now, it feels like you are riding a majestic but wild horse—amazing results beyond one’s talents but all over the place without much control.”

The famous “Banana taped to the wall” sculpture by Maurizio Cattelan sparked a similar controversy in the modern art world. Is art related to only the final output or does the process also play a crucial role in considering something an art and the creator an artist?

Zulban on the same Reddit thread said that judges have rules to not allow a photograph in a painting competition because the outcome is different owing to the use of different tools. “Photography is art, but it shouldn’t be an entry in a painting or drawing contest. I look forward to AI arts contests in the future.”

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Mohit Pandey
Mohit is a technology journalist who dives deep into the Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning world to bring out information in simple and explainable words for the readers. He also holds a keen interest in photography, filmmaking, and the gaming industry.

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