Saudi Arabia is recruiting AI artists globally for new initiative

The year-long new media development programme will be launched as part of the coming Diriyah Art Futures centre

Salwa Palace in the At-Turaif district of Diriyah, Saudi Arabia. Bloomberg
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Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture has put out a call to generative AI artists and others working within the world of new media arts for a new development project.

It’s called the Emerging New Media Artists educational programme, set to launch at the Diriyah Art Futures institute launching within the Unesco World Heritage site, near where Saudi will be building a new opera house.

Interestingly, this is not only a talent initiative for Saudi nationals. Applications are open to artists from across the world, provided they work within the world of digital art, interactive installations, AI art, video art, net art, generative art, virtual reality and augmented reality, sound art, data visualisation, 3D printing and fabrication, cinema and animation.

The one year-long programme in production training gives accepted artists access to what is described as cutting-edge professional equipment, a production budget, as well as a wide range of what is being referred to as multidisciplinary learning opportunities, including personal mentorship from prominent international digital artists.

It has not been stated what production budget or grant will be offered with the programme, which was designed in collaboration with Le Fresnoy - Studio National des Arts Contemporains in France.

The government-run programme is accepting participants aged 35 and younger who are at the graduate or postgraduate stage.

Since generative AI art rose in popularity over the past year, there has been heated debate in the art world over whether it constitutes artistic creation at all, especially as the tools that grant that ability are often trained using existing art, thus increasing the risk of plagiarism.

British author and illustrator Rob Biddulph gave an evocative example to The Guardian to illustrate his concerns about AI, pointing out the way that a contemporary artist may be influenced by the work of English painter David Hockney.

“A human artist is also adding emotion and nuance into the mix, and memory – specifically, its failings," said Biddulph.

“If I’m making a painting and decide it should be Hockney-esque, I’m not going to trawl the internet for millions of Hockney-esque images, work out exactly what traits makes these images Hockney-esque, then apply them to my picture, systematically and with forensic accuracy. I’m going to think, ‘I like the way Hockney juxtaposed blocks of purple, green and ochre in that painting of a field I saw at the National Gallery.’ And then I’ll attempt to add that into my picture. Inevitably, I’ll misremember it, and will probably end up creating something that bears a faint resemblance to something Hockney once painted, but in my own style.”

Not all in the art world have dismissed the artistry of generative AI, however.

“As to whether it could be creative or comparable, I end up in circular thinking. Art means what we ascribe to it. It can be a provocation, but it is essentially always part of a conversation,” Matt Saunders, a Harvard professor told Forbes last summer.

“Many artists are already using the inventions [and provocations] of AI in works of great substance, but of course the artists are still the ones bringing it into the room. If things change, maybe that will change too.”

The UAE, like its neighbour Saudi Arabia, has also put a strong focus on generative AI development in recent years. In 2019, the Mohamed bin Zayed University for Artificial Intelligence, a graduate-level university exclusively for AI research, was established.

Updated: January 19, 2024, 8:01 AM