Database of Artists Used to Train Midjourney AI

Unveiling the Controversy & Artists to train its AI

The Midjourney AI image generator, known for its remarkable art generation capabilities, allegedly used a database of over 16,000 artists to train its model. 

This “Midjourney Style List” includes renowned names like Banksy, David Hockney, Frida Kahlo, Yayoi Kusama, and Damian Hirst. 

While the list has sparked debate about copyright violations and ethical implications, it sheds light on the intersection of art, technology, and consent.

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The Artistic Merit of Midjourney AI

Midjourney AI, an image generator powered by machine learning, has captured attention for its ability to mimic various artistic styles. But what lies beneath its digital brushstrokes? Let’s explore:

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The Midjourney Style List & Artist used to train midjourney

The Enigma: Midjourney CEO David Holz revealed a list of artists allegedly used to train the AI. 

This database includes iconic figures from diverse genres and time periods. Training Ground: The artists’ names served as reference material during the AI’s refinement process. 

Their styles influenced the model’s ability to replicate their works. 

The Diversity of Artists: Recent information has surfaced, revealing that Midjourney’s dataset includes not only renowned group of artists such as Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol, and Frida Kahlo, but also commercially successful illustrators for companies like Hasbro and Nintendo. 

Notable artists now added to the controversial list include Gerhard Richter, Ellsworth Kelly, Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, Norman Rockwell, Paul Cézanne, Walt Disney, and Vincent van Gogh. 

The inclusion of a six-year-old child artist who contributed to a fundraiser for the Seattle Children’s Hospital adds another layer of complexity to the situation

The Legal and Ethical Quandaries

Copyright Concerns: The emergence of the list raised questions about potential copyright violations. 

Did Midjourney obtain proper permissions to use these artists’ names? 

Consent and AI: The case reinvigorated debates about consent in AI-generated art. 

Should artists’ legacies be harnessed without explicit approval?

The emergence of the list allegedly used to train Midjourney, including thousands of artists’ names, has sparked a profound debate surrounding legal and ethical considerations in the realm of AI-generated art. 

At the forefront of these discussions are concerns regarding copyright violations and the issue of consent in utilizing artists’ works for AI training purposes.

One of the primary concerns raised by the revelation of the list is the potential infringement of copyright laws. 

The inclusion of names of renowned artists, allegedly used to train Midjourney, spanning from modern blue-chip figures to commercially successful illustrators, has prompted questions about whether Midjourney obtained proper permissions to use these artists’ names in its training data. 

The ambiguity surrounding the acquisition of consent and the utilization of artists’ identities for AI training raises significant legal implications, particularly regarding intellectual property rights and the protection of artists’ creative works.

Furthermore, the case has reignited debates about consent in the context of AI-generated art. 

The utilisation of artists’ legacies and contributions without explicit approval has underscored broader ethical considerations surrounding the autonomy and agency of creators. 

Should AI developers be allowed to harness artists’ works and identities for training purposes without obtaining explicit consent? 

The lack of transparency and accountability in this regard raises profound ethical dilemmas regarding the rights of artists to control and safeguard their artistic legacies.

The controversy reignites discussions on artists’ consent in AI-generated art. Should artists dictate how their styles are used by AI? 

Many argue for artists’ control over their legacies in such contexts. Artists invest their vision and ethos into their works, deserving a say in their representation. 

Consulting artists preserves their intentions and artistic integrity in AI-generated artworks. 

Granting artists control respects their autonomy and fosters a collaborative relationship between technology and creativity. It aligns with ethical principles and promotes responsible innovation in digital art.

In essence, the legal and ethical quandaries brought to light by the revelation of Midjourney’s alleged use of artists’ names to train its AI highlight the urgent need for greater transparency, accountability, and ethical standards in the development and deployment of AI technologies in the creative domain. 

As the discourse surrounding consent and copyright continues to evolve, it is imperative to prioritize the protection of artists’ rights and the promotion of ethical practices to ensure the integrity and sustainability of artistic expression in the digital age.

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Midjourney's Data Scraping Practices

Over the New Year’s weekend, artists linked to a Google Sheet on social media platforms X (formerly known as Twitter) and Bluesky, alleging that it depicted how Midjourney had compiled a database encompassing various time periods, styles, genres, movements, mediums, techniques, and numerous artists for training its AI text-to-image generator. 

The allegations surfaced amidst broader discussions surrounding Midjourney’s utilization of artists’ works for training datasets. 

This revelation added another layer of complexity and ethical concern to the discourse.

Particularly noteworthy was the inclusion of a substantial number of Magic the Gathering artists, among whom were creators of playtest card arts and Secret Lair cards, some of which were drawn by literal children. 

These instances underscored the magnitude and potential consequences of unauthorised data scraping and usage in AI training. 

Midjourney’s dataset also includes artists who contributed art to the popular trading card game Magic the Gathering, such as Hyan Tran, a six-year-old child and one-time art contributor who participated in a fundraiser for the Seattle Children’s Hospital in 2021.

This example further highlights the ethical implications of utilizing artists’ works, including those of young contributors, in AI training datasets. 

Furthermore, Jon Lam, a senior storyboard artist at Riot Games, contributed to the dialogue by sharing screenshots of conversations among Midjourney software developers. 

These exchanges revealed discussions regarding the creation of a database intended to train Midjourney’s AI image generator to replicate artists’ styles, further intensifying the ethical considerations surrounding the situation.

This revelation underscores the ethical considerations surrounding consent and ownership of artistic works. 

The scraping of artists’ works without explicit permission raises serious questions about the rights of these artists and the integrity of the AI-generated art produced using such datasets. 

Moreover, the inclusion of artworks created by children adds a particularly sensitive dimension to the discussion, raising concerns about exploitation and the protection of young artists’ rights.

In light of these revelations, the controversy surrounding Midjourney’s training datasets and the subsequent AI-generated art generated using these datasets takes on a heightened significance. 

It emphasizes the need for greater transparency, accountability, and ethical standards in AI development, particularly concerning the sourcing and usage of training data. 

As discussions around consent and artists’ rights continue to evolve, it becomes increasingly imperative to address these ethical concerns to ensure a fair and respectful relationship between AI technology and the artistic community.

Riot Games, Jon Lan. Image Courtesy: Toon Boom Animation
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The Discord Leak and Subsequent Fallout

The Discord Leak

In February 2022, a significant event shook the artistic community when the Midjourney Style List surfaced on a Discord server. 

This revelation laid bare the names of numerous artists, sparking both curiosity and concern among creators and enthusiasts alike. 

The sudden exposure of this list raised questions about the privacy and ethical implications surrounding the utilisation of artists’ identities in AI training datasets. 

Artists whose names appeared on the list found themselves unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight, with their legacies and contributions to the art world subject to public scrutiny and debate.

Class-Action Lawsuit

The disclosure of the Midjourney Style List quickly reverberated beyond the confines of online forums, as it became a pivotal piece of evidence in a high-profile court document. 

The list found its place within a comprehensive lawsuit filed against several prominent entities, including DeviantArt, Midjourney, Stability AI, and Runway AI. 

This legal action highlighted the broader ramifications of the leaked dataset, elevating concerns about copyright infringement, consent, and accountability within the burgeoning field of AI-generated art. 

The inclusion of the Midjourney Style List in the lawsuit underscored the gravity of the situation, signaling a critical juncture in the ongoing dialogue surrounding artists’ rights and the ethical use of technology in the creative process.

The Legacy of Artists in the Digital Age

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Image Courtesy: Medium

The inclusion of iconic artists like Banksy, Frida Kahlo, and others in Midjourney’s training dataset raises intriguing questions about the intersection of art and technology. 

How does AI engage with the unique styles of these artists, and what implications does this have for the future of creativity? 

While Midjourney’s AI extends the legacy of these artists into the digital realm, it also prompts reflection on the evolving nature of artistic expression in the age of AI.

At the heart of the controversy surrounding the Discord leak lies a fundamental question about the legacy of artists in the digital age. 

Artists invest their time, talent, and passion into their craft, leaving behind a rich tapestry of creativity that shapes our cultural landscape. 

However, the advent of AI technologies introduces a new dimension to this legacy, one that raises complex ethical considerations about ownership, consent, and representation. 

The exposure of artists’ names in datasets like the Midjourney Style List brings these issues to the forefront, prompting critical reflections on the intersection of art, technology, and ethics. 

As the conversation continues to unfold, it becomes increasingly clear that safeguarding the legacy of artists requires a nuanced approach that balances innovation with respect for individual rights and autonomy.

Banksy and Beyond

The revelation of artists like Banksy, Frida Kahlo, and other notable figures in the Midjourney Style List sparked widespread intrigue and fascination within the artistic community. 

These artists are renowned for their distinctive styles, unique perspectives, and profound contributions to the art world. 

Banksy’s enigmatic street art, Frida Kahlo’s introspective self-portraits, and the works of others on the list represent diverse artistic voices that have left an indelible mark on contemporary culture.

Named GANksy, after the machine learning framework known as a generative adversarial network (GAN) upon which it is based, the software was “born into the cloud” in September 2020, as detailed in a statement on the creator’s website. 

The statement further elaborates that GANksy was trained using hundreds of images from the portfolio of a particular street artist. 

Although Banksy is not explicitly mentioned by name, it appears evident from the title – along with the striking resemblance of the generated images to his work – that he is the artist in question.

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Artistic Influence

Midjourney’s AI algorithm engages with the distinct styles of these iconic artists, offering a fascinating exploration of artistic influence and innovation. 

By analyzing the visual characteristics, themes, and techniques prevalent in the works of Banksy, Frida Kahlo, and others, Midjourney’s AI extends their artistic legacies into the realm of AI-generated art. 

Through the synthesis of these influences, Midjourney produces new and often unexpected visual compositions that echo the aesthetic sensibilities of these celebrated artists.

However, the incorporation of artists’ styles by AI platforms like Midjourney also raises important ethical questions. 

While AI-driven art generation offers exciting possibilities for creativity and experimentation, it also blurs the lines between homage, appropriation, and exploitation. 

Critics argue that the use of artists’ styles without explicit consent may diminish the authenticity and integrity of their work, potentially commodifying their artistic identities for commercial gain.

In 1945, a fire destroyed three of Gustav Klimt’s controversial “Faculty Paintings,” commissioned in 1894 for the University of Vienna. 

Rejected by critics and university professors, they were lost during World War II. 

Now, Franz Smola, a Klimt expert, and Emil Wallner, a machine learning researcher, have utilized AI and historical data to recreate them. 

The vibrant results astound even the creators. See image on the left. 

Moreover, the ethical implications extend beyond questions of individual artists’ rights to broader concerns about the democratization of art and the role of technology in shaping cultural production. 

As AI continues to evolve as a tool for artistic expression, it becomes imperative to consider the ethical frameworks and safeguards necessary to ensure that artists’ legacies are respected and preserved in the digital age.

In essence, the inclusion of artists like Banksy, Frida Kahlo, and others in the Midjourney Style List highlights the complex interplay between tradition and innovation, influence and originality, in the ever-evolving landscape of AI-generated art. 

While AI offers exciting opportunities to engage with and reinterpret the work of iconic artists, it also underscores the need for critical reflection and ethical consideration as we navigate the intersection of art and technology.

Image Courtesy: Dazed


In conclusion, Midjourney AI’s database stands as a crucial link between the worlds of art and technology, showcasing the transformative potential of AI-generated creativity. 

However, amidst this technological advancement, the issue of consent emerges as a paramount concern. 

It is imperative that AI systems, including Midjourney, uphold and honor the rights of artists in their creative pursuits.

The Midjourney Style List serves as a poignant reflection of the ever-evolving landscape of creativity in the digital era. 

It acts as a repository of diverse artistic styles and influences, encapsulating the breadth and depth of human expression within its digital framework. 

Yet, behind each stroke and pixel lies the profound legacy of countless artists who have contributed their vision and passion to the tapestry of art.

As we navigate the intersection of art and algorithms, it is essential to pay homage to both the artistic heritage and the digital innovations that drive AI-generated creations. 

We must recognize and respect the artistic legacies that inform and inspire these digital endeavors, while also advocating for ethical and responsible practices in technology.

Moving forward, transparent dialogue between AI developers and artists is crucial. 

Discussions surrounding consent, copyright, and the ethical use of artistic works in AI systems must be prioritised. 

Only through such collaborative efforts can we ensure that the convergence of art and algorithms remains a space of innovation, integrity, and mutual respect for the creative process.

The controversy surrounding the Midjourney Style List, allegedly used to train AI models, has sparked debates among artists and within the AI industry. 

Artists’ claims against Midjourney and Stability AI, including allegations of unauthorised use of their works to train AI image generation, underscore the importance of ethical considerations in AI development. 

Moreover, the exposure of artists’ names in the database highlights the need for transparency and accountability in creating databases of artists to train AI models. 

As we grapple with the implications of AI art and the pressure on AI companies like Midjourney, it is essential to uphold the rights of individual artists and visual artists. 

The collaboration between Midjourney and DeviantArt, along with the involvement of digital artists and contemporary artists, underscores the complexities of AI-generated art and the challenges faced by traditional artists in the digital age.

In conclusion, as the AI industry continues to evolve, it is crucial to navigate the ethical and legal implications of AI-generated art with care and consideration for the rights and integrity of artists. 

Only by fostering dialogue and collaboration among artists, AI developers, and other stakeholders can we ensure a future where art and technology coexist harmoniously, respecting both the past and the pixels.

Author: Jessica Hartley

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