Digital Art As Fine Art

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Digital Art As Fine Art

From Brian K. Yoder

Published before 2005


Juan C. Martinez wrote:
I agree with Piet here; the difference is something like playing a video or computer game of golf, say, and comparing that to the real game of golf.

That's a good analogy. I don't think that the experience of video golf is at all like real golf, but I think that both are clearly games. Likewise, making images with traditional materials and making them with a computer are very different experiences, but they both can result in the creation of art. Your medium, whether it's charcoal, pencil, water color, oils, or hammer and chisel can have tremendous impact on what is hard/easy to do and what works and doesn't work in any given medium, but as to the question of whether they are a possible medium for art those differences don't matter much at all.

The video game is challenging, difficult, frustrating, etc., but it is not nearly the “exact same” as golf. In the digital version, for instance, the swinging of the club, the flight of the ball, etc., are all done with algorithms, unlike the reality of it, which is immensely more complex, difficult, and unpredictable. The analogy to art is perhaps a little stretched, I admit, but the basis of it is there. Lines and brushstrokes in digital art are all algorithms, and, to some extent, perfect, unlike the reality of art, which is imperfect.

So are you saying that these accidental imperfections are good or necessary for the work of art to be art at all? I don't think that's true. I think that those accidental properties can be used to good effect by an artist, or that they can be managed so that they don't distract from the overall impact of the work, but I don't think that they are in any sense inherently necessary or desirable all other things being equal. In fact, if anything the opposite is more true. For thousands of years artists have been striving to get tools that give them ever more control over the shapes of their lines, the subtle mixtures of color, the smooth flow of paint, and so on. Why would they do that if it wasn't a desirable thing to gain ever more perfect control over the medium?

That said, I don't think that the images produced by computers are "perfect". The electronic medium has problems and limitations just like any other. They are just different problems and limitations, some of which are unique and others which are shared by some other media.

Using a stylus and a tablet to do the drawing or painting is orders of magnitude easier than manipulating real paint with a real brush. It has its challenges, yes, only they are far fewer than in real art.

I don't think I agree (you artists who have tried to draw with a stylus, what do you think of this?). Drawing with a stylus on a digitizing pad lacks a lot of the feedback of a pencil, brush, or pen. You can't see exactly where the mark is going to go with a stylus just by looking at it and feeling it the way you can with a physical implement. Overall, I would say that some things are a whole lot easier (like erasing) and some things are a lot harder (like feeling the tools and how they are interacting directly). A lot of issues are about the same (like design, composition, subject selection, and so on). You might as well ask whether drawing is easier than sculpture, music, or literature. They all have their difficulties.

What difference does the degree of difficulty make? Well, for that answer I turn back to the golf game analogy. Perhaps many people would be interested in a tournament of computer-game golf and there could be world champions and prize money and all sorts of things, but no one would accord it the same status as the real game of golf or the real golfers who play it. I needed explain that further, as I think that is rather an obvious example on the face of it.

I don't think that people pay more for a Bouguereau than a Brian Yoder because it was harder for Bouguereau to paint. They pay more for a Bouguereau because it is excellent. If what you were saying were true then artists could make far more money by painting while standing on their heads (which is a lot harder than doing it standing up after all), or by having them paint with their fingers rather than brushes. (Though of course your theory would explain a lot about why modernist paintings sell for such big bucks. ;-) )

Another difference is the impermanence of digital imagery, which is not too certain at this point. Not all fine art is long lasting, but most of it tries to be, and all of it should be. If it is well-crafted, we know that just about anything will last at least 4 to 5 hundred years, or more with good care. That permanence is an element of the universal appeal of much of the best fine art. How long will a given digital image remain with us? Theoretically, for a long time in digital format, I know; but the various formats and mechanisms for storage and retrieval are constantly changing. Will we even be able to read the CD-ROM or DVD that has the digital images stored on it fifty years from now? Probably not unless someone is very diligent about transferring to new media as they are developed. These problems are not present in the traditional fine arts.

In principle computer art is far more long-lasting since there's a perfect digital description of it that can be saved forever. Of course since it's a very young medium standards are likely to change, but to the extent that great art needs to be long lived (a position I don't buy) then art made on a computer seems to fit the bill well on that account.

--Brian