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'AI artist' completes Keith Haring's intentionally unfinished artwork, sparks debate on ethics

'When AIDS became a reality in terms of my life, it started becoming a subject in my paintings,' said Harings in an interview.

'AI artist' completes Keith Haring's intentionally unfinished artwork, sparks debate on ethics
Keith Haring (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has become so efficient in the last few years that it is on the verge of taking over jobs in different fields. However, when it comes to creative work, the use of AI has been a controversial subject. Keith Haring shot to fame in the 1980s due to his trademark line drawings and now his art has sparked a serious discussion on basic ethics. He intentionally left one particular work 'unfinished' but now an "AI artist" completed the same, according to My Modern Met. It was to represent his and a community's fight against AIDS.


 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Keith Haring Foundation (@keithharingfoundation)


 

 

His art, "Unfinished Painting," was started and abandoned in 1989. The artist had filled the top left-hand side corner of the canvas with purple, black, and white designs and intentionally left the rest of the canvas blank. There are dribbles of paint below the painting as well. The painting was a way of communicating the crisis he was facing in his life due to AIDS. In a 1989 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Haring said, "My life is my art, it's intertwined. When AIDS became a reality in terms of my life, it started becoming a subject in my paintings. The more it affected my life, the more it affected my work."



 

 

Moreover, on December 31, 2023, X (previously Twitter) user @DonnelVillager shared the artist's original painting and then posted the one finished by AI. He wrote, "The story behind this painting is so sad! Now using AI we can complete what he couldn't finish!" In the AI-generated painting, the canvas is covered with the same design in black, white and purple colors.



 

Soon, the post went viral with over 30 million views. People on the platform were outraged with the outcome. @AnActualWizard commented, "What an incredibly disrespectful thing to do. He intentionally left it that way before he died because the whole meaning of it is that HIV was stealing his potential. And you just erase that whole meaning like that? Shame on you." @ed_edd_or_eddy wrote, "There's a reason he left this painting unfinished and the fact that you used AI to 'complete what he couldn't finish' is not only disgusting but completely taking away from what Keith Haring wanted to leave with this piece."

@mgm1229_missa expressed, "This is so wrong. The point is it's unfinished because he died. Using AI to finish it is a travesty and you should take this post down." @kendrictonn said, "Professional oil painter here, have pretty much given my entire life to making paintings. Just wanted to say that this is a good joke, carry on."

After receiving outrageous responses from people, Donnel clarified in a video what exactly happened a week later. "It just came from…a friend of mine who sent the original tweet, which I ended up quote tweeting, which is the unfinished painting by Keith Haring and I responded, saying, 'It's not even done.' Then another friend of mine said 'Just finish it,'" he said. "And I finished it…A lot of people have assumed the intent behind it or tried to project meaning onto it. I can't even remember if I knew what the meaning or the intent behind the original was and even if I had, I probably would have done it anyway. I just thought it was funny."



 

Though Donnel didn't complete the painting with any wrong intentions, another user, @JonLamArt, shared in his post about several artists whose work was reportedly scraped by AI art generator Midjourney by saying, "Midjourney developers caught discussing laundering and creating a database of artists (who have been dehumanized to styles) to train Midjourney off of. This has been submitted as evidence for the lawsuit. Prompt engineers, your 'skills' are not yours." The post contains a Google Doc of 16,000 artists and screenshots of texts. 


 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Keith Haring Foundation (@keithharingfoundation)


 

 



 

Moreover, Midjourney is not the only AI that has been accused of copyright claims. OpenAI and text-to-image generator DALL-E have their reasons for scraping copyrighted material to "train" artificial intelligence. OpenAI told the Telegraph, "Because copyright today covers virtually every sort of human expression—including blog posts, photographs, forum posts, scraps of software code, and government documents—it would be impossible to train today's leading AI models without using copyrighted materials."


 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Keith Haring Foundation (@keithharingfoundation)


 

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