Artists have reacted badly to an art competition’s awarding of top prize to an image that was produced by an AI.

‘Theatre d’Opera Spatial’, generated by a game designer named Jason Allen, took out first prize in the Digital Arts / Digitally Manipulated Photography category at the Colorado State Fair, The Verge reported this week.

Allen, who uses the handle Sincarnate, made the announcement last week on the Discord channel for Midjourney, one of the more popular AI image generators out there.

He explained how he carefully fine-tuned the text he put into the AI’s prompt, selected the best few outputs and had them printed on canvas, upscaled them using another AI, then entered.

“I won first place,” he boasted. “I’ve set out to make a statement using Midjourney in a competitive manner and wow! I could not be more excited.”

‘Theatre d’Opera Spatial’ and its prize, awarded by a human. (Image: Jason Allen / Discord)

Once the post leaked onto wider social media, some didn’t like the precedent it set.

“That’s pretty fucking shitty,” wrote one person in a tweet liked and shared tens of thousands of times.

Allen, from Pueblo West, told a local newspaper he wasn’t going to apologise for it, because he made it clear when he entered the competition the image was made using Midjourney – a text-to-image generation tool like Craiyon and DALLE-2.

A fair official told the Pueblo Chieftain Allen appeared to have broken no rules, and no one had filed a formal complaint.

Supporters on social media reportedly said if the judges didn’t know what Midjourney was and failed to look it up, that was their problem – not Allen’s.

“Artists are scared,” Allen told the Pueblo Chieftain. “They’re worried that they’re going to be replaced by the robot.”

Of course, without art to learn from in the first place, AIs like Midjourney wouldn’t be able to produce what they do.

“Laugh and mock if you want. But this is genuinely an issue,” one person tweeted. “These contests are made for people who have put physical skill into their art. Art crafted by human hands. AI media is here, and it’ll have it’s place – but not like this.”