I bought my first computer in 1987. It had a floppy drive and I paid over $600 for a 100mgb hard drive. By 1988, my Studio’s accounting …in fact, the entire business… was completely computerized and I was well underway in trying to get an understanding of a new thing called the “Internet”. By 1993 the Studio was on the internet and I had registered a large number of domains.
I tell you all this so that you understand that I am not a computer illiterate, a Ludite or “anti” technology in any way. In fact quite the contrary… I was and maybe still am a “geek” and definitely a so-called “early adopter”. For example, I had a Sony digital camera that had a floppy disk drive… now, that’s early. By mid 1990’s, I was doing web development work for clients and by 2000 had a very nice business called Webvues.
I was initially a great supporter of digital art. In fact, I still am. But my attitude has changed quite siginificantly, especially when viewed through the prism of “fine art”.
I am accomplished with Photoshop and many graphics programs. I have been a licensed user for years. So I understand the process, the path that leads from an idea to a digital output. The path from the camera, through manipulation and adjustment to a final output or “print”. So when I look at digital art, I generally know exactly how it was executed… no real mystery… just a mastering of the process.
Much of the digital automotive art that I have seen starts with a photograph. The “art” is in the manipulation of the pixels with packaged software. Add to this the often undeniable creativity of the digital artist and you have a piece of digital “art”. It then comes out of the printer.
I’m a painter so I will use that process for contrast. In a “painting”, there is an idea that is converted either to drawings or directly to the canvas. Paint is applied with brushes or perhaps a palette knife depending on style. It dries, it’s done.
I once thought that both processes were pretty much the same thing. The only difference is the tools. In the end you have a piece of art. I still think that to some degree but my view has shifted somewhat.
Let’s look at a digital work through its process. If it starts with a photo, it is shot with a digital camera running software that was not created by the artist . The digital file from the camera is then manipulated with software that was also not created by the artist. In other words, all else being equal, if the management of the software is mastered, all users with the same level of proficiency with the software should be able to generate something comparable. What’s the magic? The magic can only be the unique creativity of the artist.
Now let’s look at a painting. All painters use pretty much the same canvas, the same paint, the same brushes. Yet no two artists working with essentially the same “tools” can accomplish the same result. (There is an exception: art forgers, but set that aside for the moment.)
So where’s the disconnect? I call it the “dirty hands syndrome”. When I finish working on a painting every day, my hand, my clothes, the easel, the floor all bear evidence that ”work” has been done here. In other words, there is a definitive, tactile relationship between the creator and the creation.
That’s the first difference.
Does this matter?
Again, I once didn’t think so but I’ve changed my mind.
In the 70’s I became enamoured with stereo systems. So much so that I started to design and construct my own speakers …which were then also sold commercially although on a very small scale. I think I had a good ear and I was always on the lookout for the latest and newest technology. So, along comes digital in the form of the CD… no more turntable problems like rumble, changes in pitch, scratches on the analog record surface and no hiss and distortion issues with tape moving along a recorder’s head.
The first CD I heard was perfect. Absolutely no distortion and, even though the oversampling was initially quite low, the CD delivered an exceptionally clean, crisp and “perfect” sound.
As time went by the digital recording technology improved leaps and bounds and I, having more or less lost interest in audio, settled into a digital sound future. But I always felt there was something missing.
So after a decade or so I pulled out my turntable and threw on a record.
And there it was: an un-clinical sound if there is such a term, a slightly messy sound, more akin to something you would experience in a live performance.
I know a few musicians and I’ve heard lots of commentary on this subject. Here’s how it was explained to me using drumming as the example. Apparently now in a recording studio there is a thing called a “grid”. The live drummer’s work fits into this perfectly timed recorded sequence which means that each hit on the drum fits into a precise spot… not before, not after… but exactly in perfect time.
And so here's the second difference , the one that finally put all of this into perspective for me.
You see, it’s not perfection we hear in music or see in a piece of art, it is a “whole”… errors, serendipity, smiling gods, good mistakes… it’s the whole thing that we appreciate. The problem with some music and some digital art is that it is too perfect. The drummer is a perfect example… some of the most memorable and enjoyable moments in music come slightly off the beat. And I know from 30 years of experience that some of the best features of my paintings have occurred incidentally or, more accurately, unintentionally.
So where does this leave us on the subject of digital art? Is it comparable to a traditional painting? Is it “fine” art?
My answer is yes and no.
Yes because it can encompass exceptional creativity and no because I don't think the two should even be compared. Luciano Pavarotti and Kanye West are both singers but are they really comparable?
So both disciplines should be looked at - digital 2D and 3D and "fine art" painting and sculpture.
And we're going to try to do something about it. Watch for the April 2016 issue.