Sunday, February 28, 2010

THE REVENGE OF THE TITANIC

The mighty Titanic ruled the seas for almost four whole days before it struck an iceberg and sank without a trace in the black waters of the northern Atlantic.


A souvenir postcard from the Titanic, found in the coat pocket of Edith Brown, a small girl lowered into a lifeboat just before the great ship sank.

The lesson of the Titanic was obvious: humans had lost perspective about their place in the universe. Their insignificant little inventions had made them vain. Ancient Greek tragedies repeatedly warned about the folly of such hubris.

The icebergs must have had a good laugh over our "unsinkable" little boat.

The iceberg that sunk the Titanic, photographed by the captain of the Leyland Line steamer S. S. Etonian

Yet, less than a century later, icebergs are getting their asses kicked by global warming from our inventions. Fifty percent of the glaciers have vanished from the earth. Looks like we humans have scored a TKO in the second round. Who's laughing now?

I was thinking about this recently when I beta tested a movie studio's prototype for the next generation of digital drawing tool. The advancements, and the potential, were really quite spectacular.

I am one of those who believes that art has some core attributes that are timeless and immutable, and probably grounded in the designs inherent in nature. Sure, electrical engineering has provided us with dazzling alternatives to a pen or brush for making marks on a surface, but in my view such tools so far merely skitter along the surface of art, with no transformative effect on those immutable underlying values of art. Digital art competes in a race where the rules have been established by traditional art. It attempts to satisfy the same standards of design and composition developed by traditional art. As a technique for making marks, digital media are being judged by the same eternal criteria as the marks left by Rembrandt, Michelangelo, or the first cave painters 35,000 years ago.

But as those smug icebergs learned, eternal truths don't last nearly as long as they once did.

Consider how quickly and pervasively digital media have conquered the world; in most places they are more accessible than a brush and paint.

More pervasive than museums or galleries.

Becoming more pervasive than books.

Consider, too, how talents that once commanded respect in the arts because they were difficult and rare (such as the ability to achieve a good likeness, or the ability to master the color wheel) are no longer difficult or rare. Chaucer once lamented the burdens of an artist:
The lyf so short, the craft so long to learne,
Th' assay so hard, so sharp the conquerage
Today, when any high school student can photoshop a likeness or rotate through color alternatives with the click of a mouse, can these artistic talents possibly command the same respect? At the same time certain talents are being devalued, different talents have taken on new significance. Digital media have provided drawing with new criteria for excellence such as motion, lighting variations, integrated media (interweaving drawing with sound, narratives, etc.) and a variety of other time-factoring qualities.

The yearning to make static drawings move is not new. Some artists achieved it with blurring or speed lines or other illusions of movement. Some did it using sequential images. As a young boy before the era of animation, the great illustrator Al Parker hit upon the idea of drawing pictures on the paper rolls that operated the keys on his family's old player piano. When his family sat in their parlor listening to the piano, the boy was able to watch his pictures roll by:


Cuddlin' and cooin' with Mary Lou in cherry blossom time

Contrast Parker's early primitive yearnings with the ways Steve Brodner is able to use digital medium to make his pictures move. Here, he paints icebergs but weaves a narrative into an accelerated painting process and ends with animation:



Here
is another enterprising combination of conventional drawing and the potential of digital media:



Efforts such as the above are faltering first steps, but the devaluation of traditional talents, the rise of new capabilities, and the broad, grass roots accessibility of digital media may be combining to transform those once-immutable artistic standards. Just as the Titanic got the last laugh, digital media may be the catalyst for an epochal change in art-- as significant as the transition from magical thinking (when animism and totemism ruled art) to viewing art as a physical object. As significant as the transition from representational images to symbolic images. As significant as the invention of writing.

Is that the slow dripping of melting icebergs I hear?

50 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

rather the dripping of melting brain

2/28/2010 2:05 PM  
Anonymous MORAN said...

It's hard to tell in the middle of a change where everything is going to come out. So far the results of digital aren't great for me but I agree that something big is going on.

I like the Parker.

2/28/2010 2:25 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

For the moment "bits" do not trump "atoms". My art history teacher used to ask the class whether it was better to view art at a gallery or in a book/computer. For me there is nothing better than to see it live.

As Moran said you can't deny the blowing of the wind.

2/28/2010 8:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my opinion, the rise of digital art changes surprisingly little.

They are still useless without someone to drive them.

All the really difficult parts of art (composition) are still just as horrifically demanding, it's just easier to paint that blue > green gradient.

It's just new tools and a hierarchy will establish itself, not based on tech tricks, gizmos, but on how to apply 3000 year old ideas to the fancy new toys.

Good composition is good composition, whether it's "Ratatouille", Cave Painting, comics or fine art.

/ranty 2p worth

-Steve

2/28/2010 9:41 PM  
Blogger Stephen Worth said...

Making things move is easy. Giving them humanity and personality is tough. That takes the mind, eye and hand of an artist.

3/01/2010 4:39 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Anonymous: you could be right, but would you be willing to put a slightly sharper focus on your point?

Moran: I agree. Nobody knows yet where digital media are taking us. We can only draw limited conclusions from what we have seen so far.

Mark: I am a firm believer in "seeing it live," although increasingly there is no corporeal "object" to see.

3/01/2010 8:42 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Anonymous / Steve: As a passionate fan of good composition, I have written several times on this blog agreeing with your fundamental position. Nevertheless, it seems to me that everywhere around us the art world is increasingly devaluing composition. Consider the crap for which Jeff Koons or Jenny Holzer or many other superstars of the art world are lauded-- the action is clearly somewhere other than composition.

And how much good design do you see on the flat screen (TV, computer monitor or other)? The eyes of viewers/consumers (which fund this whole infrastructure) are attracted less by the design and more by the activity (flashing lights, etc.)

I'm not saying there aren't practitioners of the art (such as Phil Hale) who still use oil paint on linen and come up with marvelous designs; I'm just saying that if you look at the megatrends-- where the audiences and the money and the momentum have been going, I don't see them running to the side of the boat with good composition.

3/01/2010 8:58 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Stephen Worth wrote: "Making things move is easy. Giving them humanity and personality is tough."

Steve, I don't disagree with you at all, but I think we have less patience for humanity and personality in our art today. I think we have downgraded their importance because they can't keep up with the pace of change. No one is reading George Eliot anymore, and how much humanity and personality can you squeeze into a Youtube video?

I know we like to think about the importance of "humanity and personality" in our art as a constant. My suggestion in this post is that some things that seem immutable may not be, and that it is probably worth re-checking some of our assumptions as we pick up speed.

The author Karrie Jacobs, who I think is absolutely terrific on such subjects, wrote that computers have seduced us into thinking about ideas-- the intangible stuff that comprises our culture, our mental universe, our homegrown organic realities-- as information.

You certainly see that in our politics. I think we see it in other parts of our culture as well. "Humanity and personality" require the viewer to linger, to evaluate and make an emotional investment. You can't summarize it, condense it, or feed it in a crawl or a pop up window. I would be interested in hearing who you believe is plumbing the depths of humanity and personality today the way it was done 100 years ago, and whether you believe such artists and writers will still be doing it 50 years from now.

Not meaning to sound like a misanthrope here; I find our current trajectory fascinating, and just don't want to make the mistake of assuming that the historical platform of art will always remain the same.

3/01/2010 9:29 AM  
Blogger Peter Davis said...

The invention of oil paint was a huge milestone in the history of art, yet it did not change the nature of art. It gave artists new media and techniques with which to express their ideas, but it is always the ideas, not the techniques, which give art its value. Are random security camera frames art?

3/01/2010 9:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brodner is at the forefront of this kind of digital manipulation of cartoon images. He can use it well because he is so articulate on screen. Do you know anyone else who is trying these new approaches? Who do you think we should be watching?

JSL

3/01/2010 11:42 AM  
Anonymous norm said...

I heard (in a class somewhere) that new things start out imitating old things...like plastic furniture immitating wood. Then the new things come into their own when they stop immitating and explore their own unique properties.

Digital art is great for concept work, which is all about iterations, quick changes and adaptapting on the fly. "hey...nice image, but what if it was nighttime and you took the monster from your second image and had him 20% bigger attacking the robot from image 4b? You have all this stuff on layers don't you?"

The thing I miss, however, is the existence of "real" art objects.
I'm seeing too many art shows where there are no original pieces...just digital print outs.
The Todd Schorr show I went to a while back, was a great reminder of the impact original art can have. His pieces had so much presence in person. It was something that just couldn't be conveyed in a reproduction.

3/01/2010 1:24 PM  
Anonymous norm said...

David,
The thing you said about intagibles got me thinking about a generational shift that spooks me a bit (because I'm old...and from the previous generation)
Kids today seem much less object oriented.
There are no love letters stored in a box, just emails and texts.
No massive record collection, just 7,000 Itunes downloads on an mp3 player.
No books, just Wikipedia and Kindle.
This is all kind of sci-fi cool in a "world beyond physicality" way...but it also spooks me with its ephemeral nature. As if, with a sneeze, everything could be gone.

3/01/2010 2:01 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"digital media may be the catalyst for an epochal change in art..."

norm beat me to it, but i don't believe the change will happen until digital media stops trying to emulate the look of traditional media and does things that only it is capable of (and that includes NEW ideas about composition etc). i look forward to such a change with a fair amount of trepidation.


"No books, just Wikipedia and Kindle."

not true norm, they predicted the death of the printed book in the late 90s as the internet gained popularity, but the opposite actually happened. Book sales went up and up, probably fed by information on the internet.

3/01/2010 4:26 PM  
Anonymous norm said...

Laurence,
I'm all for books, so I hope you're right...but it seems to me, the trend is away from personal ownership of things toward access to a pool of content.
Every time I buy a DVD my stepdaughter tells me to stop and just subscribe to Netflix.

3/01/2010 4:43 PM  
Blogger Stephen Worth said...

The reason you don't see humanity and character in youtube videos is because youtube is a forum for amateurs. The internet may someday become a medium for professionals, but right now, other mediums and forums have more to offer. Technology for technology's sake is always the first step. From there, the artists step in and you start seeing more interesting things happen.

The generation coming up right now thinks quite differently about the fundamental principles than you think. The problem is that the schools are full of unskilled hippies who have replaced expression with lots of verbal justification. Their students are not happy with the lousy direction they're being given. There's more great info in a $20 binder of Famous Artists lessons at ebay or in blogs than there is in $100k college educations. They're getting the clue.

If the students are getting fed from the internet, it's probable that they will turn to the internet to create when they get their chops. Right now, we're paying the price for all the Andy Warhol games that tore art down. It will take a while for the technology to trickle down to real artists.

3/01/2010 5:28 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Peter Davis said: "Are random security camera frames art?"

Unfortunately, yes if you believe in performance and conceptual art.

>>"The invention of oil paint was a huge milestone in the history of art, yet it did not change the nature of art."

I suppose I would agree that it didn't change the nature of art in a material sense, but the invention of oil painting was so tied to the Renaissance and its new values and perspectives that it would be hard to say it had no impact on the nature of what artists produced. Frescoes and tempera paint were fine for painting medieval visions of the next world, but when the subject shifted to humans and nature during the Renaissance, the delicate tinctures of ripe flesh could only be recorded in oils. (De Kooning famously said that "Flesh is the reason oil paint was invented.") It enabled a very different kind of art. (Of course, Lewis Mumford had an interesting explanation for the shift of focus from the medieval obsession with the afterlife and mortification of the flesh to the Renaissance obsession with humans. He attributed it to the popular invention of soap. Clean human flesh suddenly became a lot more insprirational. But of course soap is another kind of technology.)

3/01/2010 5:51 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Anonymous / JSL-- I agree with you, Brodner hasn't quite figured out what he wants to do with these digital options but he strikes me as a very bright guy who is feeling his way along, and therefore is very interesting to watch.

Norm, I agree with you that an original is an entirely different sensory experience. Ever run your fingers over the lush swirls of paint in a Dean Cornwell painting?

3/01/2010 5:58 PM  
Anonymous norm said...

David....naw...I'd be afraid to.
But it's interesting that even super slick stuff can be different in person. My wife and I went by the gallery in Carmel that sells Eyvind Earle's stuff and saw some originals that looked like they'd been double dipped in vats of lip gloss....but even that made its own impression.

3/01/2010 6:59 PM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

The hierarchy has long been established. Oil paint reigns supreme. Who does studies in oil for drawings, watercolors or digital scribbles? Yet artist do studies in all media, including sculptures, for oil paintings.

Interviewer- Painting has been declared dead again and again. But in your work it seems to be more alive than ever. Why do you paint instead of using a photographic mode?

Jeff Koons- The reason I don't leave the images in some photographic mode like inkjet is the type of density that can be created with pigment, and the sense of warmth. For me, it's very much about a family experience, a warm feeling that connects with your community - painting these images creates that sense of connection

The tome, Jeff Koons Hulk Elvis, contains and excellent essay regarding the importance of photoshop to his compositions.

From the endnotes- Koons himself hinted at this contemporary visual landscape: "Image with sound laid on top, you can have the graphic with collages, it is so much of our culture, you are on your computer screen and there is one layer of images on top of another layer of images."

Think of it, my Mac with itunes running is a work of art. Thank you Alessandro Alessandroni for providing the soundtrack to my art and life.

3/02/2010 12:55 AM  
Blogger karlotta said...

It is well told. It is possible to add still that if to develop your idea with icebergs - mankind wins the next round in the invention, leading up to the point of irrationality harmful by-effects from inventions

3/02/2010 5:00 AM  
Blogger Nick Name said...

As a teacher and illustrator, I use both sorts of tools--Maya, ZBrush, ActionScript, oils, pen and ink...I think that while digital tools are having a powerful impact on the arts, it won't ultimately be as a replacement for traditional tools, just an augmentation. That will also depend on getting the sound and image away from the clunky industrial design of current screens, projectors and sound systems and onto some surface that is more tractable.

A previous post mentioned the observation that all arts start out by imitating previous forms and then discover their own. I think the interesting thing about digital is that it can be said to have no intrinsic form--everything it does has been to take existing forms and allow them to blend or overlap one another in new ways. Granted, the effects are striking, but that doesn't mean that there will ever be an accepted definition of what digital art is. As I tell my students, no matter what you work in, at some point it goes through Photoshop. Does that make it digital?

3/02/2010 9:27 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Composition results in the coherent expression of a single idea.

I think the ability to accomplish this organized presentation of an understanding is the hallmark of psychological wellness, coherence being the result of the educated and sober contemplation of one's experience.

I don't think I'm letting the cat out of the bag by suggesting that, for various socially-relevant reasons, an increasing proportion of our society lacks any experience of coherence.

Maybe we are decomposing.

3/02/2010 9:33 AM  
Blogger liebesreime said...

That the rise of digital art/engineering is taking us into new directions can not be disputed, but why did you use such simple examples which you describe as ‘early faltering steps’ (the food smear caricature of Obama, the Cheney egg, political icebergs). These are hardly representations of “dazzling alternatives to a pen or brush for making marks on a blank surface”, or are you secretly using this digital medium to offer some indication of your political views?
gB:-)

3/02/2010 12:52 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Laurence John said: "i look forward to such a change with a fair amount of trepidation."

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?

I agree that some of the initial signs are not auspicious, but nobody can say yet where all this is headed, and in my view nothing currently on the horizon can stop the new birth unless nuclear winter eliminates the electric grid.

अर्जुन -- I agree that oil paint "reigns supreme" for some things but of course there are some drawings with a charcoal stick that, in my view, are just as fine as any oil paintings.

Jeff Koons can say some interesting things from time to time but I still find the vast majority of his work odious, and i question both the taste and the motives of the fawning collectors
who throw money at him.

3/02/2010 1:35 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Karlotta-- true. None of these "victories" are permanent. We may be in for another reversal.

Nick Name-- thanks for a thoughtful contribution. On your point that so far digital only "take[s] existing forms and allow them to blend or overlap one another in new ways," I'm not sure I consider that much of a limitation. You could say the same thing about the Renaissance-- it just took existing modes of thought (western religious dogma, Greek philosophy, and a cross section of international strains, particularly Islamic culture) and cross fertilized them to throw off the straightjacket of medieval religious thinking. That "blending and overlapping" is where most new things come from, isn't it?

Kev-- you are starting to sound as cantankerous as I am!

3/02/2010 1:47 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

liebesreime-- I will need to get accustomed to your new name!

There are many polished and dazzling examples of digital art out there-- animated movies such as Wall-E, or beautiful digital paintings that look almost indistinguishable from paintings in oil or acrylic, but I didn't want to use them.

Those are just examples, as Norm and Laurence John have noted above, of digital media imitating conventional media. I agree with the commenters who say that digital media won't come into their own until they stop trying to look like an oil painting and start applying their unique strengths to achieve excellence in new ways. I like the way that Brodner is thinking because he uses digital media to cross boundaries (just as digital information can now homogenize data, images, music etc. using the same bits). On these little videos he blends traditional drawing and film and editorializing and a lot of other ingredients. The viewer participates in the entire creation and development of the picture, not just the static end result (kind of like a traditional chalk talk, but accelerated like time lapse photography) and hears the artist's thoughts along the way. The drawing jumps off the page and onto an egg and the lines of the mouth start to move, or it turns into a sculpture of egg salad with a soundtrack. I'm not saying that he is the first person on the planet to do these things. Walt Disney and Max Fleischer combined live action with animation in the 1920s. But I suspect that such playful experimentation with digital empowerment is where digital media will begin to gain traction as a legitimate art form of their own.

3/02/2010 2:25 PM  
Blogger kenmeyerjr said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3/02/2010 5:49 PM  
Blogger kenmeyerjr said...

Stephen Worth: You are right, there are tons of great info in those artist courses, but it is too easy to say that replacing a college education with it is just as good. You don't get the interaction and new ideas from other people when you are alone with a bunch of paper, no matter how good it is. For some, the interaction of actual human beings brings something far more worthwhile than just doing it all by your lonesome.

I just finished getting my MFA (and finishing my BFA after being in the workforce many years), and I had a blast interacting, learning, listening, and watching. I would have never gotten all those viewpoints from one source. Sure, some colleges are just not that great...but that is a matter of choice and discernment, not an across the board level of quality.

3/02/2010 5:50 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Cantankerous?

You should have seen me monday night, on day five of a blizzard induced power failure that knocked 150,000 paying customers, including myself, off Central Hudson's tinkertoy-fragile grid. By then I had burned through a quarter of a cord of wood, six tanks of gas on the generator, 12 D flashlight and radio batteries, 20 jugs of water, and one auger belt on my snowblower. At that point, even my hair was cantankerous.

Now, all cleaned up and back in business, I'm positively beatific!

kev

3/02/2010 9:48 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Onward to techno-utopia. Who among us is not far more brilliant than Raphael?

http://tinyurl.com/coowxq

3/03/2010 6:06 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

Am I being dense in seeing the parallels between the digital media vs. traditional media rants as invidious as claiming the superiority of pen and ink over gouache painting?

Over my career, I have tried to master as many of the artist's media as I am able. Some (like gouache) I am better with than others (like watercolor). Still, I can acquit myself with competence in al of the traditional media. Thus, when presented with a new (digital) tool, I took to it as readily as I took to the electric pencil sharpener.

I love Photoshop for making so many things easier to do. I no longer have to prove my worth to myself or anyone else...I can really draw and really paint. Big deal. That frees me up to investigate many of the cool things that Photoshop does so easily.

Because I started out using traditional materials, I still do my preliminaries and concept sketches with a pencil and/or markers. Then I will scan the drawings and move them around in Photoshop in order to fit them into the compositional idea. Invariably, it's back to the drawing board for corrections (with the pencil).

Some artists (Jon Foster springs to mind) have great ease with the digital tools...he probably also uses a Wacom tablet, I still have a mouse... and Foster easily combines traditional and digital media seamlessly.

Lately, I have been scanning individual figures, usually painted in gouache, and assembling them digitally into the larger piece. This allows me to work small, as is my preference, and assemble the figures into a single, larger piece. I know it's an idiosyncratic approach but I raise it to show that digital media have a number of uses in the hands of the artist.

3/03/2010 7:19 PM  
Anonymous norm said...

Rob,
I totally agree, as far as work that's a means to an end is concerned, i.e. concept art, storyboards, comics and even illustration...but, when it comes to creating a unique, physical piece of art, I think something done by hand has more value.
I think your portrait clents would rather hang up an oil painting than a print-out of a really nice Photoshop painting.
So, in that sense, I think we can debate the relative merits of one over the other...but, outside of that, I agree, they're all just tools.
I also think that among artists, there's still more respect for a guy/girl who did their work by hand, without the digital saftey net.

3/03/2010 8:34 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"I agree that some of the initial signs are not auspicious, but nobody can say yet where all this is headed, and in my view nothing currently on the horizon can stop the new birth unless nuclear winter eliminates the electric grid"


well photoshop, maya, flash, after effects (et al) are with us now for better or worse but to be honest, i don't think it is all headed towards ONE big digital art MOVEMENT* at all but is more like an infiltration of the digital into all art and design areas (which has already happened)... factions within obscure factions, forever splitting into more and more micro-movements similar to the way thousands upon thousands of alternative bands have spread, made a bit of money (or more likely not) then faded out, but very few ever achieving lasting acclaim, but perhaps lasting acclaim not really being important anymore. There won't be another huge movement like PUNK or IMPRESSIONISM because there's no stuffy old order to rebel against any more and we're all so jaded and post-modern and seen it all, and besides, there's so much art and design being made now that it's impossible to even take in a small portion of it and even the vast majority of similar-looking-work could never be lumped into anything like a movement.

* i think it will take something much more fundamentally massive in the software world to produce a significant change, somewhere we can stick the flagpole and say "ah, so THIS is where it was always heading"... such as some pads you attach to the side of your head and you THINK the images straight into CGI.... hey whatever did happen to the 'virtual reality' headsets we were promised ?

3/04/2010 3:55 AM  
Anonymous thomas e said...

In many way digital media are much better than tradional media. Look at any computer game; it has sound, motion, and the ability for the viewer to make decisions that affect it. Rather like illustration it is looked down upon by the fine arts comunity. But the average computer game does things a master like rubens couldn't.

I think traditional skills are still important, can still give you an edge, but I've been thinking about it a lot recently. I don't think aiming to beat the old masters at their own game is sensible.

I think my own interest is in using traditional drawing to make animation, because moving and talking art allows you to do so much more than the old masters could.

3/04/2010 7:04 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"...because moving and talking art allows you to do so much more than the old masters could"


if paintings DID move and talk they'd be animation/film not painting.

painting has it's own power, part of which comes from stillness. another part comes from the fact that it is a real object, not just an illusion on a screen (but enough of that for now).

i work in animation and after ten years of it, let me tell you i'm really glad that still images STILL exist.

3/04/2010 8:07 AM  
Blogger liebesreime said...

Re: I will need to get accustomed to your new name!

My new name came as a reaction to the 'love poem' posted on your valentine entry, by anonymous (who for whatever reason was incited into a most wild rage against me.)
I enjoyed your choices of ditally empowered pieces of art, but the humus egg smear sure had a pointy face, big ears and tiny eyes!
I remembered your post on Wall-E, here I just wanted to pry into some of your views ...

greetings/B

3/04/2010 10:50 PM  
Anonymous canvas art said...

Times may change but I believe there will always be a place for certain talents. Art will transform but it will never go away. DO you believe we are headed to a world without art?

3/05/2010 3:49 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Rob said: "Am I being dense in seeing the parallels between the digital media vs. traditional media rants as invidious as claiming the superiority of pen and ink over gouache painting?"

I guess what I am suggesting here is that the jury is still out. You could be right that this is just another medium that takes its place alongside the others, with its own strengths and weaknesses. And it could be the responsibility of an artist to master this tool just like any other means of making pictures. However, early signs suggest (at least to me)that this medium is so pervasive that it will be more transformative than that.

Sometimes a new medium pushes old media off the table altogether; they don't just coexist as tools in a tool kit. Nobody is doing wood engraving anymore, nor are they painting frescoes. But beyond rendering older media obsolete, the digital era seems to be shaping both the viewers and the creators of art. The audience for art seems to be getting a shorter attention span; they seem to have more of a hunger for activity and sensationalism; they ain't spending any time analyzing the symbolism of pictures the way people did before TV; they have less regard for traditional skills that can now be simulated with software (we are all aware of wildly popular artists who have become cultural icons but don't even try to conceal the fact that they can't draw worth a damn); they relate more to images that move and talk; they have more of a multi-national, conglomerate culture. Perhaps-- just perhaps-- this evolution goes beyond questions of temporary taste and style, to how the brain of the MTV generation ingests and processes information.

3/05/2010 7:27 PM  
Blogger Matthew Adams said...

I think it is a mistake to see the computer as just another tool. Illustrators get to face this a bit slower and gentler in some ways (gentle in the same way as being smothered by a soft pillow), but the computer has changed how the design industry works. Designers do a lot more of the work that used to go to professional illustrators and photographers, and even the technical stuff that the printers used to organise has become something we can do with the push of a button. And in fact there are a lot more people using computers who are not designers, but who now do their own design work. Computers have completely changed the face of the whole industry (and I don't think it is all bad, in fact I think a lot of it is good), in ways that go beyond "Oh good, now I can easily lay down colours in photoshop after I ink in the outline" approach that most illustrators seem to have not yet got past (myself included as I can't see what the next step is).

3/05/2010 8:39 PM  
Blogger Joss said...

I have a strong response to the idea that the world is changing in any fundamental way. My sense is that nothing essential is ever lost, but only changes form, hence dedication to creative endeavor will morph and if you are attached to the form you will experience that as a loss, but if it is the art spirit to which you are attached, you will find it alive in any age, only you must follow it's scent.

I am not suggesting not to cherish the objects (digital or otherwise) of a preceding age, if their forms persist the are alive for me. In my opinion there is lots of high quality artwork being done with digital tools, though the field of illustration is generally awash with crap.

For me now it is in the nooks and crannies of venues like yours that I can find great contemporary artists who share values with the giants of the past I am in awe of. Especially being in a rural location, the internet gives so many of us an inroad (lacking in the times of those great giants) to really engage their work like you are doing for me here.

Yes the specific commercial environment which gave rise to a Leyendecker is no longer present, but I am saying the creativity is just as potent, and if we don't see the great drawing and painting as we feel it in our hearts we must ourselves translate it into contemporary forms. That is the role of the fine artist, to bridge those gaps when the "market" just isn't there to support.

Van Gogh comes to mind, Cezanne, Matisse. Don't tell me you can make a case for calling these greats essentially illustrators too! I would venture to say the tradition of the pure fine art expression is as essential to the evolution of image making as the commercial one, it is yin and yang, sometimes separated but usually coexisting within an artist. Michealangelo, Da Vinci being prime examples.

3/08/2010 3:14 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Joss said: "My sense is that nothing essential is ever lost, but only changes form, hence dedication to creative endeavor will morph and if you are attached to the form you will experience that as a loss, but if it is the art spirit to which you are attached, you will find it alive in any age."

Joss, thank you for a thoughtful position, beautifully expressed. Most of the time I live my life in agreement with that principle but I don't think we can take it for granted. Buchner wrote a brilliant play about a man who was beheaded on the guillotine. The night before his execution he marveled, "Even should we know in theory of all the dangers that threaten us, deep down in us there is a smiling voice which tells us that the morrow will be just as yesterday." I try not to be lulled too much by that voice.

3/08/2010 8:58 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Joss-- P.S.: You write, "Van Gogh comes to mind, Cezanne, Matisse. Don't tell me you can make a case for calling these greats essentially illustrators too!"

No they aren't "essentially" illustrators (although Matisse did of course illustrate books, just as Picasso did). I can't resist reminding you that Van Gogh wanted to be a magazine illustrator but couldn't draw well enough. He praised the quality of illustrations in magazines such as Graphic, Illustrated London News, L'Illustration, and Harper's Weekly, and clipped out their drawings, which he pasted in portfolios for further study.

UCLA art professor Albert Boime quotes Van Gogh's correspondence on this topic: "[Van Gogh] declared: 'I would like to go to London with portfolio and visit the editors and managers of the illustrated journals-also get information about the different processes-a double-page spread allows for broader style.' That he fully intended to specialize in magazine illustration is seen in his hopeful observation that magazine editors would welcome 'somebody who considers making illustrations his specialty.'"

3/08/2010 9:04 AM  
Blogger Joss said...

" That smiling voice",
is it lulling us to sleep or is it a call to stand up for life. Groundhog day comes to mind.

3/08/2010 10:57 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Leibesreime-- it is my experience that if you start making changes to accommodate people who are "incited into a most wild rage" against you on this blog, you will end up making an awful lot of changes. I hope you will continue to contribute from your own unique and friendly perspective. I look forward to reading your views.

Canvas art said: "DO you believe we are headed to a world without art?" No, I don't. I believe that art is hard wired into us. But I also believe that the talents that once mattered so much will change and that art of the future may be unrecognizable (or at least incomprehensible) to us.

Matthew Adams-- I agree. Many of the changing factors you describe go to the economics of art (the incentives that artists have to train and create in particular ways, the ways of making the art production process most efficient, the types of art that patrons choose to buy, the ways that art is distributed to audiences, the changing taste and attention span of the mass audiences...) These factors may not prohibit an artist alone in his studio from relating to a canvas in traditional ways, but it would be a mistake to under estimate the importance of the economics of art.

3/08/2010 11:10 AM  
Blogger Joss said...

You drive me crazy with the "everybody's an illustrator" line. Yes, I read the Van Gogh quote last time you posted it. I don't know if I'd heard it before or if it just makes so much sense, it seemed obvious. Fascinating stuff.

You win, I geuss in art as in life one cannot exist in a vacuum protected from commercialism. and you make a great case for it's value, some points which I never before considered.

The urge to define by separation is so great, but in the end we are conquered by our commonality.
Can you at least give me Cezanne? (pitiful draughtsman though he may be)
Gratefully

3/08/2010 11:18 AM  
Blogger Joss said...

btw, if I sound indignant I'm not, I meant drive me crazy in a good way. Challenging

joss

3/09/2010 1:45 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Joss, the great illustrator Robert Fawcett started out as a gallery artist and, although successful, became disgusted and left the field for commercial illustration. He said that fine art was "too commercial" for him. When old friends raised an eyebrow and said "You're an... illustrator?" his standard response was "That's right-- just like Durer."

I think that in an important way, any artist who uses pictures to illustrate a story is undeniably an illustrator (including Michelangelo and Rembrandt). That fact is useful for afflicting the smug and sanctimonious members of the fine arts community.

However, for purposes of our more focused discussions here, I do recognize distinctions between artists who illustrate for the Vatican and artists who illustrate for deodorant companies.

3/09/2010 6:00 PM  
Blogger Alex Kosakowski said...

I think one of the big changes coming our way is the interactivity of art. There already exist hyper accurate 3d models of major cities like shanghai. 3d models that can be flown through, viewed from any angle, any lighting. I'm sure soon enough the whole world will also exist in 3d space.

In there would also be art. Imagine all art modeled exactly as it is painted. A 3d sistine chapel ceiling that is interactive. A viewer could 'play' the painting, interacting and commanding it to do whatever they want.

And at some point it won't be necessary , for example, to know how to construct a figure. The library of 3d models will be nearly infinite and available and who would struggle and spend the years it takes to master creating a representation of reality on paper or a monitor when that representation of reality has become its own 'virtual' reality.

It will be unbelievably simple to create works as good as any thing created today or in the past. And if you haven't got the eye for composition or color scheme, the computer will. Everything that has been and is still 'artistic' can be quantified and programmed.

Like AI, they've already got computers that can beat humans at jeopardy, it's not a stretch to think there will eventually be computers that can compose and color scenes in 2d, 3d, 4d and so on, better than a human.

I don't know, the future is science fiction and it's going to be unrecognizable to us.

3/10/2010 6:36 PM  
Blogger Joss said...

"I do recognize distinctions between artists who illustrate for the Vatican and artists who illustrate for deodorant companies."

Thank's David that's really all I wanted to hear you say. The Fawcett anecdotes are great too though.

"It will be unbelievably simple to create works as good as any thing created today or in the past"

The only simple way to create works of greatness rivaling those of the past is to work as hard as they did. Anything less and your just calling a photocopy of a Durer your personal creation. I call your sci-fi future a fantasy. A reality so devoid of honest hard work would be plagued by societal troubles making the luxury of creative endeavor not so simple for reasons other than technical challenge. For starters that world would suffer from a lack of aptitude for the appreciation of greatness which you seem to be displaying.

Sorry Alex, knee jerk reaction. That was awfully personal, I certainly don't know you well enough to think I can accurately criticize you.

3/11/2010 4:05 AM  
Blogger Joss said...

I have to add, I don't think anything artistic can be quantified or programmed. Quantification is by definition the exact opposite of creativity. You could create random designs but it would take a living being to discern any value therein. Discernment again being a faculty with no simple formula for it's development, only hard work, trial and error, sweat and tears.

3/11/2010 4:14 AM  

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