A version made with artificial intelligence (AI) of one of the most illustrious works in the history of painting, the “Girl with a pearl earring”, by Johannes Vermeer, generated controversy, on Friday, after being exposed in a museum in the Netherlands .
At first glance, attention was drawn to the characteristic luminosity of the original painting and the young woman’s striking gaze, but, looking closely, strange details began to emerge. The young woman wears not just one earring, but two, one in each ear, and has freckles in an unnatural reddish hue.
The version is the work of artificial intelligence (AI) and is part of an exhibition at the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague, which brings together reproductions by admirers of Vermeer’s “Girl with a pearl earring”, currently on loan to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam for a retrospective in honor to the Dutch painter.
The decision to expose the AI version was controversial. Some questioned whether AI should have a place in a museum like the Mauritshuis, which exhibits classic works by Vermeer and Rembrandt.
“It’s a controversial issue. That’s why people are for or against it,” says Boris de Munnick, press officer for the Mauritshuis. “The people who selected the work knew it was AI. But we liked the creation, so we chose it.”
Julian van Dieken, a digital creator based in Berlin, made the image for the competition organized by the Mauritshuis museum, which invited people to send in their version of the famous painting. The contestants, aged between 3 and 94, used all kinds of tools and objects, such as pencils, paint, fabrics and even salads and flowers, in their creations. Van Dieken used the AI tool Midjourney, capable of producing complex images with millions of images from the internet and Photoshop.
Dutch artist Iris Compiet wrote on Instagram that this version was “an embarrassment and an insult”. “It’s an insult to Vermeer’s legacy and to any working artist. Coming from a museum, it’s a real slap in the face,” criticized Compiet, speaking to AFP.
It is an “unethical technology”, in turn, assessed the artist Eva Toorent, who works on the regulation of AI. “Without the work of human artists, this program could not simply produce works,” she said, speaking to the Dutch newspaper “De Volkskrant”.
“What is art and what is not? It is a difficult question”, stressed Boris de Munnick, concluding by saying that the Mauritshuis museum never intended to deliberately open the debate.