Sunday, June 07, 2009


The painter Margaret Keane married a real jerk.

Early in her career, Keane created a popular style of painting children with huge, sad eyes. Although artistically dreadful, the paintings became wildly popular in the 1950s and 60s.

Keane's domineering husband Walter boasted that he painted the pictures, and he persuaded her to go along with his lie. For twelve long years, Walter took credit for Margaret's work. When their marriage dissolved and his meal ticket seemed about to disappear, Walter insisted that he owned the rights to the art, and even challenged Margaret's legal right to continue painting using the now famous "Keane" name. In court, it was his word against hers.

Then the judge came up with the ultimate test: he asked both Margaret and Walter to paint in front of the jury. Margaret successfully painted one of her trademark portraits. Walter claimed he was unable to paint due to a sore shoulder so they kicked his ass out of court.

There is no test of an artist more unambiguous than what he or she can do all alone with a pencil or brush. Again and again, people have returned to this standard as the measure of an artist.

After World War II, Han Van Meegeren was prosecuted for having sold an important cultural treasure, a Vermeer painting, to the Nazi occupiers . Faced with long imprisonment, Van Meegeren objected that he was not guilty because he personally forged the "Vermeer" he sold.

Scholars and art experts ridiculed his claim, but the court put him to the test by demanding that he paint another Vermeer in prison under observation. The testimony of Van Meegeren's brush was more persuasive than all of the art experts and scientists combined. The prosecutor dropped his charges of collaborating with Nazis (and prosecuted him instead for forgery).

Whether an artist is locked in a jail cell or isolated in a courtroom or stranded on a desert island, they always retain the crucial ingredients for their art: their eyes, fingers and mind. These are what the judges were trying to measure by eliminating interference from assistants, collaborators, photoshop, xerox machines, mechanical crutches or other such camouflage.

I sometimes think about the relevance of this test when I am enjoying the extraordinary new fruits of digital art. I have been dazzled by the brilliance of the animation art in Wall-E:

as well as the fabulous garden scene in Coraline.

These works of art are extraordinary and consuming, but they can neither be made nor viewed without the collaboration of utility companies to provide electrical power, financial institutions to provide funding, computer companies to develop software, and hundreds of animators, visual effects experts and other art professionals. None of them as an individual could "prove" their worth the way that Keane or Van Meegeren did for earlier generations. Today the creativity of electrical engineers can be as important as the creativity of the art director.

I sometimes wonder whether in the future this marvelous art form will eclipse more antiquated art forms, such as drawing and painting. And if it does, what will be the ultimate proof of an artist then?


colin said...

Although I respect the sentiment, I think the analogy is flawed, really. The creativity of electrical engineers has as much to do with digital art as the creativity of the chemists who create inks, or the creativity of men who designed the machines used to manufacture pencils, has to do with art created in more traditional media.

The arguments usually raised in this context is that digital art is not physical, or not permanent. Neither is true. Magnetic domains on a hard disk and flecks of pigment dried on a piece of canvas are equally part of the physical world, and although the challenges to preserving digital art are different from those of preserving, for example, oil paintings, they are not impossible to overcome.

Certainly there are differences. The tools can distance the artist from their work, and they can make it easier to be precise than to be expressive.

There is one qualitative difference that comes to mind, and that there is never a single ultimate "original" for a piece of digital art. It can be copied perfectly, and is, often many times over the course of being produced. Intuitively, this makes some difference, but I can't reasonably say why. There is something to be said for being in the presence of the very same piece of stone the artist carved or paint the artist applied, but it seems to me that even in my own feelings this cult of the original is given too much weight. Surely a perfect reproduction of a beautiful picture is still a beautiful picture, and still reflects well on the artistry used to create it?

It will still be the measure of an artist if they can sit down and produce a piece of art. Whether with software or with a charcoal stick does not matter so much, I think.

(I think you may get a lot of response to this one. I think some digital artists and their fans feel they don't get quite the respect they deserve. On the other hand, maybe they don't.)

Unknown said...

It can't be replaced, beecause not everybody has access to the hardware/software that is needed to do so. Still, the possibilities of future technology regarding art, is just amazing. Animation is one thing, but what about other stuff? Like holograms (like in Star Wars or Star Trek), or the screens that exist in Minority Report. Another fascinating one (at least for me): in the Dune series of books there is mention of a planet, the sculpture planet (can't remember the name), where they create the work just with the use of their mind. This was kind of way into the future (20000 years?), but still, the possibilities are endless... Nice post David.

Unknown said...

Now in a reply to Colin, I feel the discussion if digital art has respect or not is futile. It has respect, in the sense that it's a tool. I think lots of digital artists know that, and just leave it at that. Still, digital art (at least in the illustration world) requires the same amount of "traditional" studies/practice (drawing, composition, color theory, etc), as any other oil painter/pencil draftsmen would need in order to perfect his abilities. Doing it on the computer doesn't make it easier, just different. & yes, we do deserve respect.... but only if we work our asses off.

Jesse Hamm said...

I wouldn't agree that an engineer's creativity is synonymous with that of an artist. The engineer has a destination and attempts to discover the means to get there; the artist knows the means and attempts to discover the destination. Since they're working in reverse directions, it would be counterproductive for one to rely on the other's methods. I think confusion on this point leads to formulaic artwork on the one hand, and unfocused designs on the other.

I also think that, regardless of whether digital means replace conventional media, the essence of the visual arts will always be the selection and arrangement of visual information. Whether that's done with tiles, oils, or pixels is irrelevant to the big picture (har har).

Rob Howard said...

Ah, a fellow WALL-E fan. I was absolutely agog at the artistry involved...and it was artistry of a high order.

The artistic level of observation was impressive when you understand how few agents of expression the artists had to work mouths, noses, jointed fingers, etc., yet they managed to convey expression using nothing other than a few shapes. That's impressive.

This is a movie that will be studied for a long time.

As to the creativity of the electrical engineer...well, in a way. Perhaps not the guy supplying the electricity but those engineers involved with the careful analysis of visual phenomena...the ones who look and analyse the essence of an iridescent oil slick on water (and learn that they are all tints of grey, not bright colors) and then translate it into Ones and Zeroes...those guys are absolutely amazing.

The more that I use some of the visual products from that mountain of creativity, Adobe, and apps like Photoshop, Premiere and Apple's Final Cut, the more in awe of engineers I become. There's scarcely a day goes by that I don't say, or think...ain't engineers great!

Thus I feel that your analogy is correct but drawn out over too great a distance. The engineers who have the artistic sensitivity to be able to create the feather effects in Happy Feet, or the snow on the monster's hair in Monsters Inc. or link a bunch of store-bought Pentium chips together to produce and aerial view of the crowded deck of the Titanic...those are the engineers who have brooked the long-standing Rubicon between Art and Science.

I've often said that if I was a young artist starting off, I'd be aiming at films, not flat art.

Three cheers for the geeks!

David Apatoff said...

Colin (and Jesse) I'm not sure you give enough credit to the creativity of electrical engineers. Clearly, their impact is substantial. Disney said that the movie 101 Dalmations would never have been attempted if it weren't for the invention of the xerox machine. Similarly, in Coraline, the characters were created by scanning the original sculptors' models in 3D, molding them in a computer to create gradual changes in facial expressions, and then fabricating or "printing" multiple copies on 3D printers! These are extraordinary inventions based on combining dozens of patents that weren't simply developed to meet somebody's specifcations-- many of them came from "Eureka!" moments where an inventor sat up in bed like Archimedes because their mind had made a creative leap.

Most importantly for your point, it seems to me that these electrical engineers and computer scientists are essential members of the creative team. The aesthetic results achieved by a digital artist are certainly dependent upon writing the best software or licensing the latest technology, so in that sense the technicians are similar, as you say, to "the chemists who create inks." But in a much more fundamental, qualitative way, digital art is dependent on those same technicians for its very existence. If the utility company doesn't do its job and there is a power failure, then digital art ceases to exist (at least in any meaningful, coherent sense). As technology improves and standards migrate, you will not be able to "see" digital art unless it is updated to conform to the newer standards, just as you can no longer "hear" sounds on 8 track tapes. They are gone. This is different from traditional art, which operates without electricity and will survive a nuclear winter when all electrical companies and computer companies cease to function (just as art survived ice ages 25,000 years ago). There are no necessary technological inmtermediaries between the perceiver and the perceived.

Matthew Adams said...

Movies, even old ones, need electricity to come to life. A movie is not a movie until it is being played on the screen. Before that it is a heap of film, cameras, actors, microphones, music scores, producers...

Yet some of the great movies are definately great art.

Or am I missing the point?

Jesse Hamm said...

David -- I'm not saying engineers are unnecessary or that they don't deserve credit. I'm just saying their processes and goals are much different than that of an artist. You could as easily argue that farmers and ranchers are necessary to art, since artists would starve to death without food. But that's not a useful correlation; it doesn't add to our grasp of art.

Similarly, you could argue that farmers have their own "Eureka" moments, but that could be true of everyone on the planet. Discussions of artistic creativity would need a more limited scope to be useful.

Matt said...

I work in both formats, and ask that question myself all the time, which is why I pry myself away from the computer whenever I can and do the bits of my work by hand whenver I can get away with it.

Great post.

slinberg said...

I don't think there's any avoiding the notion that technology is fundamentally changing art - and after all, aren't brushes and canvas technology too?

Still, though, learning how many artists rely on technology of one sort or another has been a real wake-up to me in the past few years of my own studies. Many fine artists work with photographs, either as reminders and references, or as outright sources - and while many are quick to condemn that, I think there are a lot of great uses of the immense wealth of visual information we have now on the internet that makes a lot of study possible that wasn't before.

I can't afford to hire my own models to draw from, but I invested around $100 in a huge library of high-resolution images of men and women of all ages, body types and ethnicities, and if I want to get a good look at a peronius longus from different angles, I can now, albeit in a flattened form. I have never been to the bricks and mortar of Academy of Art University, where I'm 1/3 of the way through an MFA in fine art / figurative painting, but I've still learned a lot there (although presently on hold, for as long as it lasts, for private study with a master painter, which is incomparably better, of course).

The dream is to be able to sit in a blank room (or prison cell, I suppose) with nothing but your fingers and your imagination and knowledge and spin magnificent works of art, but I'm always startled by fresh realization of how little of the world's very best fine art was done that way. Everybody uses references of one sort or another. And as learning tools to help us progress as artists and increase our vocabularies, I think we're much better off for it overall, and the positives far outweigh the negatives.

Brian said...

I disagree, as usual.

You need to make a distinction with animation, that it is involved with creating an alternate or fantasy world that doesn't really exist. Contrast that with realism, or the depiction of the natural world that does really exist.

Wall E might be a great movie, but it is a fictional movie. A nice landscape is not fiction, but fact.

And another thing you need to take into account is that a movie like that is a huge collaborative effort, not an individual one. The individual is often lost or obliterated in a production like that. So who runs the show--the top, or elite. Wall E is a message from the elite about why the earth would be better without all us little folks on it. In other words, the same obliteration of the individual.

What you are cheerleading is the obliteration of the individual through technology, not the empowerment of the individual, because the product is not individual, but collective.

I'll take the simple individual statement any day. All the best stuff is from the individual.

Anonymous said...

Uuups, Brian, we didn't want to answer Rob Complete And Utter any more...

António Araújo said...

>Most importantly for your point, it >seems to me that these electrical >engineers and computer scientists >are essential members of the >creative team.

Many pixar movies feature one specific engineering challenge. With nemo, it was realistic underwater environments, with "a bug's life" it was crowd scenes. I wonder if it's the specific technical challenge that motivates the story or the other way around. I guess pixar works so well because both sides feed on each other in a healthy equilibrium.

I used to date this girl who worked in numerical computation, and she was always commenting on how the algorithms used in these movies were so superior to the toy problems solved in academia (of course, both have different objectives - the problems solved in academia are thoroughly solved, while at pixar you work in order to have shortcuts that do the stuff you want done by any means, not formal proofs of convergence or anything like that)

>Ah, a fellow WALL-E fan. I was >absolutely agog at the artistry >involved...and it was artistry of >a high order.

The amazing thing is that, in spite of the technical prowess in that movie, from the "camera" work (the play with focus and depth of field is great, such fun when there are no real cameras involved) to those wonderful renderings of oil slicks and trash, the best was really how damnable cute the main character was...and that you could do with hand drawn animation if you wanted. The later part of the movie loses a bit when you get more characters in, just from sheer dilution of pure wall-e awesomeness :D


António Araújo said...

>Wall E might be a great movie, but >it is a fictional movie. A nice >landscape is not fiction, but fact.

The landscape may be, but not a painting of a landscape. It is a big pile of pigments that fools your eye, there's a big fiction there.

By contrast, the landscapes in wall-e actually exist as mathematical accurate descriptions of a solid. You can rotate them and see them from every angle if you have access to the computers where they are stored. I always liked that about 3d, the fact that you create something that is almost as real, in some platonic sense, as a physical object.

What i like in painting, on the other hand, is the economy: you don't build the whole landscape from every angle, yet make the viewer almost believe it has substance beyond what he can see.


David Apatoff said...

Brian, I share your general prejudice about the world: "I'll take the simple individual statement any day. All the best stuff is from the individual." I often apply that same bias as an a priori starting place.

But I can't argue with art of the magnitude of Wall-E. It is self-legitimizing; if this work is outside the rule because it is a "collective effort," then it is time for us to revisit our thinking.

I agree with Rob that "The artistic level of observation was impressive when you understand how few agents of expression the artists had to work mouths, noses, jointed fingers, etc., yet they managed to convey expression using nothing other than a few shapes." I agree with Antonio that the second half of the movie, with all those fleshy characters, was far less satisfying. But I think the first half is a work of genius-- "collective," aggregate, communist genius. In fact, I would say that Wall-E (both as a comedic and a romantic work) is an achievement on the scale of Charlie Chaplin's tramp. And in this great meritocracy called art, we write the rules around such accomplishments, not vice versa.

Anonymous said...

david, i have enjoyed your ideas for a while and nows a good time to step in and leave a comment because this is a wonderful thought inspiring post, just to examine the idea alone is a great thing, thank you.

i do think in any case hand/eye coordination/work is the same in any medium approached with quality intention. in any case there would be a process of development working out the idea/medium/technique and skill. the success and/or not is to be expected
with practice and refinement. the basic training applies across the board.

David Apatoff said...

Rob, you write "I've often said that if I was a young artist starting off, I'd be aiming at films, not flat art." I think many "flat" artists feel the same ambivalence.

I came of age in the era of videotape (but before computer manipulation of digital images) when at least the potential for film making was already apparent. I struggled with the choice you describe. But as you might guess from this post, I wanted to carry around the crucial ingredients with me in my blood, without having to realize my vision through the camera store. I wanted to be able to sketch faces on the subway using only the pencil I always carried with me. I wanted to sit under a tree on a hilltop and see the glorious countryside in a way that sketching would enable, but that sweeping a movie camera would not. I wanted-- for all the wrong and right reasons-- to persuade my girlfriend to model for me in a way that she was willing to do if I was holding a charcoal stick but which she would never do if I were holding a movie camera.

These were very important considerations at the time, and when I think of what they led to I would not trade my choices for a satisfying career in digital film making. But it is a real dilemma, and it underlies this post.

Anonymous said...

One of my favourite films is The Rebel with Hancock. A wonderful take on bogus and pretentious artists. If made today the plot would be turned on its head, with Hancock being the 'genuine artist' and his talented friend, the fraud.
How far is art which is popularly termed: 'performance' or 'installation' simply today's emperor's new clothes? I could 'borrow' someone else's idea, have a craftsman build it, put my famous name to it, call it art and sell it to a multimillionaire. I'm a fraud and the art is b*******.
I love to see the development of art I enjoy, whether traditional or computer generated. True artistic skill still shines through.
Technology redefines art and poses wonderful new challenges. Edward Muybridge, with photography showed artists how horses actually do gallop and changed the way they were depicted forever.

António Araújo said...

>to persuade my girlfriend to model >for me in a way that she was >willing to do if I was holding a >charcoal stick but which she would >never do if I were holding a movie >camera.

That's how you know that oils and charcoal are real art and photoshop painting is not. Can you imagine any girl undressing for a photoshop painting? Never happen! What girl will undress for a guy holding a wacom like some sort of a geek? You have to dirty your hands if you wanna dirty...sorry, elevate... their minds! :)

All the endless debate about what is and is not art can be eliminated by my simple empirical test: if it makes a girl take off her clothes it's art, if it doesn't it isn't.

To which I might add, David, that video and photography ARE art - one just needs to switch to the right sort of girlfriend, the kind that understands one's artistic needs :)

kev ferrara said...

Artists have always been broadcasters, engineers and stage magicians, so they've always kept at the forefront of technology.

Film-making is much like theater. Once you perform the thing, its gone. Into the ether or someone's memory. Film-stock just memorizes the play for us. Its a recording which we've learned to shape with scissors and tape. And we learned to move the camera, and add after effects. But "the original" performance is gone to the ether just the same. Wall-E just cuts out the theater performance entirely and starts its life as a performance in the ether.

The thing that concerns me in all this is the still image-makers, who have a different tradition. An entire generation of still image-makers is creating art that doesn't exist. That is, art for which there is no original. In some ways, this is... I don't know what the word is, so I'll just make one up... an aestheticide. Photoshop is a Faustian deal... infinite undo, all the filters, textures, and perfect lettering you want... but without a living soul.

No gallery show of slick flat digital prints can ever match, say, the handcrafted living presence of the N.C. Wyeth Treasure Island illustrations on display at The Brandywine River Museum. Just like a photo of the dolomite Sarcophagus of Horkhebit at the Met could never match the reality of that damn spooky thing!

A cool, slick unreality is steadily creeping into the culture through the wonders of electricity.


Rob Howard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

"All the endless debate about what is and is not art can be eliminated by my simple empirical test: if it makes a girl take off her clothes it's art, if it doesn't it isn't."

OMWO, many a truth is said in jest!

António Araújo said...

I really don't see why people have to constantly see things as dualism and opposition. I think it's just because humans love to argue :D

It sounds like it's either this or that. I ask: why choose?

It is just another tool, with new possibilities. And have we stopped drawing and painting with charcoal and oil on paper or canvas or wood? We haven't, we just gained something new.

And I just can't stand the "incorporeal" argument anymore. So it doesn't have an original. So what? You say it doesn't exist, as if one thing implies the other. It does exist, as a pattern stored in a disk or some other media. That is just as real as pile of paint, and in fact it is far more well defined, conceptually. What is any art but information? Digital information is completely well defined, while the pile of paint degrades microscopically at every moment, an unstable pattern of atoms in constant flux.

Choices about shapes, color, composition, are what mostly makes art - not the piles of paint themselves. Consider some painting you admire. Let's imagine you like Picasso's demoiselles. If he had come up with those gals in his cintiq - if he had chosen to use the exact same shapes and colors disposed in exactly the same way, would it be crap just because he hadn't done it with brushes and paint?

Jesse Hamm said...

"Perhaps, as Scruton points out, introducing women's studies and black studies and pop music studies into the curriculum may be the reason there is such a decline in art..."

*heads for cover, with opera glasses and popcorn*

kev ferrara said...

OMWO, physician heal thyself! You just made up an argument out of thin air... (you jerky puss) Well, actually out of thick air, but nevermind.

I think I explained pretty well that photoshop was a trade off. A whole bunch of good, for one big bad. Its oppositional, not dualistic. (you auto-generated babble-machine with a weird haircut)

Anyhow, yeah, sure, lots of artists are getting back into the traditional tools and methods. But I would say (load ammo now, all you militant types) the top young imaginations are in, and keep going into, concept art and illustration, which is mostly digital-based. So while a whole bunch of good artists are learning and practicing with traditional mediums, they are "making their masterpieces" in the digital realm. Only Mian Situ, to my mind, matches in paint what is being done in digital. (I'd love to be proven wrong though, if anybody has any oil painters they'd like to suggest.)

On piles of paint... the handcraftedness of an artwork demonstrates the evidence of the fellow who made it. Paint existentially records the artist... Photoshop does not. There is something special in this that can't be poo poo'd (except insofar as anything can be poo poo'd by obsessive poo poo'ers)

For example, I only had tolerable respect for Picasso until I saw one particular drawing of his at the Guggenheim and was blown away by the visceral authority of it. A great deal of the power of art is its command. Photoshop fakes command, and badly. (I know this sounds like opinion, but actually its just absolutely incontrovertible truth masquerading as opinion.)

Of course, I use the fershlugginer program too, and love it for what it provides. The greatest thing it provides, which I forgot to mention, is easy shipping of complete files to clients and print shops. Now that's a service with sacrificing one's soul for!

Jesse... did you just leave a burning bag of dog crap on the doorstep?

Arguments Anonymous Inc.
"Better Living through Epithets"
No Client Too Stupid!

Jesse Hamm said...

I was quoting Rob, but he appears to have deleted his comment. Ah well!

kenmeyerjr said...

Yet another cool post...I did not know that about fact, when the name would appear in my mind, however rarely, Walter would appear with it (when my flawed memory was actually working).

kenmeyerjr said...

...oh, and although I will take traditional over digital any day, I don't think it's necessary to denigrate digital artists to elevate traditional art. Haven't we all yet accepted the "it's just a tool" statement? I have seen some incredible digital art over the years, and although I would much prefer to look at or own, say, a Bernie Fuchs, than a digital print by the best digital artist, I don't naysay the talent in the best digital artists.

António Araújo said...

>You just made up an argument out of thin air

yeah, well, that's craftsmanship right there.

>On piles of paint... the >handcraftedness of an artwork >demonstrates the evidence of the >fellow who made it. Paint >existentially records the >artist... Photoshop does not.

I hope you understand I am not putting down the craftsmanship required to pile up that paint, quite the opposite - I am trying to point out that piling those pixels - properly - may require more skill than you imagine.

>For example, I only had tolerable >respect for Picasso until I saw >one particular drawing of his at >the Guggenheim and was blown away >by the visceral authority of it.

And then I ask if the drawing could not have been made on a cintiq.

> A great deal of the power of art >is its command. Photoshop fakes >command, and badly. (I know this >sounds like opinion, but actually >its just absolutely >incontrovertible truth >masquerading as opinion.)

You are mistaken. Have you tried seriously to draw in photoshop? When I was younger and poorer I tried for a lot of time to draw freehand with a mouse. To handle that brick took skill, I can tell you, just as much and of the same type as to draw with a big charcoal stick. I learned that I couldn't expect a controlled line so I had to go for low opacity and just apply "paint" in the large and partially erase it again until slowly I got what appeared to be a controlled line. Drawing on a cintiq is easier but has a physical part to it just as well. Now, I could just have used filters and vectors. But that of course woud just have looked like filters and vectors.

It is not photoshop that fakes command, and badly, as you say. It is just that photoshop entices a whole bunch of amateurs to think that they now are artists just because they can use some filters. In their eyes, and in the eyes of a certain public, that crap is good enough, but you can see the difference, that's all. And the problem is not that they are missing "the existential whatever of paint", the problem is that they can't draw! Neither digitally nor with a pencil - and photoshop does not hide it. The problem is not that the tool isn't "visceral", it's that they can't use it properly.

António Araújo said...

ps: english not being my first language - what the hell is a "jerky puss"? Also, what's that about my haircut, are you in collusion with my mother?

Finally, abandon your feeble attempts at unraveling the philosophical strands of this mighty problem! I remind you it was I who banished photoshop from the olympus of art with a single philosophical stroke of my huge brush - namely with the learned argument concerning the inability of pixels to undress females. So there, coming late to the field and armed only with your feeble, vague "existencialism of paint" thesis, I can simpathize with your pain, but it's too little to late, mister. The dragon is slain. :)

You'll have to sell your epithets to less discriminating crowds at border towns while I bask in the glory of my immortal achievements, up there in mount Olympus :p

António Araújo said...

by the way, how does the problem of originals reflect in, let's say, a print by hokusai? do you need the woodblock to appreciate it?

António Araújo said...

those paintings of the freaky girls with the huge eyes...They really look like japanese manga. This made me think of the following: there is this big number of japanese manga artists who specialize in photoshop. Lots of gradients, lots of flare; Rembrandt it isn't. But matters of taste aside, it does require considerable skill to do. It's not a matter of knowing were the tools are in photoshop - it's a matter of choosing how to use them. There is a big bunch of admirers of that sort of thing, and only a few who can paint in a way that the fans of the subject consider far above the norm. The elected ones keep selling dvd tutorials but even so the wannabes can't really emulate. Now, if you were to repeat your court scene, it could be re-done verbatim, except that the contestants would be painting on a wacom table. I assure you the fans would distinguish the real deal from the faker anyday. So what is the difference?

>I sometimes wonder whether in the >future this marvelous art form >will eclipse more antiquated art >forms, such as drawing and >painting.

Those wall-e guys certainly have to know how to draw. It's the wannabes that go into 3d and cgi to avoid drawing, but I bet they don't get into pixar, or if they do they never leave grunt level.

> And if it does, what >will be >the ultimate proof of an >artist >then?

I bet if you would put all the wall-e tools in front of a really good pixar guy and a faker, the pixar guy could in no time come up with at least a short animation that would really capture the spirit of the character while the wanabe would just fumble around and make something really awkward.

As for the argument of the electrical grid, etc, I don't know about you but I never did grind my own pigments. And what if you had to actually extract them from nature, and make your own brushes and so on? Or paper. Even paper is such a late, complex invention...

And what about people who paint with an airbrush? Is that really so different from photoshop? And masking fluid, and all the shortcuts of the illustrator...and undo? What do you think the wastebasket is for? :)

And the original work? In illustration the original may be whatever weird patchwork of materials just as long as it looks good in reproduction. Nobody cares how you did it (measuring, projecting, tracing) or if the original lasts - or has ever really existed as a thing viewable in itself - after it gets published.

David Apatoff said...

Antonio (omwo):

"To which I might add, David, that video and photography ARE art - one just needs to switch to the right sort of girlfriend, the kind that understands one's artistic needs :)"

Antonio, there is a difference between the line that a charcoal stick will make on hot pressed, plate finish paper and the line that charcoal will make on paper with texture and tooth. The difference is in the resistance.

Similarly, there is a difference between a girl who will let you draw her and a girl who will let you make a movie of her. Anyone can turn a video camera on or off, but in a drawing the suitor must reveal his talent, vision, commitment and seriousness of purpose. Thus, with the girl as well as with the paper, the difference is in the resistance.

António Araújo said...

>Thus, with the girl as well as with >the paper, the difference is in the >resistance.

Haha. Well done :D

>Anyone can turn a video camera on >or off,

Yes, but in the same way anyone can pick up a stick of charcoal.

but in a drawing the suitor >must reveal his talent, vision, >commitment and seriousness of >purpose.

Precisely. But the same is true in video or photography. Let me speak half-seriously now. Like any guy, I always had the obsession to draw, and if possibly photograph the nude - especially of those people i happened to fancy. It's that need to capture and own and understand the moment or the desired object forever. And just like you said, there was always greater resistance to photography and especially video, which I too attributed to the difference in the media. But later, and for a while, I was really interested in photography. And guess what, as soon as my photos started getting better, more incisive, with somewhat more commitment and seriousness of purpose, to use your words, the resistance in several sequential girlfriends changed altogether. Yes, there was still a bit more ease in posing for a drawing, but that was just because a drawing can be made to be more anonymous. But the serious resistance to photography crumbled after a short hesitation and turned into obsessive enthusiasm.

The truth is that it's the passion for the thing itself and a certain degree of technical proficiency that brings the barriers down. Women love to be observed. They love the fact that you notice things about them that the average guy misses. And if you can record your observations physically they will let their guard down - it's when they notice (and you can hardly fake it to them) that you are indeed absorbed by that relexion in her shoulderblade and not just faking it for a cheap thrill - and that furthermore you are technically able to capture it. Once you prove yourself worthy you'll find - just as I am sure you can attest in drawing - that women are just obsessed as we are to freeze those moments of time when their beauty is so blinding.

The reason why you would get so much more resistance to video than to drawing is that your passion for video was just standard male voyerism (welcome to the club :D) and therefore you lacked technical ability with the medium and your passion for drawing was true. (I still get lots of resistance for video because I love photography but I know nothing about video, and it shows.) And the proof that your passion for video was inferior is that if it was real you would never fail to notice that "anyone can turn a camera on" is just as irrelevant a statement as "anybody can pick up a charcoal." It's what you do after you pick them up that counts. It's where you make the camera look, and when, and how, and what environment you create around you for the shoot, how you pick the light, etc. Like drawing, beyond the mechanics, it's all about the choices.

But hey, I do agree with you: after all I said, drawing, is still in my opinion the most demanding of the arts that capture the visual impression, and the most profound - certainly by far the one I love the most. But it is a matter of degree, and it is not valid to say "anybody can turn on a camera".

António Araújo said...

ok, ok, in a couple of words:

anybody can turn a camera on.

Not everyone can turn on a woman with a camera.

There! :D


Kim Smith said...

Okay, I'm staying out of the fray for the moment except to say that every time a new media opportunity becomes available, usually made possible by SOME sort of scientist, artists WILL explore it and sharpen it to its' finest point. It's the mandate of an artist, and also brings up the point that in many ways artists have more in common with the scientists whose work is about the "search".

David, my favorite lawyer friends in life have been the real shit-stirrers who can plunk down a thought in front of a hungry bunch and sit back with eyes a-twinkle while the fur flies! Not only do we get a lesson in seeing, but a lesson in communication. Also some exceptional writing by blogger and commentors. I LOVE it!

I'm making sure my colleagues in the digital movie-making world get to look at this today. You have a growing number of avid readers chez moi.

kev ferrara said...


A piece of charcoal is an incredibly sensitive mark making instrument. Paper is an incredibly sensitive mark receiving surface. The contact of charcoal to surface is an actual point of physical contact. A true record of existence, and thus a true record of gesture... simultaneously expressing and evidencing the artist in all his human randomness. The mark is a surrogate for the artist.

The digital realm attempts to mimic that sensitivity... mimicking paper grain, human randomness, natural media, existential gesture... and it may do a good job mimicking those things as operations. But in reality, these sensitive material interactions record significant expressions that can't be modelled. They are not simply operations or effects. Marks signify more than material characteristics and pictorial illusions.


David Apatoff said...

Kim, it is a pleasure to hear from you, as you were this blog's "exhibit A" of an artist who works in both the digital and the analog cultures.

Anyone from the digital movie-making world who joins this dialogue today may find some puzzling gaps in the comments above because, for the first time in the history of this blog, a few of our more energetic contributors chose to remove some of their earlier comments. I was sorry to see that, as we lost some good ideas and colorful commentary. On the good side, new readers will have arrived just in time to see how far Omwo plans to go in his discussion about videotaping his girlfriends.

I am just an innocent bystander to all this "shit stirring" myself, but I would be interested to hear from digital artists (including you) with answers to the question I posed at the end of my post: in the future, what will be the ultimate proof of an artist if it is no longer the way an individual fashions an object with eyes and hands and mind?

Kim Smith said...

I failed to say one thing in my previous comment. In keeping
with the lighter side of this discussion about the seduction (or seductive capabilities) of mark-making vs digital, as a woman (or just a person), I am first-off attracted to the sensitivity of the image in whatever form the art takes. A sensitive photograph reveals much about the photographer, (duh), which makes you want to know the photographer. I agree with David that WALL-E is brilliant, and he chose some of the most artistic moments in that film. Inasmuch as many of my friends worked on that film, I love them the more for the poetry and humanity of those moments in the film. At the same time, I am also a great believer in the most direct expression of sensibility, the drawn line. As Kev says, a piece of charcoal and a smoothish rock. Stick and sand. Seduction of a beautiful drawing.

António Araújo said...

>The digital realm attempts to >mimic that sensitivity...
>mimicking paper grain, human >randomness, natural media, >existential gesture...

Ok, you are mixing two things in that sentence.

1) human randomness and existencial gesture (?) don't have to be mimicked by the computer, there is a real human holding that pen.

2) Regarding material characteristics and handling randomness, it is true that some apps (painter) try to model the usual materials, to more or less good effect. But there are enough natural material characteristics and randomness in the digital tools themselves. You are interacting with the board through the pen via magnetic induction - that is certainly random enough and quirky enough. Also, try a wacom board, a cintiq, or an hp screen, and several different pen nibs and see how that affects how you handle the pen. Certainly the feeling of the pen and of the screen matter a lot when you draw freehand on photoshop or painter. There is a wealth of variation there, and the quirkiness of the materials may not be at the level of oils, but it is certainly at the level of a brushpen or an ordinary pencil, so if those are ok with you why not a digital pen?

Kev, I wonder if you had a real go at *freehand* drawing in photoshop. Maybe you didn't like it and just quit too soon before seeing how interesting it can get.

I remember somebody had Hirschfeld try digital sketching on the computer. He said something to the effect that it was interesting but it would require another lifetime to master.

Just wait around a bit. When we stop emulating pens and brushes and create some new interface that doesn't attempt to be a copy of the old ones, then things may really heat up.

Concerning what you said about marks, the marks are there, they are put there by your hand with the digital pen. There is a point of actual contact, I don't see a difference, except in degree. There is real sensitivity on that instrument, again just as much as with a pencil and or penbrush and ink. If you insist on the "real point of contact" I'll ask you to take an electronic microscope and see if the way the charcoal interacts with paper is really all that different. It's all electromagnetism in the end. No "point of contact", really. And the physical feedback is there too. Come on, some materials have much less physical feedback than a digital pen. I was doing some small highlights, crosshatching with gouache the other day and to get it right I had to be so light in touch that I really wasn't feeling anything tactile. Sometimes in digital you can also be so gentle you hardly feel the screen. Not so different.

I believe you just have a hang up against the material because it doesn't correspond to your personal imaginary. Nothing against taht, each of us are inspired by different materials. Maybe digital just isn't romantic enough for you. It is for some geeks like me who love maths and computers and really find it beautiful to draw with pure light, or with information, or with radio, or induction. Maybe the fact that it doesn't feed your personal needs blocks you from seeing it for what it is. Nothing wrong, but if it is that then its just personal. If i isn't then I need you to explain what the absolute difference is cause i still don't see it. You haven't addressed japanese prints or why one can still do art with materials like a ballpoint pen or airbrush, whose expressiveness and physical feedback I don't really think surpasses necessarily the digital pen (or can't one?).

David: no, you are not getting any samples, so loose the greedy grin :D


A. Stella said...

@ slinberg
>>...a huge library of high-resolution images of men and women of all ages...<<

High-res.? All ages? No shit?
Man, I'd like to have that too! But in my country you can get a lot of trouble with a collection like yours... That's why I have to do my occasional Post-Preraphaelitist child nudes more or less exclusively out of my dirty imagination. Quite a useful exercise, on the other hand. Then again it can also be annoyingly tricky to sell this kinda stuff where I live. Best thing, you find yourself some "collectors", though, boy, that's one disgusting crowd!..
I'd say it's bad times for the arts altogether, you sing "fuck" they make it a "beeep", computers are the least problem.
A. Stella
(no site)

kev ferrara said...

OMWO, yeesh, dude. Chill.

I've done tons of pure digital work, painting with the mouse, by old Wacom tablet, by new intuos, in photoshop, in painter. I love it, and I hate that I love it because there is no original. And after I've turned in the work and spent the money, I'm left with an image from my mind, but no evidence of my being besides that. Despite all modern evidence to the contrary, we are not just brains floating in jars.

Well, at least I'm not, anyway. You, on the other hand, may be on the shelf next to Einstein, Hitler, and Abby Normal. Which explains why you seem to buy into the illusion that the pen-to-tablet-to-program is a real physical interaction. Well no. Just the same as if you kiss your favorite movie star through the television screen. She may seem to kiss back, but it wasn't actually a kiss. Unless you've felt the bit of breath and warmth and moistness and saw the lipstick smear in the mirror, you've been virtuous in reality. Virtual reality is not virtually reality. We only think it is because we're stupid monkeys who yell at our reflections and dream of sandcastles in the sky. (By this I don't mean to call you a "stupid monkey." However, people exactly like you who have identical thought patterns would qualify.)

I've long imagined what I call "nano-paint" as the optimal medium. Essentially it would function just as oil paint does in real life, you could brush it on, splatter it, or draw with it on your canvas. But it would be composed of nano materials that can be undone and filtered and what have you just as photoshop can do to pixels. This would mean that the painting itself is the direct mark of the artist, yet it would just as utterly manipulable as anything in the digital realm. Furthermore, you'd be able to undo the entire painting, and then watch it "paint itself" as you redo the undo's. That would be the unifying revolution that I'm waiting for!

I still haven't answered your question about prints. Some kinds of prints have some of the reality and primacy of "an original." I would say a monotype comes the closest.

Kev Ferrara
Nano Paint Inc.
Undoing: The Revolution

slinberg said...

@A.Stella, you can check them out yourself and see if the laws of your country would prohibit them (ugh):

(links contain non-sexualized nudity, probably still nsfw for most people)

António Araújo said...

fine, so you leave us with a couple of points (I'll ignore the snide remarks because some of us monkey brains are pretty good at chilling, and I really can't tell if you are being hostile or just joking - I'm was not being hostile by the way, hence my puzzlement). One is

>Which explains why you seem to >buy into the illusion that the >pen-to-tablet-to-program is a >real physical interaction

hand touches pen, pen touches tablet. I really don't see what it is if not physical. it's pretty clear. Snide remarks cannot hide how clear it is.

>I've long imagined what I call >"nano-paint" as the optimal >medium. Essentially it would >function just as oil paint does >in real life, you could brush it >on, splatter it, or draw with it >on your canvas. But it would be >composed of nano materials that >can be undone and filtered and >what have you just as photoshop >can do to pixels.

Yes well. I don't know why you insist on the nano scale except for the buzzword, but let's just say the particles are really small. Your point is that you wanna interact with them in a way that you can feel physically and you want to manipulate a real physical material that will stay put once you're done. fine. Here is a solution. The nano-particles are on your hard disk. You interact with them with, let's say, a pen, and a sort of microscope, let's say a screen, that let's you know where those particles are and what their configuration is. And when you interact with them by the real physical motion of your hand or pen touchung the surface of the screen, which is by the way totally similar to your pen touching paper, they react to your touch by moving around on the disk, the effect of which you can see on the screen. and then at the end you have a real physical result, a pattern of nano...well, at least very small particles in specific states in your hard disk. It doesn't go away. You just have to wear some special "glasses" - your screen and a reader - to see what it looks like. You can even print the result if you want another sort of final object. You can even print it with brushstrokes by using a 3d printer. You can even print it in acrylics. But hey, you can just look at it as a way of drawing on the hard disk. Is that physical enough?

(continues - too many characters)

António Araújo said...

Or just keep the screen turned on if you want that to be your final, physical work.
Or use e-ink, or what it's called, it stays in place after you manipulate it (I think it doesn't require power to stay put, I haven't read up on the mechanics of that yet). if you insist on using up one screen for each painting just to satisfy some illusory need for a restrictive definition of what physical existence means.

As for the matter of the japanese prints, it really encompasses all your objections. There you had a whole generation of artists wasting itself (according to your view) by doing works that exist nowhere. Hokusai makes a drawing, where is the drawing? Lost. It is just a blueprint. Some other guy carves the woodblock for the print, then prints it. How is it Hokusai's? Where is the actual physical work? Where are his marks on paper? Yet look at those prints and tell me, as you see them in sequence: is a Hokusai not clearly a Hokusai, is a Utamaro not clearly a Utamaro? Is there not true feeling and art there, and a recognizable hand? One that, strangely, never even touched the paper you are seeing. Never even saw that specific print. All they did was touch another paper, far away, to convey the information to the printmaker, just as you touch the tablet to convey the information in your mind to your hard disk or to your (mechanical, this time) printer, much more directly.

I am not here trying to say that there is no difference between digital and oils. Otherwise I wouldn't spend so much time learning oils, gouache, etc. I am just saying that the difference is not at all what you are saying. Your argument is a natural one, but on close analysis it is logically flawed. Instead of trying to hold it up, you should ask yourself what the real argument is. That would be interesting to find out.

In (cough) all seriousness, I think its the issue of the empirical criterium I defined above. But you just won't see the light (well, you'll see the reflected light, but not the RGB radiating light)


kev ferrara said...

I was being silly, sorry you were offended.

>hand touches pen, pen touches tablet. I really don't see what it is if not physical. it's pretty clear.>

Circuitry. It translates data into electronic signals which get filtered through code functions.

Reality. Its made of stuff.

On the prints, I think I pointed out that certain kinds of prints straddle the line between "original" and "infinitely reproducible data organizations that simulate a photograph of an original that doesn't exist."

kev ferrara said...

The reason I say "nano" is because the units of cyber paint need to be small enough to escape recognition by both the eye or hand, in order for it to be a true oil paint substitute.

Did you ever notice how annoying the word "buzzword" is? "Buzzword" is actually one of the very most annoying buzzwords, because it pretends to be an argument, but is actually just a tactic, just like any other ad hominem.

Thomas Fluharty said...

Nice little firestorm David.LOL~T

Brian said...

David Apatoff,

I generally don't like animated movies that much. I did as a kid, but not anymore. I'm not sure why.

But I especially didn't like your statement about the "communist" genius of Wall E. The whole idea strikes me as despicable.

In no way was that collaborative--it was collective, but not collaborative. Floors and floors of animators drudging at somebody else's idea, while their own are stifled. This is the way of the future too. Thousands of individual talents suppressed by the erection of useless collective statments, like the pyramids or Great Wall of China.

You see, its a trade-off. You can't really have everything. It only seems that both individuality and collective art forms exist now. But that's because the needle is moving from individuality to collectivization. Once it gets there, you won't see individuality anymore.

You've got to give the big collectives up to have the individual statement. Or maybe you can have the illuminators of the Vatican all over again. Sure, the works great, but what would these people say if they had true freedom then?

Don't be so quick to sing the praises of the collective. I'm afraid that soon you'll get far more than you like.

And as for examples of this burying of individuality for the collective, I give you Nathan Fowkes, who you spotlighted right here on your blog.

David Apatoff said...

Omwo / Antonio, I am certain that anyone looking for guidance on how to "turn on" a woman would do better by selecting any other site on the internet at random. Nevetheless, I think the question of what persuades one human being to entrust another human being with their nudity is actually relevant to the "test of an artist" that we have been discussing.

I like your point, "Just wait around a bit. When we stop emulating pens and brushes and create some new interface that doesn't attempt to be a copy of the old ones, then things may really heat up." This area is a fascinating one for me. Graphical User Interfaces are still at a primitive stage, and in the brave new world I am sure the technology will be more sensitive and nuanced, even as it props up the artist and atones for all kinds of shortcomings, the way that photoshop does now. Up to a certain level, every amateur can now look like a pro, and every pro can now produce art at twice the speed, which is a great leap forward for economic efficiency on commercial assignments. But let's go back to the litmus test of persuading someone to take off their clothes. (This is really a gender neutral point, although I have never detected a ground swell of women trying to persuade men to disrobe to be drawn.)

It remains a fact that anyone can turn a video camera on and off. The security guards in my office building do it every 24 hours. True, the film maker has a lot of choices that affect the flow of information from that camera; you can point it in a particular direction, or change the settings or add a filter; you can make a good video or a bad one, but a video is like an SAT score, you get 200 points just for filling in your name correctly (and if the camera happens by chance to be pointing in the right direction at the right time, you can get a whole lot more than 200 points with no real talent).

With a drawing, you begin with a blank piece of paper the way God started with the garden of Eden. Every line and gesture is your personal opinion. Your marks are not dependent on the algorithms of any programmer or the deluxe options on the tablet you purchased or the life span of the lithium ion battery powering your IT device as you spread out on a blanket under a tree far away from the nearest electrical outlet. If you are a mere dabbler and lack the quiet patience or the sustained interest in natural forms necessary to acquire certain skills or to see things deeply, then you might just be unworthy of being favored with a view of the woman you wish to see. If you can't demonstrate a special capacity to know or understand, what woman would want to unveil herself to be known or understood by you? It seems to me that, like the judges in my post, the model is entitled to put the artist to a test as part of what Lee Siegel describes as "the drama of personality succumbing to desire." That camera or video camera gives the artist those first 200 points free but for some women and for some art lovers, those points are mighty important.

David Apatoff said...

Thanks, Tom-- I think your recent work is directly relevant to this discussion. For newcomers, I have previously written about my admiration for Tom's illustrations and in recent months I have enjoyed following Tom's web site as he migrates from traditional oil painting to digital art. He is not yet as accomplished as he wants to be digitally, but he is in an excellent position to compare the two media, and he speaks with candor about what he is gaining and what he is giving up. He describes their relative strengths and weaknesses, balancing the undeniable speed and efficiency of digital work against the qualities of traditional images. He says, "Traditional will always be more appealing to me. Why? Texture, technique and It's real. there is more that traditional says that digital could never say and it's the little things that make something great, the organic things of a piece if you will."

If you follow my link to his site, you will see a nice example of what I have been saying about the special qualities of drawing. In showing the stages of a digital illustration of Katie Couric, he starts with his initial pencil sketch of Couric's face. It is terrific-- smart, robust, lively, sensitive and opinionated. He then pastes the face into a digital image and finishes the illustration digitally. You can observe the different qualities that come into play as the image progresses.

David Apatoff said...

Brian, I was not really advocating communism; the antecedent for my joke may have been lost because some of the commenters deleted their earlier comments, but this was just my flippant way of responding to the dichotomy between individual work and group work (would it be better if I said "corporate" work?)

Traditionally, the art of communism has been very conservative and hide bound and bureaucratic. If you're looking for radical art, crackling with innovation, give me capitalism any time. But I fear that individuals will not be able to produce work like Wall-E, and that may set new paradigms in art.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if Fluharty is a fair comparison since he only recently got into digital art but you are right about his drawing, it is great, and so are his oil painting studies in your post about him. Thanks.


Laurence John said...

i don't think my question was so bad that it warranted deletion.

marctaro said...

IMO the vast team of artist and engineers that are require to create a film like WallE - is a temporary situation. In a few years the solo artist will be able to do everything themselves, and we'll return to the paradigm in which the author is an individual.

David Apatoff said...

Laurence, I never delete any question or comment that is not obvious advertising spam. You can say anything you want here (although yesterday I did delete a couple of comments at the specific request of the commenter who wanted to withdraw something he said). Whatever your question was, it did not come through for some reason. I hope you will try again.

António Araújo said...

kev, it's ok, just a misunderstanding. Back to business:

>Circuitry. It translates data >into electronic signals which get >filtered through code functions.
>Reality. Its made of stuff.

Look, I am really trying to make sense of this. What is "stuff"? first, you can forget the code, in the end it's just configurations of electrical circuits. So, ok, it's electrons flowing around. The point is, what's the difference? If you use charcoal, it is still electrons flowing around. This is not a matter of opinion, at the molecular level it's pretty much the same. At the operacional level, it's in both cases physical feedback to your fingers and hand-eye coordination. The difference is that you have culture and you know how a computer works. But if you knew nothing of it and I just gave you a cintiq and told you to (freehand) draw on it would just be something that responds to your touch by making marks, just like pen an paper, though with its peculiarities, but no more peculiar than the crazy way watercolor flows around.

Then there's the matter of the copies/ lack of original. If you can agree that indeed there is the same problem with some types of prints, then i am satisfied - my point is that it's nothing new and it doesn't stop something from being art.

>The reason I say "nano" is >because the units of cyber paint >need to be small enough to escape >recognition by both the eye or >hand,

ok, but that you get just by having enough resolution.

> in order for it to be a >true >oil paint substitute.

That's a different point, of course. I am not talking about substituting anything, but about digital as its own thing. Of course, that matter is interesting in itself.

António Araújo said...

>Traditional will always be more >appealing to me. Why? Texture, >technique and It's real. there is >more that traditional says that >digital could never say and it's >the little things that make >something great, the organic >things of a piece if you will.

I won't go into the "it's real" again. But for the rest - it seems like it's always a comparison between digital vs everything-else-at-once. Ok, digital doesn't have (as of now) a lot of texture. But does an ink drawing have a lot of texture? People will do ink drawings on smooth paper and not complain of lack of texture. It's just one type of material you can use. So digital does not have texture. Big deal. My point is that there is nothing special here. Some "real" materials are big on texture, some are not. Some techniques use colour, some do not. Nobody complains that charcoal is so limited because it is monochrome! You use it for its strenghts and if you want color you use something else. But suddenly there is something weirdly wrong and special about digital because it cannot have the same texture as oil, cannot be set up as easily as paper and pencil, etc. Hey, it is none of those. It is just what it is - just another material. And techniques? It has it's own. Just like pencil, just like oil (wanna compare those two?). the limitations of each of those materials don't make you think that what is done in them is not art, so why do the limitations of digital cause that reaction?

Maybe it is just that it is too new. I bet people went crazy discussing oils when they were invented. I bet somebody said it was corrupting art and was not real painting :)

But i am not saying there is no problem. I am saying that the problem is badly stated. I am not really sure what the real problem is. We intuitively perceive something but to make its nature clear is often very hard. But one has to start by eliminating the wrong statements. Maybe it is in part a much simpler problem. I too prefer to draw in a piece of paper most of the time. Why? Because the damn computer is not too good, the software is still bug-ridden, my processor is not as fast as I want, I need more Ram, the texture of the screen should be different, my pen could be better balanced, etc, etc. Meaning: the material is not very good as of yet. But hey, i used to hate gouache. Why? I had some real bad gouache around the house. I couldn't get a good consistency, it kept changing color too much, it wasn't opaque enough. Now I got a good brand of gouache and i love it. What you are feeling about digital is just that the material is still not too good. The software gets in the way and you cannot loose yourself in the act of painting. Well, I bet the first oils were really crappy too.

Or maybe the problem is calling it "digital materials". It is too vague. We don't talk of "non-digital" materials. We speak of oil, watercolor. We are specific. If we say "I have this tool, "photoshop+wacom on a mac", then we can see more clearly what we hate about it, and what is essential about that and what it not and can be corrected in the next digital tool. A big part of what I hate in my hp tablet is just the vista crap that makes me waste precious seconds and stops me from starting on an idea spontaneously. So that lack of spontaneity It is not a limitation of digital art, it is a limitation of my crappy specific tool, just like with those bad gouaches.

David: about the "disrobing principle", of course it is tongue in cheek but at the same time it isn't. You obviously got most of the point, i do have some nuances to make but I am literally falling asleep on top of the keyboard, so it'll have to wait a bit. Have a good evening everyone.


kev ferrara said...

Just because there's no original, that doesn't mean we aren't dealing with art.

On the diff. between a digital tablet that translates motion and pressure and an actual piece of charcoal pencil moving and pressing into paper, I'll stand by what I have already written.

Re: Inking: Fyi, pen strokes dig into the paper, and thickly brushed ink areas sit on the surface.

The point of my nanopaint idea is to get the best of both worlds, goppy existentially verifying oils, with infinite undo. If such a thing were invented, the material could be programmed after being brushed on the canvas to do things undreamed of by the old masters. Like changing chroma, value and hue, while staying the same stroke shape. Or becoming the texture of watercolor, or flake metal auto paint, or clay or neon or fur. Or cleaning itself off of your best brush.

Antony Hare said...

Another lively discussion. I think tools, all of them, obfuscate. That's the side effect of using one thing to accomplish another. Hegel taught us that.

I tend to keep quiet on digital versus analog debates because they typically rest on the current state of technology and not the concepts in play. I think there is a difference in kind between digital art and analog art but not when it comes to appreciation. And we all know there's more to art than just appreciation.

I'm interested in what those differences offer, not what they cost. We are, after all, not precluded from just sticking to pencils after all.

I tend to simply jump to the end. The tests. They're there. And writers like you, David, know what they are. We shouldn't get bogged down in atomic talk; if it were not for the sun none of us would even be here. Indeed we should concentrate on what digital art does afford: infinite multiplicity, relative costless distribution, and the augmenting of choice on the part of the artist, as a result. And since I think so much of art depends on choice, I think this is a very cool side effect of working digitally.

In any case, thanks for keeping things interesting, David.

Matthew Adams said...

A true artist might work digitally (with all ten digits ;P) while the electricity is flowing because of what it offers, but once the power turns off they will feel the need to create anyway. They might not have picked up the skill to use a burnt stick on a cave wall before the apocalypse, but they will start experimenting and learning.

True artist will always experiment with their tools (and yes, I am giggling as I write this) to get the desired effect. I don't see experimenting with and using digital methods being any different.

And now, just to get all macho and stuff, imagine if it was two warriors arguing over the same thing. One warrior says "I only use the knife, don't like using them fancy new fangled guns, I think you call them. Guns make it too easy to kill and there is something much more real about the way the knife rips into flesh... yeah, gotta use the knife. Plus the chicks dig it more. They love it when you use the knife to remove their clothes"
The second warrior pulls out his gun, shoots the first warrior, and shrugs. He then walks off with the first warrior's girlfriend.

(That little bit above was done for fun, and probably has no relevance to the post).

Chris said...

A true knife artist would have been faster on the draw. His greater social awareness would have predicted what might happen and his acuter sense of vision and spacial awareness would have found the cowboy's jugular from a distance and with no little skill. The girls would be astonished. And more so when he used an unstinting gaze to record what had happened and sketch the corpse from a variety of angles. He would draw the cowboy's grieving widow's grief. He would remove the boots for pathos and effect, and draw the naked feet. He would draw the vultures that tapped away at dead man's wacom. In this way he would be adding to a formidable body of acquired symbols and characters that he would use to lecture the judges and plead guilty to murder on the basis of heightened responsibility.


António Araújo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
António Araújo said...

Things Artistic (per the disrobing principle)

1-tools(ordered from most to least artistic)

1a-paper and charcoal


3c-Old battered Leicas

4c-noisy DSLR cameras


measuring values by squinting

measuring lengths with a brush

Things that are not artistic ( per the disrobing principle )





silent point and shoot cameras

video cameras


measuring values with munsell chips

measuring lengths with a compass

(from such empirical considerations a true measure of Art will be achieved at last :))

António Araújo said...


>they typically rest on the >current state of technology and >not the concepts in play.

agreed. Evidence for that is that kev for instance would be ok with the right sort of digital - anything close enough to his own judgement to his nano oil substitute.

Here is what I would ask for (I'm less demanding): no lag time, auto and reliable paralax calibration, instant response to fast strokes, light and portable (multi) touch screen, good and reliable color, matte surface with good drag (replaceable surface for different texture), no specular reflexions, and passive pixels (reflection instead of emission) such as e-ink is supposed to be (I never seen that yet) but in colour. Oh, and good battery life. Then I'd finally trade my moleskine for digital. Wait, scratch that, I still don't think it would cause the disrobing effect :)


>Re: Inking: Fyi, pen strokes dig >into the paper, and thickly >brushed ink areas sit on the >surface.

True, but irrelevant for the argument. Take inking with a brushpen as the example. Then it always sits on the surface. And you could argue it still has thickness variations - but not at the level one really notices or cares about, so that would really be just for the sake of argument.

David: I agre with the free 200 points. Anyone can point at the smiling baby and make a movie whose subject of itself causes an emotional reaction. But I reaffirm that the disrobing principle is the lithmus test. You have to show your portfolio to the girl, that's what sells you or not. She will demand to see a lot of work and she will soon realize if your one appealing accidental movie was just that. She will evaluate the whole "oeuvre". She will lift her nose up in disdain at any amount of cute home movies just as she will at any amount of random strokes of charcoal. But if you have a portfolio of very incise, perceptive, technically acomplished movies that you made, and if you make a good "artist's statement" :D (why? she wants proof you really spend time thinking about your art) she will pose for your camera, just as she will if your past charcoal drawings are worthy. It is when she disrobes that you know you have achieved Art with your media of choice - the 200 free points can't help you with that...unless you get a girl who is a really bad art critic (hooray! :D) of course, but then again so would she disrobe for a faux-painter with a portfolio of crappy abstract strokes of charcoal that a monkey could do, so what? Even in the art world so many turds hang up on gallery walls and are praised to the sky. There is a matter of human error and bad taste always involved, that is why you should get as reviews as possible know, in of self discovery...

chris: Knifes? What are those geeky contraptions? True men use their teeth! :)

kev ferrara said...

>>Re: Inking: Fyi, pen strokes dig >into the paper, and thickly >brushed ink areas sit on the >surface.

True, but irrelevant for the argument. Take inking with a brushpen as the example. Then it always sits on the surface. And you could argue it still has thickness variations - but not at the level one really notices or cares about, so that would really be just for the sake of argument.>>

What I wrote was perfectly relevant to the point at hand. Except to the person who "doesn't notice and doesn't care." The fact that you don't notice or care is NOT AN ARGUMENT.

Learn the difference.

If you're going to keep on making inane points about a pen tablet being the same as a pencil because the world is made of subatomic particles, I'm just going to declare you the winner of the argument. Congrats... YOU WIN!

Your solid gold trophy, valued at $25,000, will arrive by email shortly.


António Araújo said...

come on kev, you cannot really argue that with a brushpen thickness of ink on the surface is really a major point, as it is in oils. And even if it was barely reasonable to do so, that is just circling around the real point, which I could make - and already did before - by referring to an airbrush instead. But if you wish you can of course just keep on pointing out details that though true in themselves are just technicalities that you only bring up to muddle the main point and we can do this all day 'till nobody learns anything. There is the accidental in each example, and there is the essential. If I gave you a brushpen that would leave perfectly uniform thickness puddles on a perfectly smooth paper you would use both brush and paper without bringing up any of these points that you do for digital, merely commenting that the materials in question were not of the finest quality you had met with and that perhaps you'd prefer others. You are just holding the line at any cost, even that of mockingly leaving me with "posession of the field". So I give up.

My interest is in getting somewhere and learning something, not in winning or losing arguments.
Especially as you are getting agressive again, and I simply don't have the patience for that when I haven't called for it in any way. I could have made the same points I did while pestering you with "fiy" on the most trivial of observations (I do draw every single day, you know - and though I may be daft I did notice a thing or two about ink) or arrogant and condescending ("learn the difference") on what I may think are your errors or failings in logic, or other snide remarks at every step, like misrepresenting my point and then calling it inane (the pen touches the screen just as much as the pencil touches the paper, that's all I said, not some appeal to subatomic whatever, if you'd care to read the meaning carefully). I found insults unecessary - an argument should stand by itself - and I kept ignoring yours, but really I prefer to call it quits. And no need to apologize again, I am not offended, just disapointed and bored with those remarks. You're in your right to be colourful, but some people do it in an amusing way and I don't think it was your case this turn. Ignore it, It's just a personal preference. I did my best, now I'll move on from our sector of the discussion as it isn't going anywhere I'd care to go. Let the field remain in possession of itself.

António Araújo said...

David, for some strange subconscious reason I remembered one thing that I always found amusing.

A teacher of mine in a life drawing class was arguing that drawing from the model is very different from drawing from a photo. And then he said "the difference is that you have two eyes, and you get lots of different information from that".

Ant then he proceeded to take measurements... holding the brush and, of course, closing one eye.

Obviously he was right, there is a difference. We all can intuitively notice a difference exists. But it is a matter for careful, tiresome deliberation to isolate it from first appearances.

(I wondered by the way if one-eyed people could just go home and work from photos - it's like Zen: lots of people trying to sit in strange positions with flower names in order to reach enlightenment and I just wonder if leg amputees are therefore barred from nirvana (Zen is not daft, btw, there is a koan that I think answers the question with a resounding no though it doesn't refer to sitting or to legs in any explicit way))

António Araújo said...


>We shouldn't get bogged down in >atomic talk;

I agree with that. My point is that if we think about what the thing is to our senses, it is just another art material with its own specific material properties, and that's all.

But if we insist in arguing on what we know instead of what we physically sense in interaction then we'll have arguments like I am not really touching the pixels, my actions are being translated by software, etc. But if we go that path then there is no natural barrier to stop the inquiry from going even further down in scale and noticing that in fact then there is always some translating going on in any material - whether by engineering or the laws of physics - from the motion of our hands into quite similar feats of electromagnetism that really don't involve a real point of contact at all.

So my position is in fact the same as yours: it doesn't matter for the purpose. No use going down to philosophical objections of what is real or not, not at the level of engineering details, nor at the deeper physical level. For our concerns as users it is just a material, with its own material properties. I touch it like any other material, I feel that with my hands, and cause visible marks to appear, marks that may have some beauty. And though it has some weaknesses as a material, it also has some specific strengths, like the ones you mentioned. That's all.

Jack Ruttan said...

Just dropping in to say, I can't think of an art form that's been superceded by technology. Silent film, I suppose. But high-tech won't supplant human art. Changes it, as photography did, and maybe not all to the better. But I think of the electronic stuff as another tool in the arsenal.

I get a kick out of doing things by hand. Even though I don't grind my own colours, or cut my own nibs. Steel nibs were a blessing, now, as was repro photography. Though that misses the wonderful hand colour separations done by the artisans who printed Caldecott's books, for example. Maybe that art is missing, also. Like hand retouching. Still, there are usually some throwback old coots to continue practicing. :)

Kev Fan said...

>>If I gave you a brushpen that would leave perfectly uniform thickness puddles on a perfectly smooth paper you would use both brush and paper without bringing up any of these points that you do for digital, merely commenting that the materials in question were not of the finest quality you had met with and that perhaps you'd prefer others<<

This is exactly why you are wrong and Kev is right, because, while your brushpen is a good analogy for the digital tools - it simply doesn't exist. Its only a construction. A real brushpen behaves different, and it's exactly this difference Kev is talking about. See? You big master of logic :-)

David Apatoff said...

Jack, "high-tech won't supplant human art" altogether, but I think it is already nibbling away at human art and may perhaps even redefine it in material ways. That is what I am most interested in hearing about from people closer to the digital movie industry than I am. If you compare my film clip of Coraline to to the graphic novel illustrated by P. Craig Russell, the former is so much more seductive and entrancing, it's hard to come to any conclusion but that the latter art form-- flat art on printed pages-- will have trouble attracting audiences in the future.

Antony, I agree that digital versus analog debates typically rest on the current state of technology, although I think a number of commenters have tried to adjust for that by casting their minds down the road to what digital tools may be like when they are no longer tethered to our common sense notions of analog art making. Analog art tools make marks based on the laws of nature-- ink flows with the laws of hydrology and charcoal operates with natural friction. Kev and Omwo have talked about how closely digital tools can emulate that natural effect, but down the road digital tools may not no longer bother to try-- after all, they follow only man made rules. Algorithms and source code that can change nature's rules to make ink flow uphill.

Anonymous said...

>This is exactly why you are wrong and Kev >is right, because, while your brushpen is >a good analogy for the digital tools - it >simply doesn't exist.

One points to idealizations just so as to eliminate side issues that are irrelevant to the matter. There is no such thing as a material point but try discussing physics without it and you have a big mess. Try discussing "point of contact" without abstraction and you find there is no such thing. Try discussing what a straight line is.
Anyway, in this case I don't even need that abstraction to be considered valid, I just meant the ideal example should make clear that the objection concerning ink thickness was just a stubborness that the imaginary experience should make clear. Meaning, you would not object to the reality of the material if it *could* be made. The fact that it can't be made is irrelevant. And yes, that last bit is just logic. If I am arguing that A implies B and you contest that I have no A, so what? I said nothing about that, nor is it relevant to the implication.

Anyway, an ordinary brushpen on some types of paper behaves much as that ideal brushpen. One can still claim, correctly, that there is a thickness to the ink. But although one can claim that he personally finds that thickness essential and has superhuman powers to access its variation (which you really can't with the brushpen I use often and at least some very ordinary types of paper that behave well enough with it unless indeed you do have superhuman powers of observation) and that claim cannot be securely denied since I can't very well look through his eyes, one can at least claim that for a big part of the users of such brushpens, and some of them certainly with unquestionable artistic abilities, the thickness of the ink once on the paper in this case is not a factor. And yet in that case one would still not treat the brushpen as something philosophically different or less "real" than a big brush loaded with oil. And in any case I can again forget the brushpen and invoque the airbrush, if you don't like it, and I wonder what point if contact is there and why point of contact is anyway important. If you can achieve your point of contact by throwing vaporized particles into the air currents, I wonder why you are concerned with electronic wires mediating the effect instead.

My main argument is still the same: if you didn't knew how a computer worked, if you were some remote savage, and I made you use a cintiq or an airbrush, you would look at them as both stunning materials, but none less real than the others. You would make visible marks by holding stuff in your hands.

The only way you are going to make the difference between analog and digital be the reality of the thing is by just claiming the word real to mean what you want. I have no objection to that, but then there is no point discussing anything, is there?

Antonio (omwo)

Kev Ferrara said...

"The only way you are going to make the difference between analog and digital be the reality of the thing is by just claiming the word real to mean what you want. I have no objection to that, but then there is no point discussing anything, is there?"

Since you haven't convinced anyone of the merits of your position, do you think it falls within the realm of possibility that you are the one using the word "real" incorrectly?


Hard to believe "experts" could be fooled by that terrible fake Vermeer. It doesn't even look like the artist who did it was trying to fake Vermeer. It looks more like a bad attempt at composing like Caravaggio using a weak imitation of the painting style of Velasquez.

raphael said...

i do think its a bit farfetched to state that omwo didnt convince anyone. also, convincing people is irrelevant to the truth or the point of an argument.

personally, i dont see what the big deal is. insisting on real vs. not real boils down to whether there is a final artifact you can bang your head on if you wanted. i dont see how that is related to the qualities that make pictures pictures, and to the qualities that make art art.

if the realness issue had any weight, photography would have ceased to be art with the advent of digital photography.

the original pictorial quality is to have a dimension of pure visibility without real existence. look at any painting hanging on a wall - there are houses, landscapes, people, and things with no correlating equal in the real world that exist in the confines of visibility only. the key thing seems to be the duality of things being there (visually) and at the same time not being there (realness).
so yeah, digital imagery can only be displayed and created when electricity is available, the computer doesnt crash etcetera... other media have similar dependencies. photography without light isnt a very fulfilling endeavour. so is drawing without the material presence of drawing materials. all kinds of traditional media are dependend of light and a working visual apparatus of the viewer to be seen, too. lights off in the louvre -> no more mona lisa smile.

i see how you kept arguing about the differences in the actual hands-on process of working digitally versus traditionally. no one is going to argue that the direct sensation of rough paper and charcoal is something entirely different from the process of having a plastic nib glide over a plastic surface and have the pictorial result be realized through algorithmical processes instead of mechanical or chemical ones.
but again, where is that relevant?
is music played on a keyboard less music than music played on a piano? what about music thats synthesized beyond even touching actual instruments? sure, its absolutely and utterly different from the hands-on experience of hitting drums with hands or feeling the vibration of a violin or whatever - but its not relevant to the question whether its music or not.

i see how these qualities of traditional media are something unique, and something worthwhile to pursue, if for nothing else than the sensation.
but it is not touching the subject whether digital pictures are pictures or not.
and please, let the question whether any picture is an art picture be a matter of the picture alone, not its genealogy or any other quality irrelevant to its being a picture.
its been tenor even around here: want to judge the quality of a picture? look at it (i.e.: at the visuality it presents). thats all there is to it, thats all the picture is. blood, sweat and tears of a painter dont add any qality to the picture. same with the picture being a touchable physical entity or not.

kev ferrara said...


I didn't mean to imply to OMWO that the general lack of agreement for his position defeated it. But I thought it should at least reduce the sense of absolute conviction he seemed to carry about it.

Nobody is arguing that digital art isn't art.

The question is whether there is something lost in the creation of purely digital artwork... some ineffable quality that has no corollary in cyberspace. I believe there is. In fact, I believe there are many essential qualities of an original work of art that can't be duplicated outside of reality. It would take a book length essay, 4 marathon painting and drawing sessions, and 12 trips to museums to explain my position. So, for right now, if you don't agree, fine.

Since you can, hypothetically, drop your camera and it can accidentally take a picture which is just as good as one taken purposefully, its really hard to say that any given photo, in and of itself, is art. Since the accidental photo conforms to your hypothetical "original pictorial quality" demand (dimension of pure visibility without real existence) it defeats your notion that your definition is even strictly related to art. A mirror conforms to your definition.

In fact, "a dimension of pure visibility without real existence" has never defined art, as even the original cave paintings had "real existence" (which is redundant and says the same thing twice). So your "original pictorial quality" notion is incorrect.

I don't know why you say "pure" visibility either in your definition. Is there impure visibility?

I just don't get your whole post.

António Araújo said...

>Since you haven't convinced >anyone of the merits of your >position, do you think it falls >within the realm of possibility >that you are the one using the >word "real" incorrectly?

of course it does fall within the realms of the possible that I am wrong. You just did very little to convince me (and anyway the issue was hardly on the correct dictionary meaning of "real"). And you, kev, may you be wrong? Or is it presumptuous to even ask?

Kev, I am a professional mathematician. Everyday I get proven wrong by people smarter than me. I am immune to the pain. It's part of the job decription. I listen to their arguments carefully. If i don't understand a step I say so, and they explain it in a different way. When it's all done, if it seems they were right, I say "I get it". Then I say "Thank you". Because they have improved my understanding, and saved me time. Harbouring an error is costly.

But you know, those people never in my recollection have appealed to the judgement of the crowd to convince me I was wrong. Since when did democracy determine truth?
(And really, if it did, one would expect that you would at least cast a ballot. Do your superpowers now include (beyond seeing the thickness variations of a brushpen stroke) reading people's minds? Have you gone mad with popularity, rock star crazy, just because you have a fan on the internet? :p)

As I said, I am used to be proven wrong. But not by counting opinions pro or against. feeble as my mind may be, kev, it is all that I can trust. So it all depends on your arguments and my ability to understand them. I am willing, kev, I am. I don't argue like a politician, kev. I don't dismiss arguments or hide them under rude remarks. I tried to answer as best I could every point you raised. You dismissed or ignored most of mine. You didn't even manage to understand what I meant sometimes, and it's not because you are dumb, it's because you didn't bother. You were too busy trying to prove yourself right to other people to even think about it. That's why I quit on you. You are arguing like a politician on some imaginary run for office. You fret about seeming right, not about being. It's within your right, but I don't care for that specific game. I find it boring to have a conversation with people who aren't listening.


ps: About the Vermmer fakes, this may be instructive, it's a series I've been reading on the new york time regarding the subject:

Very apropos, a big part of it is people believing what they want to believe, and never daring admit they might be wrong once publicly commited to an opinion.

António Araújo said...

ok, so now you are defining what your thesis is.

>The question is

ok, here we go

>whether there is >something lost >in the creation of >purely >digital artwork...

ok, so that is the question. If "something" is lost when its purely digital. By comparison to what? To when it isn't. Ok. We still don't know what the something is, but that's ok. Let's go on.

> some ineffable quality that has >no corollary in cyberspace.

Ineffable meaning it can't be described in words. This is gonna make for a pretty hard to discuss thesis unless you are careful later.

"no corollary in cyberspace"?

Corollary doesn't mean what you seem to think it means. It means a thesis trivially deduced as a particular case of the first thesis. What you mean is "an equivalent". It doesn't sound as cool but at least it is correct. In "cyberspace" means what? Again the word is the wrong one, but this time I can't even guess what you mean. You mean in a hard disk, in a psd file format, what? In cyberspace usually just means "on the network".

>I believe there is.

Great. You have a vague intuition. That's how it always starts. But now the onus is on you to make a thesis out of it.

>In fact, I believe there are many >essential qualities

ok, it is something essential. I'll remember that

of an >original work of art

We'd have to discuss what original means to you. Because you use words in quite particular senses, as for example:

>that can't be duplicated outside >of reality.

There. What is "outside of reality"? Is a computer's hard disk outside of reality? I'm holding one in my hands right now, kev. Feels pretty real. Tiff's don't live "in cyberspace", kev, they are collections of physical memory states in some device. Even on the network, they are actually physically stored in some computer. "In cyberspace" is just a metaphor.

>It would take a book length >essay, 4 marathon painting and >drawing sessions, and 12 trips to >museums to explain my position.

Either that or a coherent sentence with unambiguous words usage. What you are doing is what mathematical physicists call hand waving.

But since it would take you all those essays and marathons to explain, what you are saying is that you haven't actually made the argument. You haven't actually explained. It is still quite innefable. What a wonder I don't agree. Remember the onus of translating your intuiton into a proper thesis was on you?

Here is something we say often in maths, in these situations: The problem is that at the moment you aren't even wrong.

>So, for right now, if you don't >agree, fine.

Does that go for me too? What a relief. We finally agree on something: on disagreeing.
And that is perfectly agreeable to me.

This is as far as I go in this matter. I go on vacations tomorrow so feel free to tear my arguments to pieces in absentia. I won't go over this again. I just recalled that whole adage about the special olympics and arguing over the net.

So adieu, and all that.

(exeunt - curtain falls)

Unknown said...

Really interesting discussion academic type of flame war, but still very enlightning. I'll have to side with OMWO's thoughts, but that doesn't mean that I find Kev's thoughts without meaning. keep up the good discussion!

kev ferrara said...

OWMO, you can imagine what I think of your arguments about my word usage. The rest of your points have already been addressed.


I wanted to add the names of Gregg Manchess and Donato Giancola to Mian Situ's.

raphael said...


sorry, english isnt my first language. at times, some german structures or wordings may sneak in.

the quality of visibility only really is not related to art at all, youre right. but i never expressed that either. :) however, its a definition of what a picture is, and i think, its a pretty good one. sure, an accidental photo provides a picture which is just as much a picture as helmut newton photographs or a van gogh, or cave paintings.
whether any picture is an art picture, is a different question - and since you say youre not arguing that digital art isnt art, we agree that the quality of being art is very much irrelevant to the medium used.

i am sorry to have missed your point of there being something lost.
well, sure there is. i dont think anyone is going to argue that. the sensation of drawing with charcoal on paper is a very different one than drawing with a wacom pen on an ever-the-same slick surface.

the question that remains is: are these differences relevant - and about what kind of relevance are we talking?

i thought the argument about digital art not being real to be geared towards the relevance of how much something digital is worth being considered an actual thing, thus i derailed about digital pictures being as much pictures as traditional media pictures.

sure, we lose the qualities of having a touchable original artifact - just the same as with woodblock prints and photography.

we are dependent of a very specific circumstance, electricity, to be able to make the pictures appear. were dependent of light (sun, light bulbs -> electricity) for that anyway - and often dependent of very complex "translation" machinery to make the stuff appear. think movie projectors or cd players.
being dependent of a computer and electricity doesnt seem to be losing something that hasnt been lost in several cases already.

we also lose a very specific sensible interaction while crafting. of course, without there being a physical artifact worked on, we cant interact with it in a direct physical "feelable" way. however, airbrush really is a good example, i think. as is playing a keyboard versus playing a real piano. sure, differences all the way. but no "new" differences.

we also lose something when we switch from pastels to charcoal. its not so ineffable and it has no real equivalent in the charcoal world: color.
the far realm of different media is defined by losing and gaining lots of somethings.

when we agree in the point that digitally produced stuff can be as much pictures as any picture and as much art as any piece of art, were down to talking personal preference.
thats fine and worthwhile, too, but its not the kind of discussion about "hard" qualities and logics, as preferences dont need to be anything but personal decisions. they can be perfectly based on feelings and sympathy/antipathy - but were not talking about right and wrong anymore.

a reason to feel uneasy about digital art for you doesnt need to be for anyone else - its interesting nevertheless to talk about these different views, as it widens our horizon, but the preferences themselves cant be proven right or wrong. of course, when you name a logical reasoning for your preference, that reasoning can be argued, as antonio did.

finally, lest i forget it: pure visibility is using the word pure like in kants critique of pure reason: pure visibility is visibility only - pure reason is reason only, without experience. i guess it was a bit of a bad choice, as the german original is much less misleading.

Anonymous said...

Kev "Since you haven't convinced anyone of the merits of your position, do you think it falls within the realm of possibility that you are the one using the word "real" incorrectly?"

Just because us lurkers don't always speak up doesn't mean Omwo didn't convince us. You sound like more of a bully than Rob. There is no right and wrong.


kev ferrara said...


Are you "convinced" of his position RQ, or are you just "interested" in his position?

If you aren't convinced, then you should agree that there should be room for humility in the argument. An effort to spread humility is hardly bullying. I'm sure you'll agree.

And even if you are convinced by his argument, there should be humility nonetheless. All I was trying to do was to get him to admit he might be in error, and he agreed to the possibility. If he's fine with that, so am I. (Not that it matters, as Rob would say.)

However, there are personal convictions about existential facts of existent art which simply can't be demonstrated through some anonymous online forum. In those cases, what more is there to say?

kev ferrara said...

Raphael, we are generally in agreement.

Some points: As you know, the piano itself severely limits many areas of expression. The notes are predetermined, can't bend, or vibrato, and from key to string there is rather strict machinery that only hammers (not plucks, not sweeps, not scrapes) the notes. The notes also have a narrow tonal range, even with the addition of the pedals. The choice of the 12 tones, while logical, is also severely limiting.

In this sense, a piano is already a kind of digital instrument.

Thus the jump from piano to electronic keyboard is a rather small one. Especially that an electronic keyboard can offer vibrato and note bending, and tonal changes.

Even so, even with all that, a live piano sound in an open room has no comparison. The keyboard can't duplicate the feeling and resonance. Unless one has experienced both a great piano in a live room and the best simulation of it on a synth, there is no use discussing the differences and whether they matter.

Existent Art, though, has much less stricture than the piano, much more freedom. There are no set 12 tones, millions of colors, shapes and textures are available, it can be done at any size, you can bring in collage elements, it has tactility, the artifacts of the handicraft, and many other qualities that require physical scrutiny to appreciate, including the transparent versus opaque phenomenon, which hasn't yet been discussed.

Lastly, I don't think the existence of an "original" is a matter of opinion. And while the nature of an "original" can be argued philosophically, that philosophical argument would generally fall into the category of "word games." The nature of an existential object is not effected by how we name it or discuss it. There is a limit to the power of language and pure reason.

(Btw, the more I read of German Idealism, the more jealous I am of native German speakers. You have an incredible intellectual legacy.)

raphael said...


thats what i thought, regarding opinions not differing much. i also think that yours and antonios dont differ all that much.

i agree, visual art in itself is very freeform - but so is music. the moment you bring in a medium, or a set of media, you restrict some possibilities and are well prepared for fully exploiting others.
my main point with the piano argument was that it features the difference of actual action versus mere invoked algorithms, just the way as it appeared in the discussion.

with digital work, we do limit the possibility of there being one original artifact (with all that physicality offers as unique features), thats for sure.
its an opinion of whether its important. it didnt seem to be important for woodblock prints and photography that its part of the final products nature to be reproducable, and one amongst potentially many specimens.

actually, the lack of a hands-on original to present and say "this is it" has been a gripe both of my parents had and still have with digital painting. while i acknowledge that this is true, it doesnt matter to me. its something i sacrifice gladly, as a lot of us sacrifice color when sketching with a pencil.

can we arrange with:
of course, theres something lost (discussed at length).
there is not everything lost (antonio mentioned the basic similarity of wacom pen versus pencil).
there also are things gained (some methods unique to the digital workflow, painting with emitted light natively).

(well, there sure happened a lot in german speaking philosophy from kant to husserl and heidegger, and being able to access it in its native language sure is a huge bonus. however, it took me some years to learn english sufficiently to enjoy the intricacies of english literature - which are many, too. actually, its the same medium question again: there is something lost when translating a thought that fits naturally in the grammatical possibilities of german. but that doesnt make english any worse. can you imagine how troubling it is to stuff every sentence with enough grammatical bloat until it sounds like something? thats not a problem english has... english sounds wonderful at the simplest structural uses)

David R. Darrow said...

Interesting side note: Walter Keane lived in an expensive Retirement Community in Carlsbad, CA. I presume he has passed away since I last saw him at the same place I frequently found him asking the young ladies to dance at the Coyote Bar and Grill in Carlsbad, West of State Street and Grand. I saw him there between 1999 and, I think, about 2001.

He must have been 90 if not 150 at the time, and would sit at the outdoor live-band area, asking young beautiful women to dance with him. They often complied with him, I presume because he was so old and frail as to be considered harmless.

I never saw the man smile, but after a dance, he would autograph a postcard of some kind and take it to the lady.

Curiosity ogt the better of me, so I just walked up and asked him if I could "please have one of those?"

He signed it and handed it to me.

It was a printed Margaret Keane illustration with a caption that credited him as the creator. He was autographing them as if he actually believed he was the creator.

The truth was well-known around those parts, and people talked about him and that story whenever he was around.

David Apatoff said...

David Darrow: Thanks for adding a very interesting ending to the Keane story. I had heard that when Walter persisted in claiming credit, a San Francisco newspaper arranged a televised painting competition between Walter and Margaret. At the last minute, he didn't show up. Life magazine watched Margaret paint and declared her the winner. Apparently that humiliation wasn't enough to make Walter change his mind. I hope you kept his autograph, it is a collector's item. (PS-- I enjoyed your blog on art meeting technology).

Kev / Omwo / Raphael, I am enjoying (and learning from) your running dialogue, but some pressing business obligations have kept me from jumping on board fast enough to keep up with the pace of your exchange. I hope to participate in a more meaningful way shortly, if you are still going. But thanks for your thoughts.

Jesse Hamm said...

Thanks, guys, for the addenda on the Keane story. Seems that it just gets sadder and stranger.

What I find really weird is that, if he wanted to continue passing himself off as the artist, he could have just learned to paint those pictures himself. After all, it's not like they required exceptional skill. With a few years of practice, he could probably have painted them as well as Margaret, at least to any casual observer, and could have continued perpetuating the myth (and selling the paintings) with no further threat of exposure. "My shoulder really was sore at the time -- but look! I can paint these as well as ever."

Anthony said...

88 comments! Amazing.

I love the story of Margaret Keane and the dramatic comeuppance scene in the courtroom; and the strange, sad denouement Mr. Darrow describes.

As for the rest of it, having worked on digital feature films, and currently working on one now, I have to point out that everything starts with drawing. I have experienced no exceptions to this. As to whether it's done on paper or digitally, at some point it enters into the realm of arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. I'm sure I'm probably missing something, but that's how I see it. Love the lively discussion, though.

Matthew Adams said...

I just think it's about time some blogger recognized the importance of Margaret Keane and her importance to any discourse on the subject of Art.

This is why I keep coming back to David's blog.

Now we just need Dogs playing pool.

David Apatoff said...

Anthony, it's good to have someone working on digital feature films weighing in on this. I have heard others say what you write here, that "everything starts with drawing." But it seems to me (as an outsider) that there are at least two important differences that keep us from evaluating this art form the way that we evaluate drawing.

1.) The tool that you use to make images is not like a traditional drawing tool and the artwork that results is not evaluated like a traditional drawing. The quality of the movie depends only in small part on the abilities that were tested by the judges in the Keane and Van Meegeren cases. Instead, a lot of it seems to depend on the technology you can afford and the software you have licensed and the creativity of the programmers and computer scientists you work with. You can conceptualize whatever you want with a pencil, but the ability to achieve that hair or fabric or facial expression or movement for the audience seems to depend as much on scientists and technicians and electrical engineers as it does on the skill or talent of the person drawing. Sure, the disconnect between the artist and the audience was there in the days of Disney animation, but at least there the movie was based on the cumulative effect of all those hand drawings. The disconnect in movie making today seems qualitatively different. When I am wowed by Wall-E or Coraline, how much of that is because of the artist who drew with a pencil or a stylus on a tablet and how much of that is because of the electrical engineer with the patent?

2.) The folklore of the artist, at least in the west, is of a person who asserts creative control to realize his or her personal vision. We think about Michelangelo fighting with the Pope and the censors to bring the Sistine Chapel to fruition. In the case of digital movies, the individual artist doesn't seem to have much artistic control (at least in the eyes of outsiders). Individual drawings, with their vitality and design and nuance are in there somewhere, but where? Creative product from the artists is merged with creative product from the writers and the composers, but all of it is reviewed, screened and filtered by successive layers of oversight. In the case of Wall-E, the collaborative / cooperative result turned out brilliantly, but I'd guess that many times the process of screening art through the corporate deflavorizing machine turns out for the worse. Even in the case of Wall-E, I think the artistic statement would've been far superior without the second half of the movie. Who made that judgment call, and for what purpose?

None of this detracts from my profound regard for digital movies as an art form. I'm just trying to understand how, if digital movies are going to conquer the world, they are different from drawing, and how to think about them and understand what I like and what I don't like.

David Apatoff said...

Jesse, as you say-- "sadder and stranger."

Matthew-- yer darn tootin'... and proud of it, too!

Laurence John said...

i don't personally think that Pixar's work is art, brilliant and technically amazing though it is. It is entertainment, a collaborative venture made by a vast team of very talented people, many of whom might be artists, but have put their personal visions aside to serve the larger good of the movie. the test you describe would only be possible with one artist at a time, not a huge team effort such as Wall E.

and why is Margaret Keane 'artistically dreadful' ?

Laurence John said...

" I sometimes wonder whether in the future this marvelous art form will eclipse more antiquated art forms, such as drawing and painting "

despite the fact that we now have the option of digital media, traditional media such as pencil or paint show no sign of disappearing. on the contrary, there are probably more people using paints/pencils on the planet than ever before. the same thing was said of the internet replacing the printed book... book buying has actually increased since the digital age, not decreased.

David Apatoff said...

Laurence, you ask why I consider Margaret Keane's work "artistically dreadful." That's a fair question; here is my personal view (which I don't think is at all uncommon): even if you view Keane as an artist of the naive school (and you therefore overlook her lack of technical skill, her clumsy anatomy, perspective, use of color, etc.)naive work should still be well designed. I think that if you look at Keane's composition, her negative space, the simple minded placement of the figure in the center of the canvas, with no variety or creativity, Keane's work seems to fail that test. Keane's work also seems to me to be immature, unambitious, superficial and repetitive. It is what you might expect from a high school girl who painted the same simplistic subject again and again and again, polishing her technical ability to paint large eyes and blend facial colors, but with no growth or substance. I would liken her work to black velvet art. But that's just my taste.

As for your second point, I would like to respond on why I consider Wall-E art but I would first like to ask how you are defining art; I am notorious for having a lowbrow definition of art. I think that comic strips can be art, as can commercial art and illustrations. Measured by my permissive standards, I can tell you why I think Wall-E is art, but perhaps our difference is merely a definitional one? What excludes Wall-E from the boundaries of art for you? Are you concerned with its visual design, its commercial origins, or what?

Laurence John said...

David, my first post above sums up why i wouldn't classify Wall E as art; the part about it being a team-made piece of entertainment.

i believe art can only be made by one person without compromise. it is the INTENTION behind art that makes it art. i believe all art is expressing something eternal about the human condition. an artist KNOWS when they are attempting this. they also know when they are just producing a piece of slick audience-friendly product, though they might delude themselves they are not, and indeed many others may be fooled too.

ultimately it will all come out in the wash.

Laurence John said...

i agree about the amateurishness of Keane's work, but Henry Darger's was equally amateurish and both have been massively influential on a whole generation of so-called 'Pop Surrealists' many of whom don't have a single original idea in their head.

the painting of her's above has much in commom with painters such as Otto Dix or de Chirico with it's eerie sense of unease. She is an example of a bad artist who's INTENT is still pure, and while i'm not saying all of her work is interesting, there are still some very memorable, haunting images in there.

key word: INTENT ;)

Laurence John said...

p.s. there's loads of bad painting in Otto Dix and Edward Hopper's work too, but critics never mention it because hey, we've been told they're great artists, so let's not question it.

David R. Darrow said...

"I sometimes wonder whether in the future this marvelous art form will eclipse more antiquated art forms, such as drawing and painting"

Yes, right about the same time people stop going to symphonies altogether, cease enjoying a live string quartet, dancing to live swing bands, and piano concerts, as well as a number of other antiquated art forms.

kev ferrara said...

The core art is the narrative. Everything else is window dressing... fashion or technology or genre.

The core of Wall-E, despite the super fancy window dressing, is also simply narrative. The screenplay is the main blueprint and is the thing that ensures that the work has a meaningful core idea to which all the aesthetics unify. (Hard to deny any work that has this characteristic the label "art.")

The director and previz team gives it a "look." The director and dialogue coach and voice actors (etc) ensure the proper interpretation of the blueprint as emotional journey. The director and animators ensure the proper acting of the emotional journey, etc.

Rubens had Van Dyke, Frans Snyders, Jacob Jordaens, Theodore Van Thulden, Johan Boeckhorst, Jacques Nicolai, Peter Van Avont, and a whole bunch of others in his workshop. As far as I can tell, the works created by various combinations of the above names, still hangs in Art Museums.

I would really like to see the rule book that states, "art must be made by one person only for it to be art."

Since the nature of linear narrative is ephemeral and experiential... its tradition is to not have an "original." It is performance based.

The Image, on the other hand, because it has so many more limitations, uses everything it can get its mitts on, within its limitations, to make its message clear, including semiotic, symbolic, or experiential instructions available only with the manipulation of plastic media.


raphael said...

The quality of the movie depends only in small part on the abilities that were tested by the judges in the Keane and Van Meegeren cases. Instead, a lot of it seems to depend on the technology you can afford and the software you have licensed and the creativity of the programmers and computer scientists you work with. You can conceptualize whatever you want with a pencil, but the ability to achieve that hair or fabric or facial expression or movement for the audience seems to depend as much on scientists and technicians and electrical engineers as it does on the skill or talent of the person drawing.

i dont think it all boils down to the power of the licensed software package and the non-artist types of computer-science whizards transforming the conceptualizing artists vision into polygons and particle effects.

a) the software package: if you look at the early animation films, they chose their story universe wisely, to accomodate the limited abilities of the software/hardware packages bakc then: toy story, antz, a bugs life - but they still work as movies, and their character designs work as character designs, independently of how many polygons are spent per character, what kind of esoteric effects are used etcetera... also, see that new star wars animation. we can argue about how good it is, as a film/series and as designs, but it certainly applies a very low-tech approach that nowhere uses what rendering packages can deliver nowadays.
also, further up, the point was made that what makes wall-e so incredibly moving and makes us feel all artsy about it is how well they communicate everything with only a few basic shapes.
that there are nice effects, lots of detail in the right places, and wonderful high-resolution textures, is icing on the cake - and if the cake tells stories with the modulation of a few big shapes, i daresay that its a great cake on its own right.

b) 3d people as non-artists: while i agree, 3d programs are made by engineers who usually arent artists, the people who work the programs are artists. in my book, its no coincidence they are called 3d artists.
people who use programs like 3d studio max, maya or god knows what else, to make the figures that are starring in the film, or people who set keyframes and stuff to animate those 3d models - why dont you consider them artists? i give you that they are artists who work like a cog in a bigger plan (for example, make the models concur with the concepts, make the animation do what the storyboards spell out), but so are inkers in comics, or the people staffing the parallax cameras with animation cells and painted glass backgrounds according to what the movie is planned to look like.

they are subservient to a bigger idea, but they contribute to it in their own art craft. see how much a bad inker can ruin a pencilled comics page when he just traced it instead of translating the pencil statement to a statement that works in ink and reproduction. the same caution must be taken when making a 3d model from sketches - just tracing the outlines might not do the job - you need a three-dimensional data model that from all the important angles, carries the message the concept pieces carry for one static posture.

Laurence John said...

i agree that large works of art sometimes require the skills of others to get them finished. but it only works under the dictatorial vision of ONE artist. it has to be at the service of one person's vision.
i don't believe that art can be produced by committee.

David Apatoff said...

Laurence, I think there are two huge distinctions between Keane and Darger. First, unlike Keane's naive work, Darger's naive work is beautifully designed ( I would argue this is apparent from the examples of Darger's work that I have previously posted). They have powerful, interesting, complex compositions and vivid colors. Second, unlike Keane's work, I think Darger's work is intellectually interesting and complex (albeit in a completely twisted way). I would argue that there is no comparison between the two.

Second, you say that "i believe art can only be made by one person without compromise." I can't think of a single work of art that can be made without some form of compromise, even if it is only a compromise with gravity. The fact remains that so much art throughout history has been made collaboratively (ranging from exquisite ancient Egyptian wall painting and sculpture to Little Annie Fanny cartoons in the back of Playboy) that I think you would have a very hard time using that standard to separate art from non-art.

Laurence John said...

i wasn't comparing Darger with Keane. that wasn't the point.

i don't think design and art are the same thing but we differ there too.

colin said...

Hi David,

See, I told you you'd hit a nerve. :-)

I actually misinterpreted your post a bit, projecting it into my own experience with 2D art software rather than 3D animation. Still, I'd argue the artistic contribution is substantially from the users of the software, rather than the creators of it. There are cases where software is created for specific effects, and in some cases perhaps the software people collaborate with the other artists to create a final work. That's not unlike any film though. (Lighting, camera-work, even sound is all part of the film-making art, no?)

I would in no way sell the talent of electrical engineers short. There is art in what they do, although a different kind. But I would say that, since I am an electrical engineer. :-)

Rob Howard said...

David, thanks for the heads-up to Tom Fluharty's site. What strong and able draughtsmanship!

David Apatoff said...

David Darrow, I don't think those older art forms will ever die out completely, but I question whether old fashioned "flat" painting will remain as exciting and interesting for new generations of audiences when 3D full color holographic digital movie art can be made by individuals or be viewed on a device you carry around in your pocket. Will those older, quieter art forms seem boring? Will the MTV generation, accustomed to flashing images at breakneck speed, have the patience necesssary to appreciate slower, quieter art forms? I agree with you that people still enjoy string quartets, but most such music is on life support, subsidized by philanthropists and taxes and public radio phon-athons. Compare the audience for such music with the audience for rap music or heavy metal or country music. Each of these three types of music rakes in hundreds of millions of dollars with no subsidies.

On any given street corner, I think you are more likely to meet 100 people who can hum Britney Spears than can hum chamber music. And I suspect the odds are not improving with the passsage of time.

Matthew Adams said...

I think that we have to seperate traditional animation and 3d digital animation. At the moment we lump them under animation, but to me it has always seemed different. Traditional animation, be it hand drawn cell, or 3d model / claymation tends to have as one of it's main focus the study of movement. 3d digital animation, at least in the earlier movies like Toy Story etc, almost seemed to ignore any real study of movement. They tended to have too much movement, not enough rests, as if they had to fill the screen with as much technical wizardry as possible. I stopped watching 3d digital animations due to this (and since I haven't seen any recent computer generated animation apart from Beowulf, which had me asking why they bothered, I have to ask if this has changed in any of the recent animated movies?). Which is not to say that digital animation can't be art, I just don't think people have figured out how to use it yet.

David R. Darrow said...

These arguments crack me up.

Endless. Just endless.

David Apatoff said...

Laurence, I assumed you were comparing Keane with Darger when you wrote, "i agree about the amateurishness of Keane's work, but Henry Darger's was equally amateurish and both have been massively influential..."

In any event, you are correct that I have a fundamental bias that art should take design into consideration. If an artist is going to engage in form-creating work, then the aesthetics of form-- design, balance, harmony, tension, composition, etc.-- should not be ignored. Design and art are not the same thing, but if you are going to ignore design I think you might as well look for a different medium.

Colin, I didn't know you were an electrical engineer! I work with ee's in patent litigation and have great respect for what they do. One of the things I like best about these dialogues is when people contribute expertise from multiple disciplines.

Laurence John said...

who said i was ignoring design ? an art deco skyscraper is far more impressive an accomplishment to me than most paintings i have to look at.

but design is not art. you can't design inspiration, or design originality or design the essential quality that makes a work of art brilliant (i mean FINE art here, not commerical or applied.... i'm talking about the heavyweight stuff).
the thing that makes any work of art moving, original, sublime is the hardest thing to define. too many people here are preoccupied with technique.

i'd be willing to call Wall E a brilliant work of popular/commercial art. but not fine art. no sir.

Rob Howard said...

>>>i'd be willing to call Wall E a brilliant work of popular/commercial art. but not fine art. no sir.<<<

What examples of fine arts* contemporaneous with WALL-E would you cite as overshadowing it? I suspect that there is none and you'd have to reach back to The Good Old Days of the Baroque painters or, failing that, the inspiring postcards of the Impressionists. But that's not apples to apples.

There is a somewhat blind snobbishness that exists in the art world as it exists in automobile collection, fashion and knowing the latest hit tune or having the very latest cellphone or computer. But, as I say, it's blind.

*no fair in citing Jeff Koons. He's not allowed in this blog ;-)

Laurence John said...

so the idea is that 'fine art'as a category should be scrapped ?

or just widened to include ALL commerical art too, and render the term meaningless ?

we're willing to agree that Bach is superior to Britney Spears, but with visual arts we think Caravaggio is on the same level as 'Tintin' ? right ?

David Apatoff said...

Rob, I'm so glad that you share my view of Tom Fluharty's work. For me, he is one of those examples of the internet enhancing the arts. Not only did I discover him on the internet, but he uses his web site to share preliminary sketches and thoughts that I wouldn't see under normal circumstances. I also enjoy that Fluharty is so forthcoming about the drawbacks of working with digital art.

Matthew, I would suggest that it is time to give digital animation another look. I know what you mean about some of the early problems, but nothing stands still in this field.

Laurence, I'm not suggesting that Caravaggio is on the same level as 'Tintin' but that's not because of some elusive division between "fine" and "commercial" art. I could name dozens of commercial illustrators who are superior to dozens of fine artists. I guess I'm in the position of asking you once again for more guidance: how do you draw the boundary line between fine art and commercial?

David Apatoff said...

Rob, I'm so pleased with your appreciation for Wall-E, I'm almost willing to forgive your view of Koons!

kev ferrara said...

The word Art is just a word. And words mean according to political fashion. Since there is no dominant political fashion today, the word Art is a loose ball.

At this point in history there is nothing that won't be defended as "art" by at least somebody. There are no cloistered Art Monks that are keeping the "real" definition of Art intact. You cannot prevent some ditz on a home decoration show from proclaiming a garbage can lid "art" which goes perfect right here above the sofa.

It seems to me, then, art is only appreciated according to how its appreciators appreciate it. A sensualist wants to see gloppy brushstrokes and bright colors. A Maoist wants some revolutionary Marxism in there. An interior decorator wants it to match the drapes. Etc Etc.

Without an organized political movement, which will run dead against the ability of ditzes to sell whatever junk they make or find as Art to moneyed clients, the definition of Art will remain in limbo. And even with such a movement, the people who like something over their couch don't care what its definition is. They don't care about its qualities or meaning. Definitions are just more words, which pales in comparison to the simple enjoyment of life by people who care more about simple enjoyment than intellectual wrestling.

Which is all to say, if some piece of junk above the couch is Art, you bet Wall-E is too. Further I would encourage everybody who believes in culture to go out of their way to call Wall-E art, and the garbage can above the couch "decoration."

Political Kev

António Araújo said...

Well, I'll be damned, kev. There is something under the sun that both you, me, and Rob, seem to agree about.

It's like the bloody Wall-e fan club! I'll pass out the t-shirts!

I must be dreaming. This place will get boring. Start shooting, Laurence, this abomination must be stopped! :D


Anonymous said...

>i agree that large works of art >sometimes require the skills of others >to get them finished. but it only >works under the dictatorial vision of >ONE artist. it has to be at the >service of one person's vision.
>i don't believe that art can be >produced by committee.

Laurence: You raise an interesting point. I am not sure if I understood the distinction you are trying to make, and I would like you to clarify. It all hinges on this question:

In your definition of art is the property of being a work of art a property of the thing itself or of the process that created it?

I ask this because you say that intention is fundamental, and so is individuality. Then the following question arises: Suppose that wall-e (the exact same movie) had been created not by a studio with dozens of people and lots of team decisions over story, looks, etc, but by a single guy, locked in his basement with a single pc, following his own obsessive vision, just like Darger, working his whole life to finish the gigantic job. Suppose that in his personal view wall-e was a work of great symbolic importance and of high aesthetics, and, at the end of 30 years of hard work in his personal computer he would emerge with the exact work that we now can see.

Would wall-e in that case be a work of art, in your opinion, although, on the outside, it looked exactly like it does now?


raphael said...

antonio: id go even further.
screen both wall-es side by side, in a double-blind test.

where, in this situation, when the intention is unknown, does the art question hinge then?

Laurence John said...

when an interesting artist/director gets to make a complex adult film with the same size tool box as Pixar/Disney we might get an 'art' film made in 3D. until then we have to put up with juvenile schmaltz such as Wall E.

Anonymous said...

Here is why I think the answer is relevant.

Because if you say no, then Margaret Keane's paintings are not art either since they clearly were no deeper than wall-e in either conceptual meaning or technical skill (or are they? maybe you disagree?). Yet you said, I believe, that naive or not they were art. So at the very least there must be some other way of making the distinction that you haven't yet made explicit.

And if you say yes, then there is no art in itself without biography or artist statement. The object itself is not sufficient if you don't know how it was done. If an archeologist in the future found a copy of wall-e he wouldn't be able to say if it was a work of art or not without knowing how it had been done, because, in itself, it carries no proof of individual intention.

And in that case we cannot be sure if some highly praised work of art of the past is art or not because we really aren't sure if it wasn't done by a committee. I know it is extremely unlikely, but imagine that tomorrow somebody would find historical evidence that it was not Michelangelo but a committee of artists, constantly interfered with by a group of meddling patrons who designed and painted the ceiling of the sistine chapel. Then wouldn't it be art anymore? Ok, you may say "I don't believe such a work could be done by a comittee. " But wouldn't you say that , whether it is likely to happen or not, it cannot be proved that it is impossible, and, more important, whether it can be proved or not, and whether it is impossible or not, the statute of the sistine chapel as a work of art should be secure for what it is of itself, as an object of great beauty and technique, and not be totally dependent on our historical knowledge on how it was done?

I understand where you are trying to go with your insistence on the matter of individual intention, and I sympathize in principle. But in practice I have the hardest time trying to actually come up with a definition that insists on that point as absolute without creating a whole bunch of problems like the ones above. I wonder if the quality of being art shouldn't be ascribed to the object itself, irrespective of biography. (note to David: then, of course, you'd still have endless debates on what is good art, and crappy art, fear not a dearth of polemics! :D). But I agree with you that it smells like there is something missing in that case too. It is perhaps one of those matters where you either have incompleteness or inconsistency.

On a side note: I find the term "fine art" was probably more adequate for a time when gallery art tended to be, well, fine, as in "fine technique" and "fine materials". In the hands of today's art establishment, the use of the term "fine art" seems as presumptuous as left wing people calling themselves "progressive" just assumes too much. And then we have problems when trying to qualify further, like for instance, we'll have fine fine art and crappy fine art, which makes for a curious nomenclature :)


Anonymous said...

Laurence: ops, sorry , you answered before I sent my second post but I only saw it afterwards. So your answer is that wall-e is not art on account of lack of depth? But then how is Keane's stuff art?

I think you said she was a bad artist with pure intent. But still an artist, and her stuff still art.

So the question remains. Had wall-e been done by a single guy with what you consider terrible juvenile taste but still ernest intent, would it then be art, even if it looked just the same as it does?

Anonymous said...

Laurence: ops, sorry , you answered before I sent my second post but I only saw it afterwards. So your answer is that wall-e is not art on account of lack of depth? But then how is Keane's stuff art?

I think you said she was a bad artist with pure intent. But still an artist, and her stuff still art.

So the question remains. Had wall-e been done by a single guy with what you consider terrible juvenile taste but still ernest intent, would it then be art, even if it looked just the same as it does?


Laurence John said...

yes, as long as it had been made by one person with ernest intent it would be art. it wouldn't be fine art because it would still be an annoying little popcorn movie about an irratating cute robot.

i really doubt the people at Pixar would argue their film is fine art either. at least i hope they're intelligent enough to know the difference.

Anonymous said...


so then you find that it is ok with you if the definition of what is art or not depends upon our knowledge of how it was created and not just on the object itself? Is that a fair characterization of your position? Meaning, you cannot affirm an object is art unless you know it wasn't created by a committee?

So, if tomorrow you found that the sistine chapel's ceiling had been created by a committee you would no longer call it art, no matter how good it looks?

or am I missing some loophole in this?


Laurence John said...

"I wonder if the quality of being art shouldn't be ascribed to the object itself, irrespective of biography"

of course it should. and you should have the sensitivity to tell good art from bad.

"...but imagine that tomorrow somebody would find historical evidence that it was not Michelangelo but a committee of artists, constantly interfered with by a group of meddling patrons who designed and painted the ceiling of the sistine chapel"

i don't know about the committee of artists, but the meddling patrons sounds true. that's a commissioned piece of public art. not a good example of self-produced art.

kev ferrara said...

Laurence John...

Your definition of Fine Art is YOUR DEFINITION. If the people who made Wall-E think it is Fine Art, they are not unintelligent simply for disagreeing with YOUR OPINION of what Fine Art is.

Earnestness? What are we going to use to judge that quality, an E-meter? A psychic? Does earnestness mean that the artist didn't make any money off the work and is thereby uncompromised by crass commercial considerations?

You found Wall-E irritatingly cute? I suppose you forgot to add to your definition of Fine Art that it SHALT NOT irritate you. NOR SHALL it ingratiate itself to others.

This couldn't be the first time that someone pointed out that your opinions are not universally held.

Anonymous said...

>"I wonder if the quality of being art >shouldn't be ascribed to the object >itself, irrespective of biography"

>of course it should.

ok, then...but then you don't really mean that individual intent is a strictly necessary condition. You can still say it is a very strong condition, but it cannot be a strictly necessary one, otherwise we have a contradiction here (unless I am missing a step somewhere).


Laurence John said...


you should know when you see art that was produced with pure intent and when you see art that is commercially driven. the difference is there to be seen by you. i'm not going to point out or name the qualities which great art has to have.

Rob Howard said...

>>>so the idea is that 'fine art'as a category should be scrapped ?<<<

Huh? Where'd you come to that conclusion?

I'd better tighten the leading to prevent more such cases of reading things between the lines that are not there.

Anonymous said...

Laurence: That's ok, if you are going that way I have no objections. We can talk about art intuitively and it is fine by me. I thought you were going for a concrete definition, and that requires a greater care with strict implications. But if you don't feel like going that way I don't insist upon it either, one can simply talk about art at the personal level of judgement calls. It is probably the most interesting level anyway, though not strictly logical. I was just trying to understand if you were trying to go for a strict definition (or at least strict necessary conditions) or not, because it seemed so for a while.

I do agree that when I talk about something being art, or fine art, I mean it in that more or less undefined sense at the level of judgement calls, and it's good enough for the most part - though there is also room in life for philosophy!

We can therefore forget these fineries and restrict our disagreement to the pure and simple fact that you called wall-e godless philistine! :) That's it, that means pistols at dawn! :)


Rob Howard said...

>>>Rob, I'm so pleased with your appreciation for Wall-E, I'm almost willing to forgive your view of Koons!<<<

The ideal would be to have Pixar animate Koons' work. Imagine the terrier made of potted plants coming to life...or Michael Jackson and the chimp in outer space. A dream to be wished for.

On a matter related to this burgeoning discussion; as an artist who has more than a little background in the technical aspects of painting, the single thought that has dominated so many artists has been the search for magical paint mediums that will transform someone into another Rembrandt. Just claim to have the lost medium of Rembrandt, Rubens or Margaret Keane and the sound of wallets opening will be deafening.

The belief in such Holy Grails is quasi-religious and, as such, comes with its own degree of close-mindedness. What is apparent is the snobbishness so many have toward new media. The truth is, I have never seen a more stick-in-the-mud group than most artists.

When MIT, Nathaniel Jacobson and Liquitex combined to create the Modular System of color, it was a breakthough for any serious painters who actually knew about color theory (probably less than 10% of the brush owners). It made painting so easy and predictable. But efficiency was trumped by paints with fanciful names that indicated nothing (The Modular System named their colors after what position on the Munsell color wheel--it's hue, value and chroma).But that's uninspiring when compared to romantic names like Van Dyck Brown or Naples Yellow (I won't even discuss the silly CI numbers from ASTM)

That example of a self-defeating attitude was about paint. Now that we have new tools that Rembrandt never dreamed of, the same group immediately discounts them in much the same way that photography is discounted by "real" and oh-so "fine" artists.

The reality is that there is far more creativity happening in an applied artwork such as WALL-E than all of those damnably dull cast drawings, reiterated schoolboy nudes, single figures in search of deep meaning and endlessly rendered objects put together in a "composition" that's more of a rebus than anything meant to communicate (skull+candle-rotten apple+dead bird=the meaningless of human existence).

It seems that we really do need magic talismans and, for the True Believers all of the best ones are ancient, therefore anything new has no validity.

Puck had it right..."what fools these mortals be."

Laurence John said...

Kev, of course that's just my opinion. i thought that's what we were doing... discussing our opinions. The fact that Wall E is irritatingly cute is just one of its flaws so i wouldn't get hung up on that one. i thought the Incredibles was far superior... but not fine art either.

by your own logic, YOUR belief that Wall E is fine art doesn't make it so either.

"so the idea is that 'fine art'as a category should be scrapped ?<<<

Huh? Where'd you come to that conclusion?"

that wasn't to you Rob, but David, who has responded.

as to your question of a work that overshadows Wall E, try Cremaster 3 or 4 by Matthew Barney.

Antonio, no not strict logic at all. you're far better at that than me. i do possess common sense however, despite what may appear here.

i'm genuinely amazed that many people here see depth and profundity in a sappy robot film and even more that they are willing to call it fine art, but you're obviously easily pleased.

i have to take a break fellas, as real life (more accurately: work) beckons.


David Apatoff said...

Laurence, you write: "i really doubt the people at Pixar would argue their film is fine art either. at least i hope they're intelligent enough to know the difference." I believe some of the artists from Pixar have been reading these comments. I would be very interested in their response to your view.

I can't speak to your taste, but your standards for what qualifies as art seem pretty eccentric and at odds with most of art history, not to mention impossible to police in any kind of consistent fashion. If art is to be measured by the earnest heart and the noncommercial motive of an individual artist, you will need a polygraph (or Kev's "E-meter") to resolve its status, and even then you may not find a drawing or painting since the dawn of time that passes such a test.

But I will say this: if Rob, Kev, Antonio, Raphael and I all agree that Wall-E is a quality piece of art (a truly rare alignment of the stars and planets) that establishes it as a scientific fact.

Laurence John said...

i have high standards David, but far from eccentric. the work of Egon Schiele and Francis Bacon instantly comes to mind. i could list many more.

even if i LOVED Wall E as a movie i wouldn't call it fine art. i'm still surprised you can't see the difference.

i'd love to know what anyone from pixar thinks.

(REALLY have to go now)


Rob Howard said...

>>>as to your question of a work that overshadows Wall E, try Cremaster 3 or 4 by Matthew Barney.<<<

Ah yes. This is an example of where half a century of being a working pro must have dimmed my eyes to deeply meaningful work that will survive the centuries. Damn! If I could only recaprure those untrained eyes, I'm sure that these images of mummery would have deeper meaning. Sadly, because of the imposed distortions that must come with being deeply immersed in visual arts for so long they come away as trite displays of a craftsman's skills with paint...admirable for fans of billboard sign painters and china decorators (not to mention the perfection of almost everyone with a paintbrush in Xianchun province, or wherever those crank 'em out painters reside.

Needless to say, this is no Velazquez. Hell, it's really not as interesting as WALL-E. However, it's great for the Internet Art Appreciation Society.

Rob Howard said...

>>>even if i LOVED Wall E as a movie i wouldn't call it fine art. i'm still surprised you can't see the difference.<<<

Lawrence, I'm surprised that you haven'r realized you are the only one who has mentioned WALL-E in terms of fine arts. Indeed, on a blog dedicated to the working artists in the illustration trade, the concept of fine arts as anything other than a peripheral reference, is rare.

For most illustrators, the fine arts can be a well from which to seek refreshment. But the basic aims of illustration are somewhat different from those of the fine artist...especially the more theoretical fine artists in evidence since the mid 19th century. Before that, the aims were more closely aligned in the sense of narrative.

Now that the aims of fine arts has gone away from narrative and has included such things as visual phenomena and surface, comparisons between the two fields become increasingly invidious. It's like comparing oral surgery to heart surgery. There really is a big difference and you wouldn't want to swap surgeons.

I am amazed that you would go to a movie and, instead of carrying popcorn, carry a big sack of preconceived notions...does this comedy compare with David's Death of Marat... Is Humphrey Bogart as good as Leonardo. The sack of preconceptions must be so big that it makes the movie incomprehensible because you can't see over it. Render unto Caesar that which is salad...

Laurence John said...

ok, so Rob agrees it's not fine art, excellent... let's move on. (I thought that's what the discussion was about anyway)

Rob, Cremaster is a series of films, not painting... i'm not sure what you have been looking at.

David Apatoff said...

Laurence, I have now checked out Cremaster 3 as you suggested. I am having a little trouble figuring out how much of what I am seeing is photography and how much is digital art created by humans. Perhaps you can fill me in as I am curious about how such things are made.

With that confession, I personally would not put Cremaster in the same league as Wall-E. Cremaster seems better at creating the kind of murky images that I found titillating when I was a teenager reading science fiction, but Wall-E (at least the first half)seems to me to be so much wiser, so much more creative, so much more knowledgeable about human nature and so much more rewarding as a work of art that there is really no comparison. As someone (perhaps Rob?) previously noted, the artists behind Wall-E were able to squeeze an astonishing amount of humanity into some fairly basic geometric shapes-- replay the clip I posted and look at the facial expressions, the gestures, the body language that come from a piece of machinery with no mouth or nose or eyebrows or voice. From the time the robot heaves that first sigh as he greets another day, you are looking at a work product that required close powers of observation and creative choices that I just don't see in Cremaster. It required an ability to distill and prioritize what has been observed and translate it from human flesh (with all of its additional sensory cues) into triangles and rectangles. Wall-E also demonstrates a sense of timing (comparable to Chaplin's) which I just don't see in Cremaster. Look at the subtle movements in the way Wall-E tentatively investigates that bra, or the way you see that fire extinguisher hurled away after Wall-E's unfortunate run-in. Those could have been handled a thousand different ways that would have been far less effective. Watch the way the camera pulls away from Wall-E at the end of my clip, artfully showing how the lonely little robot continues steadfastly on his mission as the days and centuries go by-- I looked in vain for that kind of creative camera and sound work to provide context and depth in the Cremaster trailer.

I do however agree with you about Schiele. Now there was an artist whose eyes could penetrate 3 inches of lead.

Laurence John said...

David you really need to see all of Cremaster 3 to appreciate it. you really can't judge it from a trailer. it is a very complex and strange work of art.

i would never have compared it to Wall E myself, but Rob asked for a fine-art example of contemporary movie making.

with that, i respectfully bow out of this conversation, as i think we're talking different languages.


Anonymous said...

I don't understand what it means to say that WallE can't be fine art. Is that because it is popular theater for the masses? So was Shakespeare. Is that because it is funny? So was Shakespeare. What exactly disqualifies it? I don't know if the Pixar artists thought they were making "fine art," but I don't know if Shakespeare thought he was making fine art either. I'm not saying WallE was as good or important as Shakespeare, but I don't see why they aren't running in the same horse race. And what do you think Shakespeare would be doing with his time if he were alive today? Probably writing for movies.


Rob Howard said...

>>>And what do you think Shakespeare would be doing with his time if he were alive today? <<<

Celebrating his 445th bithday?

Kim Smith said...

I still say that it is the heart and sensitivity behind the image(s), not the media in which it was produced.

David Apatoff said...

Kim, the heart and sensitivity are certainly essential, but I am sure you would agree that there are plenty of artists with hearts as big as all outdoors, who are painfully sensitive to the human interaction around them, but who are terrible artists. As far as I can tell, Margaret Keane was such an artist.

Kim Smith said...

I agree with you there as well! I'm actually talking about the heart and sensitivity (of course talent, and mmessage) present in the art itself, making it in my book "good art" which comes through whatever the media, or even in spite of it!

Ben Weeks said...

I'm an illustrator who left the path to pixar. I love walle and UP but think it's silly to compare apples with oranges. Which is more fruity? They're both fruits. The best fruit is whichever is in season, doesn't look rotten or have hidden rot, worm or pesticide poison we can't immediately see.

We can enjoy each thing for what it is. Or we can assume our subjective opinions are objective truth. I believe in absolutes and am sure that I don't know everything. So it's awfully difficult to start telling people their ideas are wrong unless we have serious authority.

Matters of taste vary. Some people love terrible things that are self destructive. We can all sacrifice pieces of our lives for small glimpses of what we're convinced is enriching transcendence only to find the pursuit erodes our personality and crushes our spirit.

Art is a word and words are containers of meaning. So what is: "art," what is "good," what is "bad"? What is "true"-ly so? Is there an absolute moral law? And if so, where do these laws come from? Is there a giver outside of ourselves? Or do we each have the capacity to make perfect moral decisions? What could the consequences of moral blindness bring? Walle touches on this lightly at the beginning.

Margaret Atwood in "Negotiating with the dead" writes about art and its perceived meaning in a series of lectures. If you think you know what "good art" is, be prepared to have your foundations rocked by a world famous writer. It was an articulate destruction of some of my defensive and proud pretensions.

To me these are the most helpful kinds of books. Since my MA I've been lucky to discover a few others which also scare me to more healthful tensions.

David Apatoff said...

Ben, thanks for a thoughtful comment. I don't think many people here would disagree that apples and oranges are beautiful in different ways, but I think it would be a mistake to throw up our hands and say that there is no overlap whatsoever. I think we can meaningfully compare drawings with etchings, watercolors with gouache paintings and more. We can even compare digital art with analog art, as long as we are thoughtful about how we do it.

But I think the thrust of my post was a little different than "is digital animation superior to drawings or paintings?"

On more than one occasion, the path of ilustration has been dramatically altered by technology. For example, when photoengraving was invented, it didn't matter how good an artist was with old fashioned wood engraving, the future belonged to color reproduction painting. Gustave Dore's style became history and Howard Pyle took over, despite the fact that both artists were extremely talented.

Later, an entire illustration industry premised on fiction in magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, Life, etc. was wiped out with the invention of television.

Putting aside issues of quality and moral superiority, the older technologies were just not as entertaining to the masses. Black and white engravings could not entice readers the way those rich, full color Howard Pyle paintings did. As a result, there was an explosion of illustrated magazines. And as dazzling as the illustrations in those magazines became, they could not compete with the excitement and sound and movement of TV for viewers and advertising dollars.

It's not hard to imagine that we are in the middle of another such paradigm shift, where moving digital images replace many static illustrations because digital animation appears more exciting and distracting to many viewers. (Remember, talkies swept away silent movies not because they were bad, but because people liked getting sound with their pictures.) As newspapers disappear and magazines go on line, it could be that places that once contained spot illustrations will one day contain moving electronic images.

We should not kid ourselves that the world has stopped changing. Don't get me wrong, I don't think drawing and painting would disappear from the face of the earth, but it's possible that they could command a much smaller audience 100 years from now. I am interested in views on that subject:

Sandra Jackson said...

I agree with omwo views