Digital Art As Fine Art

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Digital Art As Fine Art

From Gerald King

Published before 2005


Respected friends and colleagues,
I guess my post on "digital Art as Fine Art" is either not fully understood or failed to convince others on this list of the power of direct contact with a subject, and the need to internalize the subject through the process of drawing. Just because the cave painter worked exclusively from memorization of the subject does not mean that he lacked an intimate and contactual relationship with the subjects he drew and painted. Though succeeding cave paintings show a clear debt or influence of copying earlier works, the addition of details, animation and more lifelike images convinces me that these artists retained a direct contact with their subjects while learning from their predecessors. This tradition of a march towards profoundly humanist realism has never ceased and continues to attract and excite persons that we call ”fine artist." These are usually people who show an early or sometimes later propensity to draw constantly and accurately. It is through this process of observation, notation and execution that an artist will grow and their work will retain a certain powerful connection to life and reality.

Of course, not all art is 'realistic' and not all artists are fine artist. (I don't really like the term "fine art" because it denotes superiority and is a point of contention with artists following a different path.) From the beginning there have been artists who use reality and the images produced by fine artists as a point of departure for decorative designs. This can be clearly observed in the schematic drawings and pictures of children. Prior to the age of visual discrimination (9 to 12) all normal children freely invent a language of abstract symbols to communicate their fascination with life and reality. It is not hard to distinguish those with a propensity towards fine art and those who will eventually become designers, decorators, or mere appreciators of visual beauty. What distinguishes the child fine artist from others is usually the ability to observe more detail and to draw more realistically then his (or her) peers. How children navigate the rough waters of the age of discrimination and become what they are is a complex story, but most fine artists will find a way to continue exploring reality through drawing and painting.

The non-fine-artist may continue to create pictures which are both beautiful and provocative but offer little new insights into our world or a personal vision of reality. A sample of this might be Kinkade, who has found a formula that sells, and markets works to those appreciators of beauty who want comfortable images with nostalgic overtones. Perhaps in earlier days Kinkade was exploring the world as a fine artist and giving us some fresh views of the subjects he obviously felt strongly about. The lure of fame and money may have diverted his attention and efforts to less fine art activities. In his spare time I am sure he still feels a need to explore and discover the world he lives in.

The opportunities for the fine artist are extremely rare. With the traditional art institutions and other support groups dedicated to promote and encourage art advocacy rather than fine artists, chances are slim to nil than anyone other than a Picasso sycophant will garner any critical attention from an art critic or scholar. Thus good artists of our times are seldom known to other than a handful of people. The temptation of all struggling fine artists is to get on the bandwagon and placate the whims and caprices of those in power. I was reading today that the current Venice Biennale is void of any painting. (Oh wow, a chandelier made with 14,000 tampons by a hot moma from Lisbon.) All the swells from museums around the world were there to check out new talent. The most fashionable and prevalent medium used by the new masters was “video art.” I would guess that in years hence we may see “digital art” as an exciting cutting edge medium preferred by significant artists everywhere. I doubt anyone on this list will agree on the selections for such a show, but, I’m sure innovation with the technology will evidence some real creativity.

In my long lifetime I have seen a plethora of new mediums, methods and processes for making art. I have been forced by entrenched art educators and later the art curriculums given to high school teachers to dabble or play with florescent lights, lazar beams, acrylics, encaustics, glass, ceramics, photography, conceptual art, action painting, etc., etc., etc. I have heard from the fifties that we are in for one thousand years of abstraction, realism is dead, easel painting is dead, classical art is dishonest and detrimental to creativity, Jackson Pollock is the greatest artist of the 20th century, the computer will do away with the need for musical composers, and the moon is the residence of some mother rabbits making rice cookies (my Japanese wife’s belief).

This may all be true and an old fossil fine artist like me will soon disappear from the scene. But don’t count on it. The urge, need, or desire of some to explore and communicate personal visions of reality to a world satiated with past artistic accomplishments and mediocre contemporary pictorial efforts, will find a way to learn how to draw and see like a fine artist. They will continue to paint pictures (oil, likely) with a critical eye for a fresh perspective. They will continue to develop empathy with the world about them by internalizing form through drawing. They will continue to create the special beauty of personal vision and add to the artistic treasures of our society. Though ignorance, oppression and lack of support may deny many fine artists the opportunity to grow and produce great art, nothing will stifle the urge to excel in the production of fine art.

The answer to “is digital art fine art?” is as Brian and others say, it depends on who produces it - a technician, a craftsmen, an artist or a fine artist. How can you tell? If it is not obvious to you, ask an artist whom you greatly respect, ask a child, or wait a hundred years and read about it as a blob. Avoid critiques of the Venice Biennale by Blake Gopnik.

Gerald King