Online storm erupts over AI work in Dutch museum’s ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ display

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The Mauritshuis museum in The Hague, Netherlands, is facing criticism for showing an image made using artificial intelligence (AI) which is inspired by Vermeer’s famous Girl with a Pearl Earring.

The work by Berlin-based Julian van Dieken, who describes himself as a “digital creator”, is one of five images out of around 3,480 submitted for the My Girl with a Pearl initiative whereby devotees of the famous painting were invited to send their own versions of the famous girl image.

The winning entries are on show at the Mauritshuis while Vermeer’s 1665 original masterpiece is on loan to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (until 4 June); 170 entries are shown on a loop in a digital frame.

Van Dieken says on his Instagram feed: “Everyone could enter their own version of the famous painting be it a photo, a drawing, an AI image, a knitted homage, you name it. I also entered my version which I created with [the AI programme] MidJourney and Photoshop.” He adds that the method for entry and selection was “transparent because in my submission… I reflect on how these new AI tools might change creative processes”.

The controversy fuels the debate around the validity of images created using AI tools. Artists in the field stress that AI is prompting a paradigm shift, prompting difficult questions around artist agency, copyright and market value. Van Dieken adds on his LinkedIn page: “It is of course quite progressive and special that the museum chose this picture, among others. The first AI picture in this museum? That’s an art historical action.”

Van Dieken’s image has sparked a flood of comments on the Mauritshuis Instagram account however. The Colorado-based artist Julia Rose Waters says, for instance, that she is “super disappointed [the Mauritshuis] chose an AI piece. That choice pushed out another artist who devoted real time to building their creative skills in favour of machine-created art.” Another US artist, Graham McCarthy, says that “displaying AI work here is ridiculous”.

The Mauritshuis says in a statement meanwhile that the My Girl with a Pearl initiative is not a competition. “It was not and is not about [the] ‘most beautiful’ or ‘best’. For us, the starting point has always been that the maker has been inspired by Johannes Vermeer’s world-famous painting. And that can be in the most diverse ways in image or technique.”

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