Tuesday, April 15, 2008

EARTH, AIR, FIRE and WATER (and of course, ART)

In the flickering light from ancient torches, the shadows on cave walls suggested mastodons and bulls to our prehistoric ancestors. They became the world's first artists, reaching out with charcoal to complete visions that were inspired by the earth's shapes:

This cave wall suggested the head of a deer to some prehistoric artist

This large rock reminded an artist of a horse

In this way, the earth and the artist came together to create art.

30,000 years later, artists discovered stained glass. Rather than drawing with sticks in the dirt or making marks on parchment, artists were now able to combine their art with the radiance of light. Look what glorious things happened when artists added sunshine to their palette of colors:

Nativity scene from Priory Church, circa 1501

Prayer of a righteous man, St. Mary's Church, late 14th century

The Last Judgment, 15th century

Just like with the earth, the artists combined with the sun to create art.

At some unknown point in the distant past, artists discovered that by making designs and colors on cloth rather than on hard surfaces, their designs could take on the shape of the wind. Static images became flying banners that inspired armies and flags that symbolized nations.

Christo's "Gates" in NY, copyright 2005 Christo and Jeanne-Claude

Once again, the artist teamed with the elements to make art, combining wind and image.

Artists who use watercolor, if they are wise, take advantage of water's special properties rather than concealing its role. Even artists who specialize in tightly controlled images seem to gain depth and profundity when they give the freedom of water a larger role in the artistic process.

Saul Steinberg began his career with technical pen drawings with geometric shapes and cross hatching, but later turned water loose to create lovely skyscapes.

Here, Andrew Wyeth wisely did not attempt to paint snowflakes. He randomly spattered liquid tempera, using the qualities of water to contribute the effect of snow.

Just like with earth, sun and wind, the artist can interact with water to create a higher form of art.

All of these beautiful images we have seen were made more beautiful because the artist opened the artwork to the elements. Nature adds variety, change, unpredictability, ambiguity, mistakes and uncertainty to the product of human will. Water does whatever it wants, and watchful artists keep their eyes open for the happy accident. The light through stained glass windows changes depending on the time of day or month of the year or the weather outside, creating very different effects. When the wind shifts, flags do a completely different dance.

One concern I have with digital art is that it seems to reduce the important role played by the elements in the creation of art. We can now assert greater and greater control over the screen, pixel by pixel. The light from a cathode ray tube or a plasma screen remains constant, regardless of the time of day or year. The mathematical formulae used for CGI are immutable. Color can be adjusted for saturation, brightness and contrast in tiny increments. Mistakes and accidents can be effortlessly eradicated with mid-course corrections. And the pictures never, ever change with the wind.


Anonymous said...

Some digital art is not only the product of artists recognizing the value of ephemera - it is made entirely from them.


The mathematics underlying CGI are indeed immutable - as are the laws of physics governing the fluid dynamics of flowing water, the properties of light we perceive as color, the aerodynamics of cloth in the wind. The onus is upon the artist to apprehend the beauty contained in these finite, quantifiable phenomena - and bring it to our attention. Digital art is in it's infancy and much of it is, indeed, not quite art at all, but to dismiss it out of hand is to rob yourself of a vast quantity of artistic possibility and beauty.

David Apatoff said...

emp, this is exactly the kind of comment I hoped to trigger with this post. I don't know nearly as much as I should about the cutting edge of digital art, and I am hoping to be educated by people who are more involved. Thanks for the flickr images, which I found interesting.

I certainly did not intend to "dismiss" all of digital art out of hand; this post merely describes a "concern" I have about the medium as I currently understand it. There are obviously some real advantages to the digital medium, especially if you're trying to make a living on a deadline.

I have written on this blog about some of the digital artists I love, such as "Dice" Tsutsumi, Dave Bossert, Craig Mullins and Todd Harris. I am dazzled by their work product (Heck, I even loved the new CGI movie, Horton Hears a Who). Still, it seems to me that there is a difference between the "immutable laws" of CGI and the "immutable laws" of water or light in nature. CGI is a math defined universe, where the prime mover (in this case, the programmer) uses math to dictate all of the universe's rules, which are then consistently and reliably and perpertually implemented by a computer. In the non-CGI world, we are not the prime mover and we perceive water or light through very personal filters; subatomic particles in the physical universe behave randomly; we don't understand the rules, and artwork is implemented by our fragile and fallible nervous systems rather than a binary computer.

I do a lot of work with science in my job, and one of my favorite quotes is from Bertrand Russell: "Physics is mathematical not because we know so much about the physical world, but because we know so little; it is only its mathematical properties that we can discover."

Jack Ruttan said...

I get completely random, interesting effects from playing in photoshop. I'm still no expert at it, but learned a lot that way.

Sort of the same way I did with watercolours.

And yet, on the other hand, you have people who are very precise with watercolours, mainly nature and botanical artists, not to mention medical illustrators.

ces said...

Go the comic "Non Sequitor" site and see the strip for 1/30/08.

Anonymous said...

As we know the elements, they weather us and give us character. Personality is always hard won in the crucible of the world. But we have long been spared that rod. And now the meat is tender, marinated in advertising and movies and cushy chairs, the better to barbecue. Now we are even spared the rod of craft, the danger of dissent, the effort to gather knowledge; "Here is everything, can I get you anything else? Make an old master from a photo at the touch of a button! To protest, press 1 on your keypad. Welcome to Wikipedia, this entry has been constantly edited by people who are trying to control your opinion" And now we are deluded in our craft, spoiled in our dissent, and foolish in our knowledge.

A digital file is a reproduction itself. Where is the artwork located when there is no original? Answer: Nowhere. Thus there is nothing actually produced for us at the end of the process except the money by the client. How is that productivity? The program is only $800 and look at all it can do for you! It can make you spend 20 hours on something that isn't really there. Payment for pandering is as old as the hills. And it always leads down the same path of foolishness until so deluded are we that we think nothing is something.

We are spoiled to point of not realizing the danger of it. Spoiled to the point of delusion. Or as a digital painter I know complained as we oil-painted from the model, "I can't seem to get the paint to do what I want!"

We've been on hold so long we think we're talking to a person. We even think we're people.

Back to the earth, the wind and the rain for our medicine? Sounds like a good idea to me. On paper, there is no protection from the elements. There is only an understanding between old adversaries, hard won.

Anonymous said...

@David: my sensitivities are showing - I have heard so much anti-digital ranting that a well-stated "concern" becomes a "dismissal" in my ears. Keep up the thought-provoking posts, and forgive me those lame links. 3:30 in the morning may be too early for lucidity from me.

@kev: what a deliciously written comment - poetry!

But this: "A digital file is a reproduction itself. Where is the artwork located when there is no original? Answer: Nowhere. Thus there is nothing actually produced for us at the end of the process except the money by the client. How is that productivity? The program is only $800 and look at all it can do for you! It can make you spend 20 hours on something that isn't really there. Payment for pandering is as old as the hills. And it always leads down the same path of foolishness until so deluded are we that we think nothing is something." I find a bit over the top - is a tangible, material "product" the only evidence of beauty? Are the sounds produced by a musician only art if they are written down?

spacejack said...

I especially enjoy looking at original ink drawings. Not just for the quality of the image, but also because it is a recording of an artistic performance.

Anonymous said...

emp, although you are probably correct that that section is over the top, I'll defend it anyway. My point was not about beauty, but about existence...

A musician plays live, people experience the moment and it lives on in their memory as experience, gone to time or not. If the performance is recorded, some aspects of the actual physical experience are recorded.

Digital art is not actually performed live in the first place. It is totally lacking in "first physicality". And even if it was done alla prima, the same rapid effect it posits could be equally achieved using a thousand un-do's. There is no integrity to any of the claims of virtuosity posited by digital works. Flying in scanned textures, artistically randomized brushes created by somebody else, undoing, layers, tweaking color to perfection... it's all pretension. Fake mastery. Mastery is not what your mind can do given enough take-backs, it is the marriage of the mind and hand and material in reality that tells the tale. Essentially digital painting spends half its energy attempting to fool people into thinking it is really a painting. But the tromp l'oeil effect of fake brushstrokes and canvas textures has no other meaning but to fool the eye. It is simply a lie about the level of craftsmanship of the artist.

And even considering digital art a recording of a performance, the act is certainly not "recorded" with the kind of sensitivity offered by, say, the average analog condenser microphone. Not even close. The quiver or shriek of the hand is utterly neutered of physicality in the pixelation process.

This is not to say that reproductions of the work cannot be spectacular, edifying and entertaining. Just that the work doesn't exist, which is a loss to both the artist and the world.

Imagine if all that was left of Klimt's works were photos of them and the issue becomes clearer.

David Apatoff said...

Jack, do you ever have the feeling that playing around with photoshop using a mouse or a wacom tablet is similar to playing with watercolors in a sensory, tactile sense? For me, it's fun to play with photoshop because it can do way cool things, but I feel I've lost a lot of the primacy I get from other media.

CES, as soon as I figure out how to get the non sequitur site to go back that far, I will check it out. You have intrigued me.

David Apatoff said...

Kev and emp, thank you for making this a rousing, thoughtful dialogue. Sometimes, if I time these blog posts just right and fortune smiles upon me, the post comes to the attention of someone who has been bedeviled by the exact same question and who has obviously spent a lot more time struggling with it than I have. Then I get to piggyback on their thoughts and experiences without burning out all the same nerve endings myself.

Kev, thanks for the poetry. Very nice, and heartfelt. I agree with you 100% abut the difference between looking at an original and a reproduction. I began collecting originals simply because I was struck to see how beautiful these things look in real life, and I try to work from originals wherever possible on this blog.

Having said that, I think there is pathology at both extremes of the "does art require an object?" debate. As we have discussed on this blog before, a physical original can yellow and fade, or its colors can turn in a way that makes it a far worse manifestation of the artist's original intent than an electronic scan. Even worse, a cult has built up around the notion of an "original" which in some instances has eclipsed anything artistic about the object. We talked a while back about the Van Gogh that was worth a lot of money and suddenly became worthless when its authenticity was challenged. The physical object remained unchanged, but nobody cared about it.

Anonymous said...

David, “does art require an object” is a very good question.

I’ve been on about metaphors lately, and it is my sense that art first and foremost is a metaphoric synthesis between artist and subject. I mean, Art itself is a metaphor, an entity that is a unity of the artist’s expression and what he depicts. Every facet of an artist’s personality can be embedded in his work, from the most sublime contemplative aspects, to an interest in mechanistic engineering, dramatic sense, physical verve… This is an encoding process. The more an artist encodes himself in his work, the more the work lives. And physicality… how can that be removed from the equation? How can anyone dispute that physicality is not at least on par with cerebrality in the definition of a human being. You may not enjoy the work of a robust S.O.B. who punches a canvas with a fistful of paint, but at least you know it’s a person.

I guess it depends on what kind of people we want to know. For myself, I'm pretty tired of meeting dull digital "ghosts". And I think I am not alone. Nor am I alone in believing to a large degree in what academia deems the "authorial fallacy" . Why is it no surprise that Frazetta was a great athlete? That Dunn was a “veritable whale of a man” that spoke in homespun epigrams? That Walter Everett was tempermental and whimsical and would sometimes take his entire painting class fishing for the day instead of working, that female editors would sit by his side knitting to ensure that he would get them the illustrations they wanted by deadline, that he burned the bulk of his work one day in 1935…

The handwriting or physical part of art is very much a part of the “encoding of the soul” in the artwork. “By their works shall ye know them” goes the saying. The outer always reflects the inner. Or as Oscar Wilde had it, “Only a shallow person doesn’t judge by appearances.” This encoding of the soul results in a very personal communication between the artist and those tuned in to his particular frequency. The difference between a real Van Gogh and an imitation is the difference between sharing a joke with Orson Welles and having an Orson Welles impersonator come up to you speaking lines from Citizen Kane.

I think it is so rare that we have rich communication in life. Those artist who really “bring it”… when so much else is petty political chicanery, simply business, or plain ignorance … they establish community where there was none before. A great artist is a leader of humanity. How much would it be worth if we could have Orson Welles back in the world? Sargent? Or Klimt? There is no price that can be sensibly established. Astronomical would just be a start.

On the other hand, an Orson Welles imitator can be hired by the hour.

Anonymous said...

I share your concerns, and having used both traditional and digital mediums extensively, I can make this statement comfortable in my opinion.

What is digital, can be art, it depends on the artist. I don't see art in those who take an image that another made, and edit it using photoshop filters. I do see art in the individual who can take advantage of the wide selection of customization options and produce something original and beautiful. However, this being said, the satisfaction I gain from taking pen to paper, easily outdoes that from producing a digital piece. As I have OCD, working with a digital medium is much less frustrating, but working by hand, and leaving room for human error, forces me to grow and better myself.

Anonymous said...

you can get random effects from digital media just like any other media. A computer is just another type of pen and canvas. I work in the game industry and we have a bunch of enormously talented concept artists who use digital media to do their work, helping us previsualize spaces and characters before we actually model them. The art they make is actually extremely impressionistic (to a fault at times, since it then has to be modelled in 3d)

The math underlying CGI is not at all immutable. The user can change the math, which is what they are doing when they pick a different photoshop brush spatter pattern, adjust color values, etc. CGI houses like PIXAR have whole departments of programmers that write the math to make it do what they want.

ces said...


If you go to Irene Gallo's blog, igallo.blogspot.com, you can see the Non Sequitor there.

it's "short & sweet," but I (anyway) think it says a lot.

David Apatoff said...

Anonymous (first one), I have that exact same feeling of satisfaction from taking pen to paper, or spilling or scrubbing or becoming involved with art in a tactile sense. One important question is whether this wonderful feeling is more for the benefit of the artist than the viewer. If you look at the award winning illustrations in Spectrum or the Society of Illustrators annual, it gets harder and harder each year for a viewer to tell if they are looking at digital art. Even when art starts out with traditional media, it is often scanned and manipulated or sweetened digitally. And sometimes artists will complete a project in traditional media and then transmit it to the client digitally. If we get to the point where viewers can't tell the difference, then I fear this debate will only be about a self-indulgence by the artist.

Anonymous (second one), I have huge respect for concept artists working in digital media. As I said above, I have written about a number of them, and it is one of my goals to understand their world better. I would really like to hear more from you about the game industry, which I think is very exciting. I don't question the creativity of these artists, but from my (admittedly narrow) perspective, their medium does not permit the same humanity and earthiness as media that are more engaged with the earth and the elements. Also, I still insist that the math underlying CGI is immutable. Your point is that there are many different formulae that may be used, which is true, but my point is that math is always rule-defined, and if you don't follow the rigid protocols and symmetries of whichever formula you choose, the whole thing crashes. Try improvising html the way you might respond to a spill of paint or a sudden breeze, and see what happens.

David Apatoff said...

ces, I am a big fan of both Irene and her blog. I think when I first saw that Non Sequitur posting it was on my blackberry in an airport, and was about the size of a microdot, so I never did read it. Thanks for sending me back there. I enjoyed it.

Anonymous said...

Well, fortunately, tight deadlines can still be met with traditional media, it just takes a bit of ingeniuity and know how. I don't think digital is a threat to the existence or viability of traditional media in commercial art.

And traditional media is still the best way to develop skills and knowledge, which can then be applied to any digital work a person may take on. Doesn't work as well the other way around

~ george said...

Long time listener, first time caller.

Case in point: Ray Caesar

I happened upon this site while navigating from a link to a list of links, and liked what I saw. These paintings fit with a certain sensibilty I have, the Mark Ryden fan in me was peaked. Elaborate detail, lighting, dimension, eccentricity, victorian design elements.

And a Working Process link. Aha! I thought, a chance to learn. A tip or two towards future endeavors, huzzah!


"My work is entirely digital..."

And there's the con, thoughts of Ctrl-Z's flooding my mind, my initial sense of wonder - undone. The illusion now merely a set of smoke and mirrors, and I'm in on the trick.

But then I read on,
"I am often asked about my original, but it exists only in the computer in a dimensional world of depth, width and height. I am fascinated by the concept that this 3 dimensional space exists much as another reality and even though I turn the computer off, I am haunted by the fact that this space is still there existing in a mathematical probability, and the space that we live in now might not be all that different."

Some of that wonder returned, the William Gibson fan in me is peaked. Beneath the ruddiness of cave walls, refracting beams of light, fluid-dynamic of a wind gust, is there not some cold calcuation also ticking away? Unseen and unknown at first, but underlying all. Only these rules are immutable, and not subject to our undoing, only molding, and perhaps latent (mis)understanding.

quotes from the working process page of Ray Ceasar's webpage, linked above.

Anonymous said...

"their medium does not permit the same humanity and earthiness as media that are more engaged with the earth and the elements. "

To me a pen is a pen. Humanity and earthiness come from the hand holding it.

"Your point is that there are many different formulae that may be used, which is true, but my point is that math is always rule-defined, and if you don't follow the rigid protocols and symmetries of whichever formula you choose, the whole thing crashes."

I disagree. You choose your medium in analog art just as you do in visual. Painting on a canvas imposes protocols different from painting on a cave wall. The shaders a programmer writes are the same as the pigments a painter mixes. The programmer can chose to write that shader differently, the painter mixes different pigments.

Unexpected effects happen in digital media all the time.

- Anonymous the second

Anonymous said...

Earthiness: that which is tactile, experiential. Does not apply to pixels or screens.

We should not confuse the computer simulation of roughness, painterliness, spatter, impasto, earthiness, etc. with the real thing just because it fools the viewer of the reproduction or the viewer of the screen.

Purely digital art: Of course the original work is Art, even though it doesn't exist.

Anonymous said...

@kev - holy shlamolians!
Just checked out your work on the conceptart.org forums. Your pen and ink work in particular is stunning. This glimpse into your work offers greater insight into the points you are making here. I find myself in full agreement with you - if I limit the scope of my lens to "illustration" or maybe "marks on paper" (which probably makes sense given the focus of David's blog). Yet I still feel that there is a dismissive level to this discourse that rubs me the wrong way. I understand the appeal to virtuosity, but fail to see definitive proof that it cannot exist in the hand wielding a digital pen. Robert Pirsig noted that the Godhead is Everywhere - even inside the computer.

My own experience is perhaps relevant. I make my living designing and fabricating large-scale public sculptures, which are primarily conceived of and fleshed out digitally. Then they are transferred out here to the "real" world, into steel and stainless and stone - and that is where the trouble begins. There is a level of perfection attainable within the computer that is simply impossible to fully replicate. Virtuosity with 3d form in a world devoid of gravity, thermodynamics, and wind shear is both easier and more difficult. Being free from the bonds of reality can be either an invitation to full expression or pointless chaos. It is the character and commitment of the artist that makes the distinction.

That is, I think, the point. Generalization is throwing out a big net that nearly always results in catching something unintended.

Anonymous said...

emp, thank you for the kind compliment.

On the debate: Dismissiveness is not my intention. I think my sole point is a sort of request for understanding. Some of the most talented people in the world are now working in digital art creating spectacular work. Digital virtuosos, many of them. But deservedly busy and praised as they are, they may not realize the implications of the deal they have made... You get all the undo and options in the world... in exchange for your original artwork. Paging Dr. Faustus.

Is there any gallery experience less satisfying than seeing a reproduction in a frame? If some of the most talented and creative people in the world aren't making works of art, who's work will fill the galleries?

This is a cultural problem.

Daniel Edmundson said...

Really interesting. I believe digital art refers to some of natures process. especially the mistake, the unexpected that sometimes arrives when you are working.


Anonymous said...

I love the idea of the artwork incorporating the natural elements. A very poetic idea. The history of the visual arts is truly glorious, to which you give ample testimony in your excellent blog. But as someone who has earned his living as a commercial illustrator for over twenty years, and switched completely to digital ten years ago, I must disagree with your assessment of digital art. I've never been asked to incorporate any natural formations, or the spirit of the wind, into any of the hundreds of drawings and paintings I've done for publication. Mostly, my clients want it Tuesday, so it can get to the printer, or more recently for on-line use or within software applications.

I used to do a lot of work in watercolor, a lot using Dr. Martin's dyes, and I've gotta tell you: watercolor is an unforgiving medium in commercial work. Those happy accidents you write about don't necessarily make my clients happy, and when they change their mind after you bring the piece in, and decide that the brunette should be a blonde after all, you have to go in with something opaque to cover it, and lose that lovely sparkle and transparency you worked so hard to achieve.

Working digitally has freed me to not worry about mistakes, or corrections, and has enabled me to be more experimental and looser in my approach. I did a digital illustration a few years ago where I scanned in a gnarly rock and turned it into a Creature Made of Plaque. It was great and totally unlike anything I could have imagined to draw. Most importantly, my client was delighted with the result. No, I don't have the tactile pleasure of a crowquill scratching out lines, or the sound or the smell. I no longer have the joy of the paint flowing from the brush over the surface. I also no longer have the frustration of the pen splattering ink, or the paint going where I don't want it to, or drying too fast (or slowly), or changing color, on an imperfect surface, and having to start all over again, with a deadline approaching. Try as I might, I could never convince a client that the technical drawing they hired me for would look better as a Ralph Steadman piece;)

David, I love your blog and your thoughtfulness, and share your love of great pictures, but I don't think Fawcett's drawings ever changed with the wind either. Or Leyendecker's, or Bob Peak, or any of the other great illustrators whose work you champion. They did the work they did within the limits of the technology available to them, to suit the needs of their clients. Banners and flags are mostly flown to display messages and power, usually martial. The wind is the medium, but I think totally incidental to the messages being waved.

Thank you for the work you do on this site, and your inspiring love of the arts.

Mark said...

I think there is something to be said for the blending of the traditional mediums and the digital. There are several artists that combine both quite well. Yukio Shimizu and James Jean to name a few. I see no problem in doing most of the heavy lifting the traditional way and finishing and tweaking in the digital.

Like electronically enhanced music there is a point though where the final work can be over processed or over produced. The same can be said when you put too much paint on as well, there just isn't any undos, layers or saved files from earlier in the process.

David Apatoff said...

geo, daniel and adam-- I don't disagree with the points you have added. I have great respect for the power of digital art, and even more respect for its potential. One of the reasons I admire illustration and commercial art is that it has to live with ruthless market forces that, no matter how unpleasant personally (adam, I have been there), strip away much of the phoniness and narcissism that currently plague "fine" art.

When it comes to digital art, the "market" has clearly spoken and found it Good. Digital art is just too damn efficient and the results for the viewer are too spectacular to ignore, regardless of what it does for the artist's personal sense of satisfaction.

I am struggling, with the help of the added perspectives of the people writing in, to evaluate what we gain and what we lose by this transformation. I find this kind of exchange, especially with people on the front lines, working with the technical and commercial implications of digital art, to be very helpful and I appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

The pitting of traditional versus digital art is a false argument. There have always been drawings or paintings that are lousy, but the quality of the work has nothing to do with the choice of implement. Sure, you have to know how to use your tools, and to pick the right one for the job, but the quality of the work is in the choices the artist makes in the creation of the work, and their ability to execute those choices. First the idea, then the planning, then the execution. If the idea stinks then no amount of turd-polishing is gonna make it smell like a rose, but it will be shiny. Speaking of shiny, I hope this doesn't put me in the Geezer Brigade, but I remember back in the 70's, when I was at the HS of Art & Design, it seemed like everything was being done with an airbrush. All these slick illustrations with skin that looked like rubber, cloth that looked like rubber, perfectly graduated skies that looked like rubber. And people went nuts for it, because it was so smooooooth, and you couldn't see any of those nasty brushstrokes.

I don't think that good art is 'good' because of the tool used, it's good because the means of creation are in the service of the expression of an idea. I consider the computer as another toolbox, and as no better than the artist using it. On the other hand, just because you can do so many things with it doesn't mean you should. I hope I'm not picking on anyone's favorite, but the thing I always hate about Leroy Neiman's work is that he uses every single color in every single painting. It's like a writer having all 26 letters of the alphabet in every word, just arranged differently. You still have to learn design, and color harmony, composition, and typography, and anatomy, because the computer isn't gonna do it for you, any more than your pencil will. I don't get the point of focusing on the tool used when the results are there to see. Nobody who looks upon the David credits the chisel.

Anonymous said...

Adam - I just looked up the artist you mention, and viewing a google image page full of his work is like sticking your face to a rainbow. Yowza.

Kev - I absolutely disagree with you on this point, though generally you and I see eye to eye. The digital original exists out of the parts from which it was built, just like any other piece of art. What is a painting but, on the elemental level, an endlessly complicated combination of the compounds which make up the paint, the gel mediums, the canvas, the frame? Similarly, what is a digital work but the 1s and 0s that make up the code from which it is created?

If we are to break it down that far, it is only fair to do so on both levels. At its most basic, not a whole lot separates the gorgeous works in the Sistine Chapel from some "core-knowledge" mural on the wall of an elementary school.

David - of course I enjoy the works you put on this entry - who wouldn't? - but I disagree with your premise. Yes, the cathodes and other computer-y gizmos remain the same throughout the creation process, but again, what is a mixed orange paint but some exact combination of red and yellow paint? If we had the spreadsheets and information in front of us, we could mix any color we wanted, at any time, and do it in exactly the way we intended! Digital art is, in a sense, having that kind of luxury. Sure, it takes some of the pain of mixing paint out of the process, but I really don't see a fruitless 5-10 minutes of trial and error on the palate as necessary in the creation of art.

Anonymous said...

Brad, I see your absolute disagreement, and raise you total bafflement.

The meaning of "original art" is pretty specific... a singular handcrafted work of art. A digital work is simply not singular. The reproducibility/scalability of digital art means it can be reproduced exactly an infinite number of times. One copy's 0s and 1s are exactly the same as another's.

But what if we could limit the scalability?

What if the file could be somehow locked, so that it could not be duplicated? Would the file then be "the original"?

Well, actually, the file can still be reproduced by a screen grab, right? So let's say, the original digital file is locked on a computer with no screen grab program, no "copy" function, and all the outputs have been incinerated so nobody can copy the file in any way from the computer. Let's even lock the hard disk in place and throw away the key and booby trap it so that any attempt to remove or copy the hard disk in any way will result in the destruction of the work.

Now, is the work then an original work of art?

It certainly could be sold as one, given proper marketing. But would the digital file be "an original work of art?" Or would you be forced to consider the whole magilla, the computer system, the operating system, the self-destruct mechanism, and all the rest, part of the "original work of art"? ( Just as we consider the canvas to be part of the original work of an oil painting.) I think the answer would have to be yes, the whole computer plus the digital file would have to be considered the work of art. Because without the computer, there is no runnable file. Just like if you tried to view the Mona Lisa without allowing the canvas on which it exists to be present. Which is to say, you would be looking at a pile of paint chips.

And we are back to Dushcamp's urinal all over again. An art collaboration where most of the work has been done by a corporation.

And this is all without consideration of the handcrafted aspect of "a work of original art". (Rather than "an original work of art" which just means the image is new, not the art as an entity.)

I believe "handcrafted-ness" is an essential part of what people mean when they say "original art." Words are communally defined and the word "Original" as it is used to describe art, is still defined culturally as "having been handcrafted." I do not see how this can be changed except through some kind of mass brainwashing operation (a.k.a. Politics.)

The hand contacts the mouse. The hand contacts the pen or the keyboard. The hand never encounters the "original art". It can't touch the 0s and 1s. It can't touch a pixel. It can't touch the very thing the work the work is comprised of. Thus, digital art is the very opposite of "handcrafted" because it can never actually be touched by the hand.

Thus, the fact that both a digital picture and a work of original art are composed of parts that can be ever further broken down seems irrelevant to me.

This has been my opinion,

Anonymous said...

I guess, on this one, we just don't see eye to eye.

But hey, that's why this is discussion about the topic, not agreement about the topic, eh? ;-)

Anonymous said...

Simplest test imaginable: Try to sell a work of digital artwork at Illustration House.

End of story. :)


Jack Ruttan said...

Wow, I have yet to digest the comments here. Will return.

I was brought up on TV, and it's fun to be able to play with stuff on a screen, and make it do one's will.

I've got a monitor that makes my colours look brilliant. And then someimes a picture which looks so-so in the sketch book looks luminous in the magazine, backed with print, and echoed in the design.

There's also fixing mistakes, and changing things without having to redo the entire piece.

I do love playing with dip pens and watercolours and bamboo brushes. It is great to have all these tools. I'll never give up my paper sketchbook.

I don't mind e-mailing things, but also like visiting my editors and unveiling something with a flourish of tracing paper cover. I hope the new things are more an addition rather than a replacement.

Jack Ruttan said...

Okay, I read stuff. All I can do is spin out some thoughts.

Illustration's a job, as those mags where the artist includes his time worked on a piece show. Computers allow you to make adjustments more easily. The "original" is not so important when reproduction is the point. Your picture might be on perishable materials, because all that counts is getting the image down. I remember being disappointed seeing Hirschfeld's carcatures in original, with editor's scribbles and hash marks on them. They were meant to be displayed on the page.

Fine Art has put too much emphasis on "the object" as something of value. Hence a big oil painting is worth more than a beautiful small watercolour. No one likes ball point pen on typing paper, but they are very satisfying to draw. Brass and gold make prices higher. Cellini and also Jeff Koons knew about this.

Then for many pictures, nothing beats seeing them in person. There's Klimt, also Gustave Moreau as well, just to start. I was never too thrilled with William Blake, but his original watercolours have impact impossible to reproduce. (maybe it's got something to do with his angels).

There's also the notion of encountering famous images in books, versus on the wall. Lots can be written about all this. I think the computer has freed some artists up, however. But we still have to absorb all of these concepts into the culture.