A Museum Temporarily Swapped a Masterpiece With AI Art and Chaos Ensued

A Museum Temporarily Swapped a Masterpiece With AI Art and Chaos Ensued

A Netherlands museum is facing criticism for selecting an AI-generated piece of art to temporarily take the place of the renowned Girl with a Pearl Earring painting. The artwork was created by Johannes Vermeer in 1665 and is usually located at the Mauritshuis Museum but is on loan at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam until June 4.

In the interim, the Mauritshuis Museum held a competition for local artists to submit their own versions of the Girl with a Pearl Earring painting and said it would select one of the submissions to take Vermeer’s place until the painting is returned. While the competition may have seemed like a straightforward and exciting process, when the museum selected an AI-generated piece of art showing the girl with more structured and sharp outlines and glowing earrings, the art community erupted with complaints.

Of the roughly 3,480 artworks submitted, Berlin-based artist, Julian van Dieken, was one of five winners selected, and whose so-called painting is receiving backlash from artists and lovers of the painting. They argue against AI paintings, saying they are not art and van Dieken’s submission took the place of someone who had put forward more time and effort to create a hand-drawn copy.

“AI prompters are not artists and their AI-generated shell images should not be praised by the artistic community. Does no one at the museum understand how AI images are created? How the AI learns to create them? ***AI images are plagiarism***, how can you knowingly participate in that? So f*cking disappointing,” one person commented on the museum’s Instagram post.

When asked for comment, the Mauritshuis Museum directed Gizmodo to a statement on its website which said they did not choose the winners by looking at what was the “most beautiful” or “best” submission. “For us, the starting point has always been that the maker has been inspired by Johannes Vermeer’s world-famous painting. And that can be in the most diverse ways in image or technique.”

The My Girl with a Pearl initiative invited artists to submit their interpretations of Vermeer’s work whether it be a photo, a drawing, an AI image, or a knitted homage, and van Dieken wrote in an Instagram post, “I didn’t create the image for a contest but for me.” He said he had used the AI software, MidJourney, and Photoshop to create his copy of the Girl with a Pearl Earring and said he decided on that direction because it “is now possible with current technology.”

Girl with a Pearl is one of Vameer’s most famous paintings, and while the identity of the girl remains unknown, researchers are continuously looking for hidden details behind the paint strokes and why he might have created this portrayal of a young girl.

In 2020, researchers said they had uncovered more information about Vameer’s techniques and the materials he used, but project head and conservator Abbie Vandivere told The Guardian at the time, “We still don’t know exactly who the girl is.” She continued, “It is good that some mysteries remain and everyone can speculate about her. It allows people their own personal interpretation of the girl; everyone feels their own connection with the way she meets your eyes.”

van Dieken said in his post that he does not believe the iconic painting could ever be replaced or replicated with any technology, but wrote, “The image I created with the help of AI was meant as a fun homage, because I love Vermeer’s work.” He added, “As a photographer, I’ll forever chase that kind of detail, mood, and quality of light.”

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