The Mauritshuis caused some controversy by hanging an artwork created with artificial intelligence in the spot usually occupied by Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring.
The Vermeer masterpiece is currently on loan to the Rijksmuseum for its Vermeer exhibition. In its absence, the Mauritshuis called on the public to create “your own girl,” inspired by the Vermeer painting, to hang in its place.
According to the museum, the call sparked an explosion of creativity. It received 3,482 entries, including photographs, sculptures, crochet pieces, paintings, and even one composed of vegetables. A jury of judges chose five to hang in the museum. The entries and winners can be seen on the museum’s website here.
One of the chosen art pieces is A Girl With Glowing Earrings, by Julian van Dieken. He used the AI Midjourney to help create it and then Photoshop to fine-tune the result.
Van Dieken is delighted, he said on Instagram. “My AI image is hanging in a museum. In the Vermeer room. At the same spot where the ORIGINAL Gilr with a Pearl Earring usually hangs,” he said, “Yes literally. And yes, I’m serious.”
Midjourney is one of several AI generators that have added a computer twist to the age-old debate on where the line lies between plagiarism and inspiration in art. You give the AI a text prompt – for example, make a portrait of a beautiful girl with glittering earrings in the style of Vermeer – and it generates the image from its dataset.
The datasets are the primary source of the controversy around these programs. So far, AIs can’t create something from nothing, only copy and combine what they’ve been fed. And their datasets generally consist of billions of images used without the artists’ permission.
Artist Eva Toorenent advocates for legislation and rules for what she calls “unethical technology” with her organization, the European Guilt for Artificial Intelligence Regulation (EGAIR). “While Midjourney makes a lot of money with this software, the artists and creators whose work is involuntarily included in this dataset see nothing in return,” Toorenent said to the Volkskrant. “Without the work of human artists, this program could not generate any work at all. The higher the quality of art in the dataset, the higher the quality of the AI art.”
Toorenent called it bizarre that the Mauritshuis singled out an AI creation. “That is quite something. With this, the museum is actually saying: we think this is okay.”
A spokesperson for the Mauritshuis told the Volkskrant that Vermeer’s action was not meant to make a statement. “It was important to us that people were inspired by Girl with a Pearl Earring.” The jury did not look at the ethical issues behind the entries. “We purely looked at what we liked. Is this creative? That’s a tough question.”