Art | September 3, 2022 5:54 pm

Colorado State Fair Prize Reopens the Debate Over AI and Art

Can art and technology coexist?

Jason Allen
Jason Allen works inside his hotel room at the Westgate in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Mikayla Whitmore for The Washington Post via Getty Images

What happen when a state fair’s art prize sparks a heated debate over the future of artists and illustrators? For all intents and purposes, that’s what took place recently at the Colorado State Fair. As a New York Times article by Kevin Roose explains, one of the winners was Jason M. Allen’s “Théâtre D’opéra Spatial” — an intricate image that would not look out of place on the cover of an award-winning science fiction novel.

Technically, Allen isn’t the sole author of this work, however. As the Times details, he submitted his work to the fair under the name “Jason M. Allen via Midjourney” — and was open about using an A.I. called Midjourney to generate the piece via inputting a specific selection of words. The category Allen entered was for digital art, and the judges saw no issues with the technology Allen used. When he revealed his win, though, other artists grew frustrated with him for a host of reasons.

For his part, Allen embraces the new technology. “Art is dead, dude. It’s over,” he told the Times. “A.I. won. Humans lost.”

But for those who don’t share Allen’s mindset, the question of what effect A.I.s like Midjourney might have on the ability of artists and illustrators to earn a living is thoroughly unsettling. A Kotaku article from earlier this year bore the self-explanatory headline “AI Creating ‘Art’ Is An Ethical And Copyright Nightmare,” while a John Naughton article in The Guardian delved into the economic implications of this technology.

Or, to cite noted (albeit fictional) ethicist Ian Malcolm on the subject: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” It’s a question that’s liable to come to the foreground even more in the coming years.