AI was used to “complete” Keith Haring’s last work. People hated it.

"tuttomondo" by Keith Haring
"tuttomondo" by Keith Haring Photo: Shutterstock

Someone used generative AI to “complete” a painting by the late gay artist Keith Haring, and the image they posted was panned as “disgusting” and a “desecration.”

Haring was known for his bold lines, graffiti art, and outlines of figures. His art contained sexual allusions during the height of the AIDS crisis and was used to advocate for safe sex and raise awareness of HIV/AIDS. Haring died in 1990 at age 31 of complications related to AIDS.

His last piece is known as “Unfinished Painting,” which had his iconic figures in one quarter of the work and the rest left blank, “exemplifying a state of a society which was unable to reach its full potential precisely because it was blindsided by this horrible disease,” according to Hide/Seek co-curator David C. Ward of the National Portrait Gallery. It was a social commentary on AIDS, and it was intentionally left three-quarters blank.

Well, it’s blank no more. “The story behind this painting is so sad!” one person on X wrote. “Now using AI we can complete what he couldn’t finish!”

They then shared a picture that largely repeated some of the patterns found in the top-left of the work. The AI-generated image also added some patterns outside of the border. While the original painted section of the work contained several human figures, many of the human figures generated by the AI program are incomplete or broken, as if the program didn’t understand what they were supposed to be.

Many people were angry at what they called “disrespectful” and a “desecration” of the work.

Others on social media noted that the AI program didn’t do a good job.

“Yeah, very poor execution,” one Redditor wrote. “If I was the one to have written the prompt for that ‘completion,’ I would be ashamed of the output, not proud. The ai generated areas are visual nonsense, whereas the human created section has clear intent and direction.”

Major AI software companies, including Midjourny and Stability AI, are the target of a lawsuit filed by a group of visual artists who claim that the companies illegally used their art to train their AI systems. They say that users are able to generate art with the software that is “indistinguishable” from their original works. They say that this use of their work violates federal trademark laws and that Midjourney is sharing a list of 4,700 artists’ names that can be used in prompts, including some of the plaintiffs.

“Recently, plaintiff Kelly McKernan was astonished to find that the top internet search result for their name is now an AI-generated image made with Midjourney, prompted with Mx. McKernan’s name,” the complaint reads.

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