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Controversial AI-generated artwork takes home first place at Colorado State Fair

The judges said they had no idea the artwork was created using artificial intelligence.

PUEBLO, Colo. — Some may not want to call Jason Allen an artist, but he says he's an author at the very least.

Allen used artificial intelligence software and written prompts to create a digital painting depicting what he describes as a "lavish sort of space opera scene."

Allen entered his piece "Théâtre D'opéra Spatial" into the Colorado State Fair Fine Arts competition, and he took home first place in the digital arts category.

“This is the first time I’ve ever entered into a contest, and I won," Allen said. "I think it really speaks to the power of AI, and a lot of people got upset by that, unfortunately.”

Several artists on social media criticized Allen for submitting the work and refused to call him an artist.

“They assume that by having submitted artificial intelligence that I had nothing to do with it as an artist," Allen explained. "That I just typed a couple of words, hit the enter key and voila, first place. It’s a little more complicated than that.”

Before he submitted the work, Allen said he went through about 900 iterations of the "Théâtre D'opéra Spatial" using the AI software, Midjourney. 

“The AI is a tool like a paintbrush is a tool, and there is a creative force and mind behind it," Allen said. “There is an imagination and author behind the prompts.”

Allen claimed he spent about 80 hours on the project and did several touchups on Photoshop before scaling up the image and printing onto a canvas.

Some may argue AI still did most of the work.

“Did the person who won the award create the program?" Jessica Hair asked. "Should the person who did create the program have credit in the award?”

Hair also entered the art competition at the Colorado State Fair. She took home third place for her piece, "Judge, Jury, Executioner." She isn't sure how she feels about losing to an AI-generated piece.

“I don’t know if I’ve had enough time to process that," Hair said. "It’s such a new conversation that we’ve been having.”

Hair said she's curious to see how many AI-generated pieces are entered into competition next year.

"I think this art, it had a voice, you know," said Cal Duran. "I think the artist that made it had a voice creating it.”

Duran was one of the two judges in the art competition. He said he didn't know Allen's piece was created using AI, but that doesn't change how he feels about the entry.

“We have to kind of embrace those changes, and I think as artists we kind of have to let our ego go, you know," Duran said. "We have to be strong and grounded in our own creating.”

Allen took home the first place blue ribbon and $300 for the winning entry. He said he entered without any idea how much prize money was attached.

“I’m not in this for the money," he said. "I’m literally only wanting to share my imagination and the vivid imagery that I’ve been able to generate using my words to convey a concept and an atmosphere and a story that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to.”

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