Tuesday, June 21, 2011

On Digital Art

Digital Circles (click to enlarge)

I have yet to read a good description of digital art, and for everyone, apart from the digital artists themselves, there are a number of misconceptions surrounding the actual production of a digital image that must be overcome if digitally created art is ever to be given the respect and recognition it deserves. Problems arise because there isn't any one single approach to producing a digital image - the actual utilization of a computer to produce art rests - regarding actual technique - with the individual artists themselves. Which is not to say formal instruction is not possible - there are indeed sources for a basic digital image education - but, in the end, what goes into creating authentic digital art is the same set of elements that go into creating any meaningful art: a sense of design, a fundamental knowledge of tone and color, an almost preternatural sensitivity to shape, form and pattern, and the overwhelming desire to create art in spite of all obstacles. It also helps to be somewhat insane... that is, perhaps a bit too much in touch with ones unconscious. (For an excellent article about this subject click here. My special thanks to Mary over at MOCA!)

The first misconception is that somehow digital art is not created "hands-on". Alas, I have the carpal tunnel syndrome to prove that this is not so. There might, indeed, be ways of creating a digital image without digitally drawing and painting and cutting and pasting with a computer mouse - my method - but even if the artist's method depends upon a specific program and a series of codes, fingers - or shall we say, digits - are still necessary to the actual production of an image.

The second misconception is that creating a digital image is somehow "easier" than other crafts. Well, it certainly is less messy... and you won't need a loft-size space in which to work. But to create an image digitally takes as much time and skill as by any other method. To create an image digitally one merely employs an additional set of skills - using a machine, for one, and often a frustrating business entirely - and, inevitably, a great deal more time because - and this is either the blessing or the bane of using a computer - perfection is possible. When you have an image on file in your computer, there is no end to what you can do with it. You never have to accept a mistake... you never have to worry about spilling anything on it, or having some outside circumstantial presence and/or force inadvertently destroying your work. You can change and rearrange things till they're absolutely the way you want them to be. Muddy colors? Can't happen. And, best of all, no one can accuse you of "overworking" your image. In the digital world there is no such thing.

Of course, using a machine to create art presents another set of challenges, often overlooked by the uninitiated. There is for, instance, the matter of a curved line. Your average craftsperson will have no idea what I could possibly be referring to, but, if you are a sucker for a clean line, then you're going to be less than happy faced with the digital tools. Time and again, I just wish all I had to do was draw my curves like I used to in the past... but alas, clean curves on a computer - regardless of your technique, abilities or resolution, will never be truly clean... they will be pixelated (see graphic above). So, ultimately, one is fighting at all times with a computer monitor and its cubic convolutions. If pixels were hexagonal on a hexagonal grid, we would be happier. Alas, they are not. They are tiny squares.

The last misconception I want to address is the matter of originality. There are those that imagine all digital art is the result of some cheap "photoshopping" - a computer-generated hocus-pocus. To some small degree this is understandable because, in the early days, this was one of the few example of digital art around. Furthermore, any artist who eventually chooses to work digitally, has most likely initially learned their craft by doing just that to some degree: manipulating images by "photoshopping". Less than serious artists generally stop at that point. The authentic artist, however, has discovered a whole new discipline... and one that has no boundaries. For those artists for whom the skill "drawing from life" holds little attraction - the digital world opens up new artistic possibilities - specifically in the realm of surrealism -  and new forms of synthesis and assemblage are possible. So yes, I've created "still lives", portraits, etc. entirely from my imagination. At the same time I am able to use any element I choose in my constructions. I can scan actual objects into my computer during my sketch phase - and a computer sketch is often quite elaborate - or I can use scavenged bits of photographs (my own and/or something found in an old National Geographic) to compose the eventual image. One might say, that I use an assemblage method to design my images, but this is hardly a reflection of something less than original. Nor is it a technique limited to the digital artists. Many artists using a variety of mediums rely on photographic references and "swipe" files. Artifice? Yes, I suppose there is some degree of artifice present in some digital techniques... but. once again, artifice is present in the creation of every two-dimesnional image, regardless of how it is created.

Lastly, no art is "computer-generated". There simply is no such thing as "computer-generated" art. The computer is a tool, a medium... and whatever art lands in a computer file and is eventually printed, has been created, generated, and crafted by an artist. The computer is the tool; its medium is comprised of electronically-produced light pixels - that is, color in it's purest form. Digital artists "paint" with light. That is what we do. Digital technology has opened many doors and there really is no end to the possibilities, nor the varieties of artists who take advantage of them.


  1. Well said -- you've managed to define a very broad term into something couched consisely. Digital art is produced using computer tools in lieu of brushes or carving tools or what have you -- the end result is the artist's unique interaction of the media via the tools.

    The misconception that the computer somoehow diminishes the final work is flawed -- nearly everyone has a computer, but how many people can use it to produce art?

  2. Thanks, BG. There's a lot of amazing new art out there... and a great deal of it is metaphysical... which particularly interests me. The trick is ferreting it all out... but few are going to bother if they think it's all just some cheap trick.