Allowing art created by Artificial Intelligence to enter this year’s Brisbane Portrait Prize is either a stroke of genius or a massive blunder. I guess time will tell.

With the artists’ launch on February 18, though, the furore that has erupted over this is a brilliant marketing stroke, if nothing else.

This is a real Archibald Prize-level controversy. Brisbane Portrait Prize is hosting an artist’s panel discussion about all this at The Edge, State Library of Queensland, on February 21, which will be an opportunity to see the fur and feathers fly on this issue.

As someone who has covered the BPP since its outset, I’m unconvinced about the wisdom of allowing AI, but the sitter in me sees it differently. I have been the subject of two portraits entered in the prize, both done by my friend Jun Chen, who doesn’t need Artificial Intelligence because he already has his own.

But as a sitter I’m thinking, if I get done again by Jun Chen or anyone else the whole AI thing may be a boon. I am now picturing myself with Daniel Craig’s body or Warren Beatty’s head. When he was young, of course.

I could look fabulous with a bit of AI intervention. So could you, if you’re chosen as a sitter.

The furore over allowing AI into this year’s BPP erupted when a couple of disgruntled artists took their case to the ABC. This got everyone talking, so the folks at the prize put out a longish statement that no-one put their name to.

It’s from the board as a whole, I was told. Here is most of what they say:

“Brisbane Portrait Prize (BPP) has always and will continue to support individual creative processes and this will be highly valued, even in works using AI. The intention of allowing AI entries in this year’s Prize is not to supplant more traditional artforms but to acknowledge that the definition of ‘art’ is not stagnant and will always grow and reflect societal change.

“BPP prides itself on being a contemporary prize and we are always interested in what ‘contemporary’ portraiture is, while fostering both the ongoing evolution of art and engaging in the surrounding conversation.

“To clarify some misconceptions around our decision to allow AI artworks in this year’s Prize, those who enter a whole or in part AI artwork must provide a brief description of the AI tools and methodologies employed in the creation process, and BPP reserves the right to publish this information alongside the exhibited artwork to promote transparency.

“Each year, the Chief Judge determines the criteria and method for selecting the winning artworks. It is up to the Chief Judge to assess how much weight they place on any aspect of the work, including what weight they attribute to the fact that the entry incorporates AI in its creation. All entrants who have used AI will still be required to comply with all other entry terms including having a live sitting with their subject and having full copyright ownership of the image being submitted. What this means is that entrants cannot simply plug some words into a computer to generate an image because the result will not comply with our other terms of entry.”

They point out that there were objections when the prize began allowing digital art.

“Over time, this has become more acceptable in the art world,” the board says.

That sounds reasonable, but my thinking is that it’s probably too early for this gambit. Some artists may embrace this but many are unhappy and have already decided not to enter this year. Leading artist and gallery director Birrunga Wiradyuri is one of them.

“Regarding the BPP decision to include AI, did you ever see that episode of The Simpsons where Homer was commissioned to design a car?” Birrunga says. “BPP seems to have set course on a trajectory of increasingly perplexing inverse credibility where a perfectly serviceable vehicle has been subjected to the Homer Simpson effect.

“When previous winners, artists with commercial success and of standing, are voting with their feet, it is timely and responsible to question BPP’s apparent predisposition to favouring its own counsel.”

Renowned photographic artist Russell Shakespeare says that “as a former winner of the digital prize, I also will not be entering this year’s competition”.

“I don’t have a problem with AI as another practice. My issue is that there is not a separate category for this. Allowing it to be used across all categories is beyond my understanding,” Shakespeare says.

Glenn Hunt, another former winner of the digital prize says he will no longer be entering.

“The decision to embrace AI in what is solely the domain of human endeavour is unconscionable. The BPP board need to have a good hard look at themselves.”

Stephen Tiernan, a more traditional painter and regular entrant says he will still enter this year.

“It is modern technology and it is already being used be honest,” Tiernan says. “I don’t mind. The image still has to speak for itself.”

Entries are now open and the much-anticipated artists’ launch on February 18 will be huge and is also when the judges for the year are announced, including the key position of chief judge.

Entries close May 22, finalists are announced July 20 (much earlier than previous years) and winners will be announced on August 2 with the three-month finalist’s exhibition opening August 3.

After five years at Brisbane Powerhouse, the Brisbane Portrait Prize is moving to the State Library of Queensland, which is where the finalist’s exhibition can be seen this year.

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