Artificial intelligence has no place in art competitions

Oct. 13, 2022, 6:24 p.m. | By Alexander Liu | 1 year, 9 months ago

AI provides unfair advantages to its users, undermining the spirit of competition.

Editor's note: Abjini Chattopadhyay is a Silver Chips artist

Created by Alexander Liu via Midjourney

Ever since Jason M. Allen won the Colorado State Fair’s annual art competition, the internet has exploded into arguments over whether or not AI belongs in art competitions. While some argue that AI should be allowed as a tool for artists to use, AI in art competitions gives its users an unfair advantage over others and should not be allowed. 

To understand what makes AI (artificial intelligence) so unfair in competitions, we should first understand how AI art programs work. Most AI art programs feed thousands of images to train neural networks to recognize what certain objects look like. When a user prompts the AI for a dog, it generates images iteratively, comparing each iteration to what it thinks a dog looks like. 

As AI teacher Nora Burkhauser puts it, AI artists are pre-trained to generate images based on what they’ve seen. “It's actually generating them and then putting it through an image recognition thing to say, okay, is this anything close to what we want?” Burkhauser explains. 

That means once someone prompts the AI on what they want to see, they can sit back and relax as the AI generates an image in mere seconds. Anybody that has ever played around with the multitude of freely available AI art generators can attest to how easy it is to generate breath-taking images at the click of a button.

Created by Alexander Liu via Midjourney

For that reason, art teacher Sara Foraker doesn’t think that AI belongs in art competitions as a whole. “It’s a small little snippet of someone’s creative thought, but I honestly don’t see the value,” Foraker says. 

Silver Chips artist Abjini Chattopadhyay agrees, saying AI removes the originality from art. “I don't think that [AI] should be legal because when making art yourself, you put in your own style and your own thinking into it, but with AI art, you’re incorporating the styles of other people and their thoughts and ideas,” Chattopadhyay says. 

Because making art with AI requires very little effort from the user, complete beginners can create works of art with more advanced techniques and detail than those who have put years of work into learning how to draw. Allowing for the continued use of AI in art competitions undermines the hard work of everyone else participating. 

Indeed, art resource teacher Jacqueline Armstead-Thomas says that AI art is more akin to searching for images than making your own artwork. “You’re just typing in a phrase and you're getting the results, and so when you think about the actual function of it, it's no different than typing into google an image, and getting results for that image,” Armstead-Thomas says. 

Created by Alexander Liu via Midjourney

Another issue is the speed of AI generated art. AI programs like Midjourney and Dall-E can generate pieces in under a minute, while it may take an artist hours to render a piece of similar quality. That means anybody not using AI is put at an extreme time disadvantage against those who are, putting them at a massive disadvantage. 

The images in this article, despite being quite detailed and beautifully rendered, took perhaps 10 minutes in total to generate. It’s absurd to think that AI artists can churn out a portfolio of pieces in about as much time as it takes to register for many competitions, or for a traditional artist to do one simple sketch.

In response, proponents of AI in art competitions point out that AI is just another tool that artists can use, like Photoshop or Procreate. While true, this argument misses the point of what makes AI so unfair in the first place. 

AI is fundamentally different from other tools in a digital artist’s arsenal. Even when using tools like Photoshop, you must manually manipulate and compose your artwork, using your own skills and creativity as you do so. While drawing the piece, you must consider the placement of objects, contrast, lighting and so much more. 

Armstead-Thomas says that AI requires less work than using other digital drawing tools. “I don’t think it's the same skill level of actually having created that piece, whether you did it traditionally or whether you did it digitally, but actually creating every stroke and line and color that shows up,” Armstead-Thomas says. 

Compare this to using AI, where you need only know the basic themes or objects in an image, and the program takes it from there. Even if that image is subsequently altered by a contestant manually, it is still no different than finding an image online, tweaking it, and calling it your own. 

AI in art competitions undermines the hard work of traditional artists, puts them at a massive time disadvantage, and limits overall creativity. Going forward, competitions ought to either make an entirely new category for these works, or ban the use of AI outright. 

Last updated: Oct. 18, 2022, 2:23 p.m.

Alexander Liu. Hi, I'm Alex (he/him) and I'll be a staff writer for SCO this year. I'm passionate about public policy and international relations. In my free time, I enjoy drawing and watching terrible rom-coms. More »

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