Wacom Japan sponsors an AI art contest for high school students

Japanese Brand Apologises For Working With AI Company — Then Sponsors An AI Art Contest

3 min read

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Wacom, a popular drawing tablet manufacturer from Japan, is catching flak online for sponsoring a high school AI art contest.

Wacom was founded in 1983 and positions itself as a brand made for artists, designers and photographers. Its most well-known product is a drawing tablet, which users connect to a computer to start drawing.

In fact, you may have already seen Wacom tablets in action without even realising. Ever seen videos of artists drawing on a flat ‘board’ in front of a laptop or home PC, like this or this? There’s a fair chance they’re using a Wacom tablet!

Wacom has always been a company that financially benefits from artists who use its products to unleash their creativity. So, when artists discovered Wacom was sponsoring an AI art contest for Japanese high school students, they weren’t pleased and vented their feelings on X. 

Wacom and AI art

The AI art contest is hosted by SEIFU University, an IT university in Osaka, Japan. It is open to all high school students in the country. According to the contest’s website, the goal is to “spread knowledge and interest in generative AI among high school students”, and “foster creativity through art production using generative AI”.

Entrants must use AI art generators DALL-E 3, Stable Diffusion or Niji Journey. The winner receives ¥30,000 (AU$289) in prize money.

On X, a Japanese user shared a viral post about the AI art contest, noting: “Wacom had previously apologised for mistakenly using AI generated material in an advertisement, but now Wacom is a supporting sponsor of this AI art contest in Japan. ?”

On a promo poster for the contest, Wacom Japan is indeed listed as one of the sponsors. 

At the bottom left corner of the poster, Wacom Japan is listed as one of the sponsors. Source

Niji Journey, which specialises in whipping up AI art of anime girls, is also listed as a sponsor. “Whether you’re looking for a cute chibi character or a dynamic action scene, niji journey can bring your vision to life,” its website states.

“Ew behaviour”

Artists on social media soon began expressing their distaste over Wacom’s association with the AI art contest. Many viewed Wacom’s involvement as going directly against the company’s philosophy of being a companion for artists to unlock their creative vision.

“Wacom no longer wants to be in this business. Wacom is marketing to AI image generation software users,” criticised a toy designer on X.

“Isn’t this like making students commit crimes without knowing it?” questioned a Japanese user on X, referring to potential copyright infringement issues that many AI art generators face.

This is not the first time, however, that Wacom has been embroiled in controversy related to AI art. In early January the company issued an apology after it was caught using AI-generated art for a New Year campaign. The company explained in a statement that it had “purchased” the images from a “third-party vendor”.

The Chainsaw has reached out to Wacom Japan for comment.