Was it Right to Use AI to ‘Complete’ Keith Haring’s Artwork?

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Keith Haring's 'Unfinished Painting' versus AI-completed Haring painting

There was a social media outcry last week when an X user, Donnel used AI to ‘complete’ late artist Keith  Haring’s “Unfinished Painting”. This was after visual artist, Peachly Brooke expressed her sadness whenever she came across Haring’s “Unfinished Painting”. Donnel, however, took the expression too seriously and deeply by providing the ‘perfect’ painting with the help of AI.

The arguments

Several social media users who came across Haring’s ‘finished’ piece displayed their dissatisfaction by leaving a comment. One emphasised that Keith Haring’s explanation for not completing the said painting was very clear and hence, there was no need to generate the AI version to mock the artist.

“There is 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,” the user wrote.

Another X user also shared “This is sooooo 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.” (sic)

However, others believe that Donnel ‘completed’ the “Unfinished Painting” to drive traffic to their page because they knew exactly how people would react to AI’s involvement.

“Best bait post of 2023. Congrats,” shared another user.

Interestingly, despite the outpour of disapproving remarks, there is a school of thought that thinks Keith would be happy to have his art completed.

The facts

Keith Haring was a vibrant artist who enjoyed his work for close to a decade until he was diagnosed with AIDS in 1987. He started as a street artist who focused on graffiti. He believed in making art accessible to everybody and hence, enjoyed drawing in public places like the substations where individuals could freely see his work without going to the museums or galleries.

The “Unfinished Painting” came into existence when Haring intentionally left it incomplete after his AIDS diagnosis. He explained that it was a representation of the many unrealised dreams and lives that were being cut short due to the epidemic. The artist wrote in his diary in 1987, the year he was diagnosed about his desire to see age 50 but he could see how impossible it was due to his ailing health.

“Amazing how many things one can produce if you live long enough. I mean, I’ve barely created ten years of serious work. Imagine 50 years.… I would love to live to be 50 years old.  …hardly seems possible,” he wrote.

Keith Haring’s artworks can be found in the collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Art Institute of Chicago.

The 1980s AIDS crisis saw the perishing of about 30,000 Americans. The disease, according to Khan Academy was prevalent among gay men, drug users who shared needles and blood transfusion patients. Despite the report of the impossibility of contracting the virus through close contact, the rate of stigmatisation was epic.

A year after he was diagnosed, Haring created the Keith Haring Foundation to create awareness about the AIDS crisis as well as fund patients and research works.

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