The Mauritshuis, an art museum in the Netherlands, raised a great deal of controversy as it replaced the famous 17th century “Girl with a Pearl Earring” painting by Johannes Vermeer with an artificial intelligence (AI) art piece.
At the moment, Vermeer’s masterpiece is on loan to the Rijksmuseum, located in Amsterdam, for its first, and the largest ever, retrospective exhibition on Vermeer from Feb. 10 – June 4. The Rijksmuseum has brought together more than 23 of the Dutch master’s rare paintings, and the exhibition is already sold out.
With the intention of sparking creativity and bringing the community into the space, the Mauritshuis opened an invitation to the public to create “your own girl” and have it hang in Vermeer’s place until its return in the beginning of April.
Over 3,000 entries of photographs, sculptures, crochet pieces and paintings were submitted. Five were chosen by a jury of judges. One of the five selected was “A Girl With Glowing Earrings” by Julian van Dieken, an AI-generated painting.
Unsurprisingly, people are outraged. AI began as self-driving cars and chess-playing technology but has since developed into a liberal arts producing system, thus taking away from human artists.
AI generates art by scanning existing pieces across the internet and remixing its findings without any attributes or consent. While some may argue that AI is using human artists as inspiration, just as any emerging talent would seek a role model to emulate, there’s a fine line between inspiration and plagiarism – especially with AI.
“Technology is just blatantly stealing from artists. The creators of the AI platforms, that were people, programmed it to directly take from artists who are in no way compensated and in no way credited and some of them it’s very blatant,” said Julia Whitney Barnes, Adjunct Instructor of Art. “I think to the point if a human were making that work and it was that derivative of someone else’s work, they would be sued.”
Artists feel cheated and used by these computerized machines, but nothing is being done to stop them. Rather, these AI-generated paintings are finding their way into museums. In short, artists and the art community are angered and feel as though they’re watching artistry unfold in real time.
According to a spokesperson of the Maurithshuis, the jury’s intentions were not to make a statement, but rather to inspire people with the “Girl with a Pearl Earring.” They further claimed that they did not look into ethical issues of their entries and stand by their decision.
Despite Barnes’s hopes to see AI used as a tool to assist artists in their creations, similar to photoshop, she believes that it will replace certain sectors of artistry. “It’s not the illustrator or the photographer that’s going to be hired, it’s going to be the AI and that feels like a real loss to society,” said Barnes. “It feels like a blatant slap in the face especially for illustrators and graphic artists.”