Where Digital Art Fits In.
An essay with a swear-word in it.

Digital art is taking the art world by storm and as with any new art movement, it has been met by eagerness and excitement as well as fear and doubt. The eagerness surrounds the new methods and ground-breaking results of creating art digitally, while the fear and doubt surrounds its place (or even existence) in today’s contemporary art scene.

We can study and predict the course of this "digital revolution" by referring to a similar innovation in art history: photography.

"Photography was going to be the death of painting. For up until that time, painting was wedded to realism. Now, reality could be captured in a moment's flash, with unprecedented accuracy. But rather than killing painting, photography liberated the brush to move from reality into a hundred new directions spawning a creative renaissance."
~ Jodie Keeling, Digital Display: A Visit to AMODA

Photography (as art) was introduced to society much in the same way that digital art was. The tool was invented (the camera, or the computer), refined, and became in use by the general populace. Then an enterprising bunch of artists took the tool and played with it, and created art. Photography was met with as much dismay from traditional artists as digital was/is. There was fear that photos would replace paintings and that traditional methods would become an antiquity. The same thing is happening right now with digital art. This artist (in the quote ahead) insists that painting is no longer serves any use as a viable method of art-making:

"I wonder if traditional art departments are now starting to feel the pinch brought on by the advent of digital art, advanced photography, virtual reality, and all the other new, more viable, methods of creative communication?
"I'm not blind to the old-fashioned joy of merely pushing paint around nor the need to decorate blank walls. But the rest of the art world has embraced high tech as its weapon of choice in battling the ugliness, indifference, injustice, and hatred in the world, why is it that painting still persists in trying to do so, only to fall flat on its face in elephant dung."
~ Jim Lane, The Future of Painting

One artist who worked photographically during the early 20th century, Man Ray, felt compelled to write an essay dispelling the myth of photography taking over art.

"There are purists in all forms of expression. There are photographers who maintain that this medium has no relation to painting. There are painters who despise photography, although in the last century have been inspired by it and used it. There are architects who refuse to hang a painting in their buildings maintaining that their own work is a complete expression. In the same spirit, when the automobile arrived, there were those that declared the horse to be the most perfect form of locomotion. All these attitudes result from a fear that the one will replace the other. Nothing of the kind happened. We have simply increased our range, our vocabulary. I see no one trying to abolish the automobile because we have the airplane."
~ Man Ray, Photography can be Art

Just a couple of months ago, I viewed Man Ray’s retrospective exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria. Photography today is just as accepted in the art world as painting is. Nobody thinks twice when they see a photograph hanging on a wall in an art gallery. All signs point to history repeating itself in this instance. Digital art is not here to replace painting or other traditional methods. It is simply, as Man Ray would put it "an increase in our vocabulary". I predict that the fear that some traditional artists have of digital art will eventually disappear, not through resignation, but through an acceptance of the art form to stand on it’s own in the art world.

There is a more "artistic" (whatever that means) argument held by some that is looking to become one of the major obstacles in creating a viable market for digital artists.

"Artists understand that they could create their imagery entirely on the computer, but they still desire the visual, tactile and emotional effects they can achieve by sticking with the old-fashioned technology of brushes and paint."
~ William Stover, Painting, On and Off the Wall

Even in today’s increasingly virtual world, many people still have an inert predisposition for "the real". It’s ironic that even though touching someone else’s painting is deemed unacceptable, many people still prefer viewing art of the tactile kind.

Assuming we compare two identical works, one created digitally and another painted traditionally, the only difference is the physical presence of the traditional piece and the lack of physicality of the digital piece. Yet this difference seems enough reason for some people to write off digital art entirely. Why? The answer most commonly given is that the viewer feels detached or distanced from the artwork because of its lack of physicality. But is that what makes art? Whether or not you can feel the surface of a canvas? Was the same thought and feeling not invested in the digital piece? Of course it was. To demerit an artist’s hard work and thought simply because "I can’t touch it" shows both laziness and closed-mindedness in the viewer.

The issue of digital art’s lack of physical presence extends into the marketing realm of art. How can you sell a work when anyone can own it by clicking a few buttons? This has been a major criticism of digital art, but one that has already been solved.

"If a digital artist chooses to create a limited edition of his or her prints, once the prints have been completed, the file may be destroyed so it may no longer be used to create prints from."
~ Shelley Eichholz, Whoring in the Art World: The Digital Art Debate

An innovative solution? Hardly:

"The procedure of disabling plate usage has been practiced for years by fine art printers, once the print edition number has been met, the plate is gouged into with a scribing needle, destroying the ability to use it to print from again."
~ Shelley Eichholz, Whoring in the Art World: The Digital Art Debate

But what about digital art that is displayed online? It is true, the market for these pieces is virtually non-existent, but since when was a big price-tag a pre-requisite for good art? I think that digital artists who display their work online have purer intentions than most of the art world’s big names. Artists who are making art for a living are obviously making art to sell. Online artists make art simply to have it viewed by other people. Their intentions are not sullied by deadlines, curators or gallery conventions.

"(A) common argument seems to be that art is skill based and that computer art requires no learned skill. (...) A secretary down in Texas adds an image of "ready made art" known as "clip art" to a barbecue flyer. Does this make her an artist? No. No more than a teenage girl drawing flowers on the envelope she is sending to her pen-pal in Italy. Neither of the latter cases shows any measurable level of skill in either digital or analog art."
~ Shelley Eichholz, Whoring in the Art World: The Digital Art Debate

It takes an inordinate amount of skill to take some paint and apply your thoughts and feelings on a canvas. A common misconception about digital art is that there is next to no skill involved at all. What people must come to learn is that, like a paintbrush, a computer can only do what you tell it to do. It is true that it has become much easier to create bad art using computers. Any fucktard (excuse the Parisian) can take a digital photo of his hand, apply a couple of Photoshop filters, post it on his website and call it "art". This is certainly a barrier that digital art is going to have to overcome before it becomes widely accepted. The same knowledge of light, line, form, tone and all the elements and principles of analogue art is still required when making digital art.

To close, I’ll leave you with another nugget of wisdom from Man Ray. Although digital art may seem like a new and scary addition to the art world, just know that it is not the first time that this kind of thing has happened.

"It is the man (or woman) behind whatever instrument who determines the work of art."
~ Man Ray, Photography can be Art


Sources and Dressings:

Jodie Keeling, 2002, Digital Display: A Visit to AMODA, Downtown Arts Magazine http://www.diversearts.org/archive/v8n2/reeling.html
Jim Lane, 1999, The Future of Painting, Humanities Web http://www.humanitiesweb.org/perl/human.cgi?s=g&p=a&a=i&ID=591
Man Ray, 1930’s, Photography can be Art, Essay by the artist, sited first-hand
William Stover, 2003, Painting: On and Off the Wall, Curator's Essay http://www.nyfa.org/level5.asp?id=80&fid=1&sid=35&tid=100&foid=207
Shelley Eichholz, 2003, Whoring in the Art World: The Digital Art Debate, Raster Art Group http://www.rasterized.org/www/?load_module=display_page&pageID=27
Austin Museum of Digital Art http://www.amoda.org/
GFX Forums > Discussions http://www.gfxartist.com/community/forum/list/77
DigitalArt.org http://www.digitalart.org/

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