Not a pretty picture: Award-winning, AI-generated artwork angers artists

2 Sep 2022

Image generated by AI: © z1b/

A game designer in the US had made a scene by winning a competition with an AI-generated artwork.

An AI-generated artwork has sparked debate after it won first prize in the Colorado State Fair’s fine art competition.

As first reported by Vice earlier this week, artists and art fans took to Twitter and other internet forums to state their disillusionment following the revelation that the competition winner was not, in fact, human.

The man behind the machine that beat the human artists to the top prize was game designer Jason Allen. Allen entered an artwork titled Theatre d’Opera Spatial in the Digital Arts and Digitally-Manipulated Photography category of the competition.

He created the artwork using Midjourney, a text-to-image AI generator that is accessed through a Discord server.

It can take a person’s typed prompts and convert them into an image – similar to other text-to-image AI generators like Google’s Imagen AI and OpenAI’s DALL-E 2. In Midjourney’s case, it can mimic a lot of contemporary art styles.

Allen has been criticised by many artists online for what they see as a flagrant disregard for artistic practices. But Allen defended his actions on the Midjourney Discord server, where he posted the news of his win.

He said he had “set out to make a statement using Midjourney in a competitive manner” and that he could “not be more excited” about winning with this piece.

The rules of the competition Allen entered stated that only artworks that used digital technology as part of the process could be considered eligible winners.

While the image was created from AI using a text prompt, Allen said on Discord that he still had to fine tune this prompt and edit what Midjourney produced in Photoshop, which constituted “at least 10pc” of the work.

Others on the server were not convinced he had won fairly. “If there was an AI art category, I would be sending congratulations. But this whole thing sits in a grey area,” said one user. “I would bet a substantial sum that the judges would not have selected him as the winner knowing that he used a text-to-image generator.”

Allen was upfront in saying he used the tool in his submission, but he did not explain how it worked. Many online pointed out that the judges of the competition may not have known what Midjourney was.

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Blathnaid O’Dea was a Careers reporter at Silicon Republic until 2024.