"An insult to any artist." An artificial intelligence version of one of the most illustrious works in the history of painting, Vermeer's The Girl with a Pearl Earring, is currently creating controversy. The decision to exhibit this work is indeed causing controversy in the Netherlands and on social networks: does AI have a place in a museum, which includes classic works by Vermeer and Rembrandt?

The artificial intelligence (AI) version is part of an exhibition at the Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague, bringing together fan reproductions of Vermeer's The Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665), currently on loan to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam for a retrospective event on the Dutch painter.

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Two earrings instead of one

At first glance, we find the brightness so characteristic of the original painting and the emblematic look of the girl but on closer inspection, strange details are obvious. This girl has not only one earring but two, one on each side, sparkling, and freckles of a shade of red litter her face.

Berlin-based digital designer Julian van Dieken made the image for the Mauritshuis' "My Daughter with a Pearl Earring" competition, calling on people to send in their version of the famous painting. He used the AI tool Midjourney, which can generate complex images using millions of images from the Internet, and Photoshop. She was selected from one of five creations - out of the 3,482 submitted - exhibited in the room where the real Girl with the Pearl Earring usually sits.

'A shame and an incredible insult'

Selecting an AI-generated image is a stir. Dutch artist Iris Compiet said on the museum's exhibition's Instagram page that it was "a shame and an incredible insult." An opinion shared by dozens of other Internet users on social networks.

"This is an insult to Vermeer's legacy and to any working artist. Coming from a museum, it's a real slap in the face," comparing the image to Frankenstein's monster, adds Iris Compiet. She believes that AI tools infringe the copyright of other artists, using their works as the basis for artificially generated images, and using photos of Internet users.

It is an "unethical technology," says artist Eva Toorenent, who works to regulate AI. "Without the work of human artists, this program simply could not generate works," she said, quoted by Dutch daily De Volkskrant.

"We think it's a creative process"

"It's controversial, so people are for or against," said Boris de Munnick, press officer for the Mauritshuis. "The people who selected the work, they liked it, they knew it was AI but we liked the creation, so we chose it, and we hung it" on the wall, he explains.

"What is art and what is not?" asks Boris de Munnick, adding that the Mauritshuis did not deliberately seek to open the debate. "We think it's a beautiful image, we think it's a creative process," and "we're not the (kind of) museum to discuss whether AI belongs in an art museum."

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