Sunday, February 11, 2007


In my youth I loved the smell of turpentine, the feel of a pen nib biting textured paper, and the sight of wet watercolor sparkling like ichor.

I think future generations will have to find something else to love.

Technology will continue to transform and redefine what we once called art. Perhaps not in this decade but certainly in this century, traditional notions of skill, talent, artistic vision and manual dexterity will be relegated to a smaller and less relevant corner of human experience. People raised on interactive holographic images will have neither the patience nor the sensitivity for the quieter virtues of a subtle drawing or a nuanced painting. People who distribute art globally with the push of a button will have little use for an object to hang in museums and galleries.

The playwright Buchner once observed that, no matter what the future holds for us, "inside us there is always a smiling little voice assuring us that tomorrow will be just like today." That voice tells us that art will always continue in the tradition of Michelangelo, Leonardo, Rembrandt, and Picasso. The tools and craft of drawing and painting seem so central to our concept of art, how could they ever become irrelevant?

Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote a splendid little poem about the passing of great things:

When Death was young and bleaching bones were few,
A moving hill against the risen day
The dinosaur at morning made his way,
And dropped his dung along the blazing dew;
Trees with no name that now are agate grew
Lushly beside him in the steamy clay;
He woke and hungered, rose and stalked his prey,
And slept contented, in a world he knew.
In punctual season, with the race in mind,
His consort held aside her heavy tail,
And took the seed; and heard the seed confined
Roar in her womb; and made a nest to hold
A hatched-out conqueror . . . but to no avail:
The veined and fertile eggs are long since cold.

Dinosaurs ruled for 120 million years and yet are most famous for becoming extinct. Art has existed for a mere 35,000 years, so it is probably premature to believe that our little cultural conceit is fated to endure.

Is the end of art as we know it a good thing or a bad thing? Like many of you who have chimed in on the subject of art and computers over the past few weeks, I am torn. But regardless of whether it is good or bad, it seems inevitable. And as the great military tactician Clausewitz once said, the best way to win is to "exploit the inevitable."

The Sphinx may be the world's greatest monument to the epic permanence of art. It stands in the desert as a timeless testament to a glorious epoch in human history. But over the years its face was destroyed by invading soldiers and petty religious fanatics who were apparently unnerved to be in the presence of such an object. These vandals may have lacked artistic taste or ability, but they had something better: they were alive and victorious.

That is the morality of life, the essential superiority of here and now, however shallow and witless, over the past, no matter how grand and beautiful. When it comes right down to it, Ruskin was right: "the only wealth is life."

Now back to illustration!


Benjamin said...

It's possible that regular drawing and painting as an art might dissappear over the course of the next few centuries. Though it's much less likely that drawing and painting will go away as a whole. Even if all changes to holograms etc, there's still always this:

"The science of design, or of line-drawing, if you like to use this term, is the source and very essence of painting, sculpture, architecture..."

Even if they stop showing drawings and paintings in (modern) art museums, chances are high it'll still be used as a tool to observe and design. Even if it's on a computer...

Jack Ruttan said...

Holy cow! Very few media really "die," except for typwriters and telegraphs, maybe. Even then, there are some stalwarts. Things change. Certainly poets are no longer the unacknowledged legislators of the world, but we have rap, which in 50 years, or so, will be as seasoned as blues.

No one's taking away my dip pens. I've got friends who bind books. I still enjoy the library, but am grateful I've got the internet for quick reference photos. Digital photography amazes me.

Certainly the monitors are cold and antiseptic, but I also don't miss the poisonous chemicals, and painting a mural having climbed scaffolding during a Canadian winter

My graphic artist friend's doing a mural, but his original drawing is about four inches high, and it will be blown up on onto self-sticking vinyl to cover a whole wall.

I still draw with pencils inside sketchbooks, and practice my figure drawing with the help of Andrew Loomis books, but am very happy with my graphics tablet allied with a laptop and scanner.

Mick said...

I don't believe the touch of a hand on a medium will ever die. There is too much fascination with looking at the process (even across centuries) that only that can give.

Computer art will always have concept drawings, storyboards etc... I suspect there is a growing market for this work already.

Oh, and David... your blog is wonderful.

John said...

I've heard it said that with computer technology, people may be classed as either natives or immigrants; those for whom technology is fully integrated into every function in their lives, and those for whom it is an addative. Future generations will have decreasing sentimental ties to older media, just as the recent demise of the telegram when almost unnoticed. Papyrus gives way to vellum, vellum gives way to paper, and paper will give way to electronic signals. Do we miss paper? Sure. Do we miss vellum? No. Media pass away until we cease to care that they have passed away.

lotusgreen said...

oh you know what this suddenly reminded me of? back when i was doing the magazine i did paste up the old fashioned way until the day quark started doing drop caps. but i also had started getting sick every time i did pasteup.

all those photographic chemicals on the galleys, plus the wax and god knows what else--i can't really remember.

so the timing was perfect.

but boy, my typographer was really upset. she lost all her clients.

Stefan Lindblad - illustration & art said...

Hi, you mait bee on to something here, or maybe not. My wish is that the future generation at least can feel the smell of a pencil and paper. To at least hear the sound of a pncil scrathing the paper. Personally I still at age 41 soon 42 uses the pen and paper but the wacom pen and tablet as well.
Hope smell doesnt vanish from the artistic world, all though turpentine I can be without.


Stefan Lindblad
artist & illustrator

Jack r said...

John’s onto something. Take photography as another example. It has undergone incredible changes in the past decade alone. I have no idea if students are taught the fundamentals of developing negatives anymore (probably not color) but I wouldn’t doubt if many resent it (would they even know what a glass negative is?). It’s akin talking to someone younger than 40 about LPs; they laugh at your quaint affection with an antiquated medium. But having said that, it’s their loss.

David Apatoff said...

John and Jack, I agree that sentimentality will keep traditional art forms alive for a while. Many people feel sentimental about newspapers and read them because they grew up with them, but I can't believe that a tradtional newspaper will exist 25 years from now. Ultimately, convenience, economics and compatibility with modern lifestyle triumphs over sentimentality.

Museums have great staying power, but as cities become less necessary as a tool of modern interaction (due to virtual commuting, etc.) and more vulnerable to unacceptable levels of terrorism, I think more people will opt for Bill Gates' solution: the artwork on the walls of his home consists of high res screens which show a rotating collection of digital images of French impressionist and other artwork.

But putting sentimentality aside, I think that people will no longer have eyes to see drawings and even paintings the way that we do now. Other media will shout for their attention and grab them by the lapels. Culture will train them for something very different. Faster, noisier,and multisensory.

David Apatoff said...

Mick, I hope you're right. Let's meet here in a hundred years and compare notes!

PS-- thanks for the kind words.

David Apatoff said...

Benjamin, I happen to be one of those like Michelangelo, Van Gigh and countless others who agree with you that "drawing the line" is the starting point of everything. I think that will continue to be true for a while, although I don't give as much credit for virtual lines as I give for lines carved in reality, and I fear that before too long, even virtual lines will seem too limiting. They are after all, static and one dimensional.

SpaceJack said...

Your thoughts echo what I've been thinking ever since I was in art college over a decade ago. Using the some of the earliest versions of photoshop and illustrator to create boring print design work to pay my way through college made me very aware of the impact digital tools would have.

It was partly because of this I never did really put in the proper effort into honing my illustration skills - that computers and software would evolve to the point where drawing by hand was obsolete.

Oddly enough however, I think I'm seeing more polished illustration today than I did in the early 90s. Maybe it's only because the web has enabled me to see more contemporary artists and students' work, but I don't think so. There seems to be a shift in attitude, towards learning how to draw using classical techniques. Old books like those by Loomis are floating around everywhere online, being sought out by teenagers eager to learn.

Maybe it's only a short term trend that I'm seeing. But good animation - 3D, holographic or otherwise - still takes an immense amount of work, and all the digital tools available haven't really changed things that much. Being able to create a beautiful image by hand in hours or less, and being able to see the artist's character in the lines, and appreciate how they are able to interpret objects with the media may be a skill that never becomes irrelevant or valueless.

Will it all be digital though? That I'm not sure about. At some future time will people stop wanting to buy original paintings or drawings? I have a hard time believing that.

Anonymous said...

As to my personal perspective on computer art...

I'm doing a computer graphics course at the moment. It's either that or clean shit houses out. That's the choice they give you if you're old and unemployed in Australia. Anyway, back to computer graphics courses for 30 year veteran illustrators who are now obsolete, due to fucking computers... If I see one more anal vector doodle, produced by one more wide eyed 18 year old beginner, I'll puke blood and die. It's all shit, and when they see real illustration they become disorientated an start to kiddie babble, then the, so called, teachers become controle freaks and want to denigrate the old traditional art fucker ... Me. It's a good thing I like a good school room brawl.

Never mind, it's better than cleaning shit houses out... I think!

Art Lover