This morning Antoinette Ledzian of Stonington, CT wrote, “Digital art has been my savior. Moments which might have been blurred have turned into transformational pieces through my use of Photoshop. I love the instant processing, the ability to rework my images and go right onto another piece. I could never do this when I practiced calligraphy or painted. Possibly I’ve finally found my medium. What’s happening?”
Thanks, Antoinette. It’s an epidemic. Creative folks of all stripes find the making of digital art to be almost irresistible. Brilliant software — on a constant arc of improvement — permits ever more speedy and imaginative manipulation. Through portals like Flickr, images are posted and feedback is immediate. Communities are born and people are empowered. Instant gratification is the order of the day. Worldwide, more than a thousand new images are currently being posted every second. Like poetry in the last century, more is being made than seen. And like poetry, the making of it is absorbing, challenging, life enhancing, and full of beautiful “aha” epiphanies. Digital manipulation is probably the fastest way to cross-breed motifs and ideas. Everyone who tries it can see that it’s a creative tool like no other.
And yep, digital has its problems. While holding out the hand of democratization to all who would participate, like photography itself, it also runs counter to the role of art as commodity — digital is difficult to make rare. Its facile nature and general proliferation tend to render it less valuable. Those who would commercialize digital are faced with the question of what to do with it. Posters, art-cards, gallery sales, even pay-per-view on the Internet have so far shown only faint success.
For us, digital is a celebration of looking and seeing, of delight in what nature has given — and what the human creator can do with what is seen. Its champions and masters are now appearing. Digital is a welcome force for human exchange and universal understanding — a sort of instant handshake that helps to make real our essential brotherhood and sisterhood.
PS: “A computer is an interface where the mind and body can connect with the universe and move bits of it about.” (Douglas Adams, 1952-2001)
Esoterica: In Leonardo’s time there were few artists and those few made magic that the wise and privileged desired. Today the wise and privileged make magic for themselves. We can still make our mark with brush and canvas, or chisel and stone — but we are also blessed with the grace of a higher technology. In the words of Daniel Bell, “Technology, like art, is a soaring exercise of the human imagination.” Can it be that this technology is a window to a brighter future? “The new electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village.” (Marshall McLuhan, 1911-1980)
Paint from tubes more satisfying
by Marion Boddy-Evans
Digital painting with a program such as Corel Painter has many things I enjoy and I’m astounded at how ‘real’ the results are. Not to mention my admiration for the brains behind the computer programming. But, ultimately, the process lacks a critical element for me: the tactile feel of paint. Painting with pixels just doesn’t satisfy me the same way as does paint from tubes.
(RG note) Thanks, Marion. In the three days since my letter came into your inbox there have been just under 700 return emails echoing very closely Marion’s sentiment. Thank you to all who wrote.
A society of learners
by Ron Leming, Amarillo, TX, USA
Most digital artists, like myself, don’t do any of the things you mentioned to try to make money. I’m an illustrator, doing book covers, magazine covers, DVD and CD covers, etc. The range runs from those who do what I do, to those who work in movies, TV, animation, etc. Many of my fellow CG Society members are professionals, but we have quite a few members who are still learning. We’re all learning and this is also the place where we go for help.
(RG note) Thanks, Ron. Visit the the CG Talk Gallery for a vast collection of digital art. It’s one of the best places to have your own work looked at and commented by a large audience of professional digital artists.
Digital requires lots of skill
by Bettina Makley, Wheeling, WV, USA
Thanks for shedding such a positive light on computer graphics. I can remember talking to a portrait artist a few years back. When I asked her if she had ever tried computer graphics, her response was “No… I’d rather do the work myself.” I know she didn’t mean to be offensive, so I was nice when I responded, but I still get this, now and then, from painters. I paint, too. I sculpt and draw and sew. These skills enhance my computer graphics. While it is true that a computer can accomplish some things faster/easier, it is NOT true that it takes less skill to create art with one.
by Edie Hicks, Halifax, NS, Canada
I was sad to see that you only posted Photoshop and 3D images in your example of Digital Art, no digital painting using Corel Painter. Painter has saved my life as an artist. Life circumstances had stalled my development after college and the cutting of Art Ed. budgets. About 10 years ago while working 12 hour night shifts I discovered Digital Art – my first program was JASC’s PSP 5 ( I now have all versions to X Corel, bought the program during version 9, and most of us long-time users are not happy with how they are using it).
It has taken me years to get beyond the technology. I found that with a mouse all I could do was Photo Manips, as I was a real clutz trying to paint with a puck, then I discovered the Wacom tablet, first the PenPartner (now called Graphir) then the Intous GD my first pro tablet. I now have 11″ x 6″ Intous 3.
I got my first Painter just as Metacreations sold it to Corel version 6, I now use version 9. I had to learn a new colour theory and to work as though I was painting on canvas, before I started getting results I liked. Along the way I was getting lots of the usual, “Wow that’s great,” but I knew they weren’t. Working with Painter has also improved my painting on canvas work and allows me to paint everyday, where as I have to find space, time to get out paint and canvas, where as with Painter I can turn on my computer and work on an image for 5 min. if that is all the time available, or work for hours when I can, with no mess to put away, no wasted paint that I would have to trash.
Painter is also a program that I doubt I’ll ever come to the end of its possibilities. It has thousands of brush combinations, the hundreds that come with plus downloadable custom brushes and the ones we make ourselves to create our hearts desire.
(RG note) Thanks, Edie. Readers might be interested in The World’s Best Painter Art by Ballistic Publishing. While the committee had lots to choose from, what is surprising is the generally high standard of composition, colour, drawing and design. Is there something intrinsic in digital that brings out these qualities? Has the application of standards and classic techniques largely switched to the “clean slate” of digital? Or is it just because it’s now the tool of choice of the illustrators? For various reasons many traditional processes have been abandoned by “brush and canvas” fine art. Perhaps some of this is due to the proliferation of the so called “easy do,” “unschooled” and “no-brainer-feel-good” art, as well as the confusing verbal-based elitism often rampant in academia. Digital, currently tending toward illustrative, is one medium that has so far managed to proceed without the benefit of academia.
Digital choices not that good
by Peter W. Brown, Oakland, CA, USA
If the images you have provided as the “cutting edge” of digital art are truly fine examples, I am not terribly worried as a painter. Those images are just not all that good. One clue is that most seem to have their feet in a pond where regular artists have already walked. These are echoes rather than innovations. Some are pure derivatives, others look like frames from a bad movie. Further, when you are “holding out the hand of democratization,” realize that half of the people on this earth have never spoken on a phone, much less learned Photoshop. We must realize that when a human being takes a brush and lays paint on a ground, that person joins a 35,000 year old tradition. I am no Luddite, but I know of a time when people thought that photography would spell the end of painting. It didn’t and neither will Photoshop.
Collecting digital art
by Susan Collacott, Port Credit, ON, Canada
Creative digital images are like etchings or photographs. The work is done for the first image in an edition. Some people do not want to number their digital images so they can sell as many as they want. That will diminish their potential value to a collector. Also, creative digital images, if printed in archival ink will last over 100 years or more and like many master printmakers, artists and photographers, the images are often printed by someone else. Many art collectors will come around to digital collecting when they realize the difference between original work in a medium and a reproduction.
Transferring digital to fabric
by Aurora Fox, Berkeley, CA, USA
Recently I took a photo portrait of a friend, imported it from Photoshop to Illustrator, traced it and played with the image in Illustrator to make it look more like an illustration than a photo, then printed the resulting image onto cotton fabric, then embroidered and quilted the image on the fabric… for an unusual art quilt. To me the beauty of digital photography is that you can print it onto a variety of mediums, then hand manipulate (or enhance) the printed image. It’s particularly interesting with fabrics.
by Bill Polm, Murrieta, CA, USA
John Naisbett’s book Megatrends, published in 1988, was remarkably prophetic. A lot of his points, if not most, were right on. One of them was “High tech – high touch,” meaning the more technological we become, the more we will crave human touch. For example, think how one treasures a handwritten thank-you-note is over an e-mail. Technology can easily be depersonalizing. An important part of the human personality may be lost in computer art. A human does it, but part of the human is skipped in the making. So for me, it’s by hand.
No texture with digital
by Elizabeth Nees, Long Beach, CA, USA
Yes, digital art-making is seductive — experiment, especially for those of us who love to to answer the question, “What if I do this?” Instant results, saturated colors, easy fixes. But what about the surface? — gone flat — very flat. And the individuality of mark-making, the tactile quality, the infusion of something essentially human, is gone, translated into something mechanical. The direct human touch has been mediated, replaced by a digital fingerprint. Many years ago, I heard The History of Art is more accurately called The History of Art That Can Be Reproduced. That author was referring to art history texts, but he could have been speaking of the digital age.
If it’s digital, it’s copy-able
by Raymond Dufayel
I’ve spent twelve years working in Photoshop; the last seven years working almost exclusively in Photoshop and have found all the pros and cons mentioned in your letter. After seven years I have come to the conclusion that Photoshop is a great tool to help work out composition, generate new ideas and receive critique from a wide circle of influences. As a vehicle for fine art and way to generate a valuable commodity I think it’s severely lacking.
Public perception has much to do with it, as well as shrewd entrepreneurs who for example print out large size “posters” of public domain work for under a $100 framed. Also what prevents even less ethical folks from snapping up the proliferation of imagery found on various Internet search engines and websites, re-processing and re-composing the images to pass off as their own? I also believe appropriation often blurs the line between copyright and originality, and in digital work there can be a temptation to “creatively” use someone else’s work in your own. Worse, pirating software, the ease of making duplications/reproductions and those willing to take the “risk” of cutting in on the action make Digitized Fine Art seem a foolhardy venture at best. If it’s digital, it’s copy-able.
All artists face the same challenges
by Kirk Wassell, Chino Hills, CA, USA
Photography is my medium and my tools lay within the computer. I have discovered over the last 7 years that Digital art is not as simple as it seems on the surface. If I start with a ho hum photo, then for me the rest is obvious. I think there is great insight to be gained from understanding digital art. It’s not easy, as I believe is an underlying misconception. Like painting, anyone can throw some pigment on a canvas and call it art. The subjectivity of that process is ones own experience. Regardless of what the world thinks of your art, it matters most what you think. The art, regardless of the form, came from within, it must therefore, first and foremost, be fully acknowledged from within. Of course we want others to appreciate our work, but real art is not created for others, we create it for our own pleasure. The most amazing aspect of art to me comes from it’s presentation, where we either stand boldly or timidly with arms extended, offering our work, wondering if it will be accepted or rejected. That for me is where the rubber meets the road. Whether digital or traditional, we all face the same challenges of creation.
No substitute for feeling the work in hand
by William M. Dupree, Westborough, MA, USA
Digital art is, on average, easier to do. When the doing is easier, there is more doing. When the doing is hard, there is more contemplation. When the doing is too hard, very little work is actually produced. When the doing is too easy then there can be much work but there may not be enough thought put into it. One can get caught up in the doing for its own sake. One can be self-indulgent in doing if the work is easy and exciting. One can be self-indulgent in thought also, producing nothing. Each of us finds our own balance between consideration and production.
Digital art, on average, is faster paced and more exciting. Excitement and speed predispose one to certain aesthetics. A plodding deliberation predisposes one to different aesthetics. Certain work is more difficult to accomplish in a quick exciting medium because it is more difficult to maintain the necessary mood. Other work you need to do quickly to keep the mind out of it. Lack of attention to the effect the nature of the process has on the nature of the work can lead to enigmatic difficulties.
Although I spend hours a day at the computer, there is no substitute for feeling the stone, the metal, the plaster, or the wood in the hand; to feel its weight; to feel its texture; to struggle with it in the world rather than in the mind alone. I love to look at people and I would miss it if I lost the ability, but it is no substitute for physical merging and interplay.
Wabi Sabi photo-haiga
by Carole MacRury, Pt. Roberts, WA, USA
I recently had my first gallery opening of an exhibit titled “Wabi-Sabi Photography,” a combination of photo-haiga and photographs. I never expected to sell anything. Much to my surprise, I sold quite a few in two hours and not to relatives, either. In my work I look for moments that provide a glimpse of the universal; a sense of unity with the natural world of which we are a part. Through the brevity of haiku, the freshness and the focus, I’ve learned to seek out subjects with a sense of “Wabi Sabi.” This Japanese term means to appreciate our aloneness and to see beauty through decline – a weathered fence, a rusty lock, fallen roses, or simply a treasured old face. Haiku awareness has taught me the power of observation and the stillness required to ‘be in the moment’ so that I may capture images that may go unnoticed.
Under stress in the Congo
by Lilian Valladares, Switzerland
Talking about Art and Stress, I just came back from the Democratic Republic of Congo. I went to show my work at the Fine Arts Academy of Kinshasa. The reason was philanthropic, I would rather say, for the boys and girls studying there need a lot of information that they do not get since 1992. The results of this African Adventure were immense. I had about 500 persons visiting the small gallery in 15 days of exhibition, mostly artists and art collectors, art teachers and art inquisitive people, many ONU peacekeepers, etc. The exhibition included 12 very large oil paintings. None of my works were titled for one simple reason: I wanted to see, to listen to what each person had to say about them. From young boys and girls to aged painters and teachers, the works filled them with motions and they responded out loud to the images in accordance to their heart. I could see the tragedy of some souls, I could hear the hope of many, and I could understand the devastation the war left in each human being, in their psyche. Before the vernissage, the elections bring to an end and the results made that the actual president and his vice president launch militia hostilities.
I decided that by no means I would give up such an effort of bringing a whole exhibition from Switzerland to the heart of Africa. Cancel everything because abuses and gunfire and bombardment were flying in all directions, the militia assault at 100 meters of our place? I called my Ambassador and we decided to set up in place the exhibition with invitations for all diplomatic bodies in the capital. The only security we had was that the Culture Minister was coming for the time being of the vernissage.
If stress feels to the success of this adventure, I mean, I can work very well under it. The main thing is: most art students of Congo’s capital saw this show and could collect new information for their future work.
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 105 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2006.
That includes oliver of Texas, USA who wrote, “I want to encourage everyone to try the digital tool kit – just like I want them to try painting in various sub mediums, just so they know how hard it really is to produce good work.”
And also Alex Nodopaka who wrote, “To spend a lifetime gazing at the same paintings on the wall is not the future of art. Canvases will be plasma screens and like a television, art of our choice will be subscribed for and programmed in.”
And also Annette Waterbeek who wrote, “Digital can be extremely boring at times — but then there are those times like, ‘WOW, you can do that with this?’ ”
And also Hans Werner of Australia who wrote, “Digital art is made by a machine and still needs electricity… one must need to learn to draw and paint and understand the perspectives, without that you have nothing!”
And also Rick Rotante who wrote, “Modern society has lowered the bar on everything from education to cooking (i.e. fast food). Everyday there is media hype on everything we do. It mostly falls way short of ‘genius.’ We live in a NOW generation. Go back one hundred years and most of what we call genius is so much flotsam and jetsam.”
And also Jan Verhulst of Belgium who wrote, “One of the meanings of postmodernism is ‘the end of art.’ This signifies that art has discovered or conquered all style possibilities and that there is no expectation of new artistic expressions, digital or others.”