Apples To Applesauce - The Digital Art Debate
Let’s resolve the debate between digital art and traditional art. The fundamental problem with comparing the two is that the comparison is often between digital media and everything else. — Oils, chalk, watercolor, pastels, all take one side and digital art gets cast as the opponent. The flaw here is that digital art is a medium, not a separate entity. Comparing oils to digital media does not make sense because one cannot say that an oil painting on canvas is superior to an oil pastel drawing on paper simply because of the materials used.
Some people contend that traditional artists are superior to digital artists because a digital artist can achieve certain results faster than a traditional painter could. And thus, more time spent equals a better painting. In some ways this can be true, but in many other ways it’s simply not correct. Time is relative. — Einstein taught us that. A master painter may be able to sketch a portrait in less than an hour, but give them a lump of clay and ask them to sculpt a face. — Well, you can just imagine how long that might take. If we are to believe that time equals quality, then it must be true that those who are beginners produce better artwork than experienced painters.
All types of media, physical or digital, have their limits. These constraints are what defines a particular medium and sets it apart from the other media. Oil paint requires paint thinners, watercolor paint requires watercolor paper. This isn’t to say artists don’t break these rules, but there are certain boundaries.
Time and materials are the primary constraints in traditional media. The time it takes for the paint to dry or the time it takes to draw perspective guides; The cost of paints and canvas. While time and materials can be a disadvantage for a traditional artist, it’s not a problem for a digital artist because an unlimited amount of time can be spent on a single piece. As well, digital art materials do not limit the size or quantity of artwork. Again, if more time spent equals better art, then digital artists have an advantage in that regard.
One might argue that it’s the difficulty of working with traditional media that makes it superior, but making a process difficult does not guarantee better results. Does eating your dinner with your hands make it taste better? Does driving while blindfolded get you to work faster? – No.
Our whole existence is based upon using the latest tools and technology. It would be grossly hypocritical to shun digital artists, while favoring email and text message over hand written letters in cursive. (Which, by the way were scribed on parchment using a quill and ink from a rare octopus that lives in the bottom of the ocean.) It’s perfectly acceptable to favor traditional art or digital art, but it’s not fair to disparage artists for their creative process or choice of media.
Some people contend that true art must be tangible and have texture you can see and feel. I will agree that one of the constraints of digital media is tangibility. At this point in time, people are not able to make fully tangible digital art, but in the near future we certainly will. (The exception being embellished prints and prints on canvas.) While tangibility is a property of an oil painting, it is not a property of a digital painting and the two should not be compared based on criteria that is proprietary to one particular medium. For example, it would not be fair to judge a oil painting on it’s luminance when an oil painting is made using subtractive color, not projected as light on a screen. Obviously the digital art would be brighter, but the oil painting would have paint texture. Two different worlds, two different types of art.
You must realize that art can exist in two worlds, the Real World and Digital World. Both worlds exist all around us and are integral in our everyday life. Unless you live in a cave, there’s no escaping the digital world. Typically, traditional art lives in the Real World and when an artist tries to move traditional art into the digital world, the painting can be less compelling. In the same way, there is some disadvantage to bringing digital art into the Real World. It’s important to see the difference in these worlds to understand the context in which you are evaluating these media.
For example, the digital equivalent to sculpture is 3D modeling. Depending on who you are, it can be much easier to make a 3D model of a vase than it is to throw, fire and glaze one using real clay. In the real world, a clay vase has more tangible value than a digital vase, but they each serve a different purpose. The 3D vase cannot be held in your hand, but the clay vase cannot exist in a 3D environment. It has to first be digitized and photographed from all angles to exist in the digital world. Once inside the computer, the clay vase becomes digital art.
Traditional artists who photograph and print their work are by definition digital artists. When you scan or photograph your work, it becomes digital. When you sell prints of your work, you are selling digital art. The success of traditional art depends upon the Digital World and success of digital art depends upon the Real World. The two media are part of the same co-dependent system.
Cloning & Auto-Painting
I can understand that some people are bothered by cloning and auto-painting. I accept cloning as a valid art form and I don’t think less of artists who clone. I started out cloning and tracing. Tracing is a fundamental part of learning to paint and draw. We all do it at some point.
The problem I do have is, up until a certain point, cloning doesn’t benefit you as an artist. Because cloning does much of the work automatically, you don’t learn as much as you could starting from nothing. To develop as an artist, you need to learn how to paint images from scratch, pick color, mix color, add form, compose. You don’t fulfill any of these needs when you are just tracing over what’s there. Cloning is like only eating fast food. It satisfies your hunger, but in the long term you are not getting any real nutrition from it. So again, I don’t have a problem with Cloning as art. – I have a problem with it being a crutch that new artists rely upon and don’t move beyond. While it’s a great bridge to bring people into digital painting, it can also be an obstacle.
Another issue is that those who oppose digital art do so because they assume all digital art is either cloning or manipulated images. Not all digital artists clone. Many work from scratch using the same processes that a traditional artist would use to compose a painting. It’s important to note that cloning is a genre and is not the basis of all digital paintings.
The problem with the current state of art is the negative attitudes of certain artists and collectors who have hijacked the term “art” to impose their elitist ideology. Whether this is done out of insecurity, greed or both, I will never know. I hope that one day “art” by definition can be given back to the public domain rather than be administered by those who consider themselves the authority. Anyone who is truly an expert in art would know that art is everything and everywhere. All art is valid and anyone who disagrees with that really doesn’t know the first thing about art.
In conclusion, it’s pointless to argue about which medium is better when you are subjectively comparing two things that are nearly identical. Digital art is a medium not a separate art form. It should be embraced by the mainstream along with the rest of the artistic media. Digital artists should not be disparaged because of their choice in media. Time, tangibility, materials and difficulty do not dictate the validity or valuation of artwork.