“A Girl with Glowing Earrings” by Julian van Dieken (screenshot Valentina Di Liscia/Hyperallergic via Instagram)

While Johannes Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” (1665) is on loan to the Rijksmuseum for the massive Vermeer retrospective, the Mauritshuis Museum in the Hague opened a special installation of work inspired by Vermeer’s famous painting. On view online and in person through June 4, My Girl with a Pearl displays fans’ recreations of the 17th-century masterpiece, including versions featuring self-portraits, miniature art, and a glamorous dinosaur. But out of all the wacky interpretations shown at the Mauritshuis, one artwork produced using artificial intelligence has proved especially provocative.

Julian van Dieken, a Berlin-based digital creator, used the AI image generation tool Midjourney and the editing software Adobe Photoshop to create “A Girl with Glowing Earrings.” According to his statement on the work, in the fall of 2022, van Dieken began experimenting with text-to-image generators and documenting the process on his Instagram page. When he saw the Mauritshuis’s open call, he submitted his own take on Vermeer’s renowned painting. “In my submission, I reflect on how these new tools are likely to change creative processes,” van Dieken explained.

“A Girl with Glowing Earrings” was one of 3,482 entries sent for the open call. Vermeer fans and artists worldwide used mediums such as ceramics, produce, and Legos to interpret the iconic painting. According to the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant, a jury narrowed down submissions to 170 works the museum displayed digitally and five prints hung in the gallery where visitors can typically find “Girl with a Pearl Earring.” Van Dieken’s painting is one of the pieces the museum hung on the wall. 

But critics of AI technology found the museum’s decision to show Midjourney-generated art concerning. Artist Iris Compiet commented on the My Girl with a Pearl Instagram post that she found the amount of AI images entered an “incredible insult,” and others agreed. Some artists have heavily condemned the platform and other similar tools like Stable Diffusion for scraping potentially copyrighted works to create datasets, allegedly without seeking artists’ permission. Midjourney and DeviantArt are part of a class-action lawsuit recently filed by the United States District Court for the Northern District of California accusing the platforms of copyright infringement. 

When de Volkskrant asked for comment on whether AI-generated art is ethical or creative, the museum hesitated. “We purely looked at what we liked. Is this creative? That’s a tough question,” a spokesperson told the Dutch newspaper.

In response to Hyperallergic‘s request for comment, a Mauritshuis spokesperson said, “We knew that [van] Dieken’s work was created with AI but we liked his image and for us, that was enough.”

“Basically the only criterium was that a creative process had been at the basis of the work that was sent to the Mauritshuis,” the spokesperson added. “It was definitely not a contest … The youngest ‘artist’ was 3, the oldest 94. Drawings, paintings, creations with textile, wood, paper, photoshop — anything was possible.”

But Eva Toorenent, an artist and Netherlands advisor for the organization European Guild for Artificial Intelligence Regulation (EGAIR), told Hyperallergic that she feels the museum “did not understand the technology.”

“The museum’s uninformed response to the criticism was the most disheartening,” Toorenent said. “I explained in a detailed e-mail why AI-generated art in its current form is highly unethical and has no place to be highlighted and celebrated in a museum. They sent me a copy-paste response, doubling down on their decision.”

Despite the controversy, the museum hopes to engage visitors with the many creative responses to their Girl with the in-person installation and accompanying Instagram account. One recreation by Nanan Kang is sure to make Tariq the Corn Kid proud. 

Editor’s note 3/3/23 5:15pm EST: This article has been updated with a comment from the Mauritshuis Museum.

Taylor Michael is a former Hyperallergic staff reporter. Previously, she worked as a public programs coordinator at the National Book Foundation. She received an MFA from Columbia University School of...