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Thread: What makes digital art digital art?

  1. #1
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    What makes digital art digital art?

    Me and chinapete have recently been having a PM conversation about “What makes digital art digital art?”, and we both felt the topic was so interesting that we wanted to see what others might have to say on it.

    I’ll preface this with my personal thoughts--

    Much of what I have to say comes out of my recent experiments with mural making, and how important scale and physicality can be, to be both the viewer of an art work, as well as the making of an art piece. I admit that I’ve had my ups and downs with digital art as an art-maker —I like the physical process of painting with natural media, both in terms of the media itself (how watercolors disperse and granulate, the texture of a wall, etc) as well as how engaged my body is physically in the act, whether I’m whipping a brush around, painting plein air, or painting on an 8’ x 8’ wall and stretching on my tip toes.

    Secondly, I would say that scale can really matter, a lot—viewing a painting or mural the size of a wall, where you entire body can relate to it, is a very different experience from seeing a print of it in a book or a photo of it on a computer screen. My personal experience is that scale also directly affects the art making process as well—so I think it works on both sides of the coin. Working on a screen, even at high res and zoomed in, for a painting you know is going to get printed, is very different from working on a large (or very small) natural media painting (or so it seems to me). Clearly, digital art has many things it can do, but I’ve generally felt that these aspects are not it’s strong suit. These aspects happen to be pretty important to me.

    But then I began to wonder—just what is its strong suit? Have I been judging digital art by the standards of other mediums, and that’s just not fair? What really makes digital art digital art?

    For me, Watercolors that try and act like Acrylics, super-transparent Oils, etc. These things don’t generally appeal to me in and of themselves (beyond concepts of composition, narrative, tonal values, etc) because they’re not really taking advantage of what that medium can really DO. I can shear a baby redwood to stay a hedge it’s whole life, buy why? Hedges are great, and serve a horticultural purpose, but a redwood can become something entirely different! If Acrylics and Oils are viscous and opaque, say, and function well on unprotected surfaces (like walls), then watercolors is clearly transparent and very fluid, with water (and the ways it reacts with other substances) being it’s primary element. Graphite smudges, and is clearly a tonal device. It’s also exceptionally portable and cheap. It also relates very readily to surface textures. So, I began to ask myself— What is it that digital art __does__. What makes it digital? What can I explore when making art digitally that I can’t do otherwise?

    Similarly, I think it’s really worth pondering what makes digital art digital art. I think it could lead to interesting and alternative ways of making and viewing digital art. What makes it more than just a copy of another medium? What can it really offer us that other art mediums can’t, or would have an intensely difficult time doing? Why should we paint digitally, instead of just painting “with the real thing”?

    “What makes digital art digital art?” doesn’t really tell us what we can do with it (or more importantly __why__ we should), but it’s a starting point. What came to mind were the following few basic factors-

    1. The most important, in my mind-- concepts of scale are potentially erased (or, at the very least, utterly transformed) by digital art-objects being __viewed__ digitally. You can potentially explore a digital image in an entirely new way compared to a physical canvas or object.
    2. Ink is “the bridge” between digital and natural media is dead on. We don’t yet print in oils or watercolors. We print with ink, and should be aware of that. (This is really chinapete’s baby, as it’s a central part of the work he’s now producing)
    3. How we create art matters, and currently digital art is made on relatively small screens, often at a desk. That absolutely affects the art-making process, and thus the art itself. For example, plein air is still not really an option. This also dictates a lot about scale because of the size of the computer screen, etc.
    4. Digital art is automatically reproducible. Although people seem to paint with the older image of an artist making a singular painting, we are in fact our own little Andy Warhol printing presses. The “original” doesn’t have much meaning for a digital art piece.
    5. We can undo and use layers, so digital art is utterly flexible. It has a great deal in common with the color printing process.
    6. Digital work is still basically only viewed on a computer screen. If printed, which is rare and still not cheap enough to be common, its still at the scale a common press can produce.
    7. We can import any kind of texture we want—alpha channels are a huge part of digital art
    8. Digital art has the potential to be created communally and to never be finished. Versions and “divergent” branches can be very integral to working digitally.
    9. Digital art pushes light instead of reflects i.
    10. The least important, but perhaps the most functionally truthful—there’s no setup, no cleanup, no accidental smudging, eraser marks, etc. … basically, it’s convenient to paint digitally, if you’ve got the money to start the process up. Even more so on a table tpc (like mine) or an iPhone.
    Last edited by Steve B; 04-11-2013 at 01:25 PM.
    Check out and submit to the thread on Watercolor WIPs in Artrage-- lots of good tips and conversation
    My YouTube video tutorial series- How to Paint with Watercolors in Artrage
    Try out the free
    Artrage Pen-Only Toolbar to improve your workflow and reduce clutter
    List of other good tutorials on using watercolors in Artrage
    List of good sticker sprays for watercolor effects in Artrage

    My blog- art, poetry and picture books- http://www.seamlessexpression.blogspot.com/

  2. #2
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    Now, just as a way into this, I wanted to talk about #1- scale. Chinapete was talking about “representing the monumental within a very small space”, I was talking about scale, and it occurred to me that a lot of people who like digital art would be just as happy endlessly zooming in and exploring the miraculous detail of a digital painting done at high res, compared to viewing a mural sized painting. And I thought—yes, that’s true…. wouldn’t that be an interesting experience to explore? People clearly paint objects with something of the viewing experience in mind, why not so with digital art? The idea that an artist might make a painting at a __really__ high res, like 10K x 10K or 20K x 20K, and then they went in and created a vast amount of detail and depth, so that you could really load the whole image up at full res, zoom in or out as you saw fit, and really __explore__ it on a computer or ipad or whatever…. that’s very intriguing to me as an art-maker, and a viewing experience that digital art uniquely offers. Of course, people like viewing natural media up close too, but that’s still pretty different in my mind.

    Mostly, I’m interested in exploring just what it means to make, and view, art digitally. I still think this is a medium that’s in its infancy. Hell, it’s only 3 or 4 years that we’ve really been able to pinch and zoom. I still think people are making digital art with the mindset of a natural media artist—upload it and view it at web-scale on a site, or create a high res image but really made for print only, not as something filled with “miraculous detail”. It’s just a thought, but it’s invigorating. I don’t think I’ve been considering the viewer’s experience of a digital image enough.
    Check out and submit to the thread on Watercolor WIPs in Artrage-- lots of good tips and conversation
    My YouTube video tutorial series- How to Paint with Watercolors in Artrage
    Try out the free
    Artrage Pen-Only Toolbar to improve your workflow and reduce clutter
    List of other good tutorials on using watercolors in Artrage
    List of good sticker sprays for watercolor effects in Artrage

    My blog- art, poetry and picture books- http://www.seamlessexpression.blogspot.com/

  3. #3
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    All this info to answer is a little unwieldy. But to begin with I'll speak to the overriding theme and also to one detail in particular.

    Disagree on this detail: Digital can do plein aire. You said it can't. Just take your tablet with ArtRage out into the field. Start it and complete it. What other definition is there? Further advantage is that you can snap a photo of the scene, and import it into the program. Plein aire painters do something similar all the time should they want.

    As to scale: Sure. Scale in digital is infinitely adjustable -- in the mind. Art (in the conventional sense) is about the human experience. We're perceiving something. Literature. Movies. Music. The scale of these things is infinite precisely because it activates the mind or the imagination or what we believe. Art is more or less no different and we're quibbling about form.

    If scale is the deciding factor, then I ask you how many paintings of the mountains in Yosemite are actually as large as the mountain itself? The artist Cristo (the guy who wraps coastlines and buildings and so forth) is an anomaly who happens to have found a niche that he's exploited. Was it worth the fuss? His stuff is relatively dull to me in the execution of it and the difference is in changing the mind's perception of scale momentarily. It's less about the physical and he's doing what every other artist does -- re-presenting something in a way that draws attention to itself. Is that a big deal? (pun intended)

    An advantage of digital and scale is that because you are painting on the mind primarily, you can also reduce the world to increase the relative scale of the art, where the art is global in scale and the environment might be a TV set size. How's that for a reversal of scale.

    And I'm not even talking about virtual 3D worlds and objects. But you can build and sculpt much into the real world that was designed in the virtual environment. This includes real world guns that shoot, sculptures, I heard there may be printable circuit boards, and I've no doubt at some point they will be able to construct living tissue from a digital prototype. It's infinite in scope.

    When this is in the offing, I'm sorry but whether one gets their ultramarine pigment from lapis lazuli stones seems like a non-question. People dealing with those issues of retro art forms and materials are fine, but it's very niche like people who like to wear their hair like an Impressionist painter, or wear styles from the 1950s motorcycle gangs. Sure they have a style, but they are choosing those styles because of what it evokes.

    You can also draw a comparison between ants with their loose organism in terms of replications consisting of colonies vs. a single elephant. I happen to "think of" ants as a single organism in which the cells happen to have a certain degree of physical autonomy but behave with a single purpose more or less, analogous somewhat to specialized cells in a body. So digital art can be considered like stem cells in a way - until they are given purpose or function (on a wall or in a movie or book etc) they are all about potential. In digital form they can continue to be manipulated copied, manipulated, copied. . .

    Remember that painting by Magritte of a pipe in which he wrote "This is not a pipe." (in French). With digital art, it actually can become the pipe. And this is significant.

    The common point for all this, the unifying field theory of all Art is us humans and what it serves in us. We might as well consider that we have been and are continuing to create everything in the mind, and that's where the real canvas lies. The rest is mere form.
    "Not a bit is wasted and the best is yet to come. . ." -- remembered from a dream

  4. #4
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    I think I come down on Mr Akey's side of the fence.

    I think asking what is or if something is digital art is really a non-question. We don't ask as artists, except in the most pedestrian or pragmatic way, what is oil painting, or pastel art? We know. Critics and/or art historians have a different (and in my opinion unenviable) task of generating a taxonomy for art, or defining genres.

    The best artists (in whatever genre) are struggling understand themselves and the world/universe they live in and their relationship to them. They are, as has been said, "turning chaos into cosmos." To my mind that is a path of great courage and some nobility.

    The point that I am trying get to (a bit grandiosely!) is that us artists use whatever medium we can get our hands on to express what we want. Whether it is oil, pastel, ArtRage, Photoshop or a combination of those is really irrelevant.

    Brett
    Visit my gallery here.

    =========

  5. #5
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    Thanks for responding guys. Your observations are interesting. I found particularly interesting D Akey's comment that something made digitally can be "made" into a true, 3D object. That's an engaging point.

    I didn't, of course, intend to somehow imply that painting digitally isn't real "art". Not my point at all. My question was more "What makes it special? What can it do that other forms can't do?" It was meant to be exploratory, because it might be helpful to us as arists. "What makes digital art digital art?" with the emphasis on digital, not art.

    Hypotaxis, you said "I think asking what is or if something is digital art is really a non-question. We don't ask as artists, except in the most pedestrian or pragmatic way, what is oil painting, or pastel art? We know." Perhaps I'm misreading you here, but I think the idea of asking oneself what makes a certain media tick, what makes oils oils, what makes watercolor watercolors, etc. is actually a really normal and helpful part of making art and working in a medium. Of course, making marks is just fun! But I've absolutely pondered how watercolors work, and what they can do. And as I've explored other mediums, like acrylics, etc. I've only learned to compare those media more and more, to understand each one and what it can do, what are its strengths, it's weaknesses, etc

    I guess that was my point about working digital. I've always come at it from the perspective of "How can I get this to act and look like XXXX media?" Perhaps painting digitally is like a chameleon, since it can emulate other forms so well-- but then I thought there must be something else at the "core" of it. To me, at least, part of the pleasure of working and viewing various mediums is understanding how each is made differently, and how those different processes create different final products. That's why I was asking this question about digital art, because I recognized I was thinking of it as an extension, in some way, of various natural media, and not necessarily as its own medium.

    That's when I began to ponder scale, since how we explore digital work seemed a unique process, with zooming and panning, etc. My point about murals and scale in general wasn't meant to be about how they compare to the size of the object that the image comes from, of course, but rather from the final size of the painted art object compared to a human viewing it in person. Scale seems important to me-- whether very small or very large. It affects how we make something as well as how we view it. I've felt hampered at times by the fact that the scale I get to view things at or make things at is the size of my computer screen. All things have limitations, of course-- you can't paint a watercolor 40' high, etc. but I just was recognizing what seemed to me the limits (and perhaps benefits?) of working digitally, so that I could begin to see how to use the form to do things that were unique to it.

    Just to reiterate from the first post-- the idea I had about scale and working digitally was that it was an intriguing positive to ponder how a person could explore a digital art piece if we just made (if possible) and uploaded and viewed images at much much higher res. If we're going to view digital art on an iPhone or a laptop or a computer screen, think of what we could do to really use that experience to create an exciting and unique way of experiencing art, that we don't really get with other media.

    That was more my point, and what I meant by my comments being meant to be "exploratory".

    As before, I didn't really mean this as a critique of digital art, and whether it's really "art" or not. More an exploration of just what it is and what it might be able to do.
    Last edited by Steve B; 04-12-2013 at 02:21 AM.
    Check out and submit to the thread on Watercolor WIPs in Artrage-- lots of good tips and conversation
    My YouTube video tutorial series- How to Paint with Watercolors in Artrage
    Try out the free
    Artrage Pen-Only Toolbar to improve your workflow and reduce clutter
    List of other good tutorials on using watercolors in Artrage
    List of good sticker sprays for watercolor effects in Artrage

    My blog- art, poetry and picture books- http://www.seamlessexpression.blogspot.com/

  6. #6
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    Many thanks to Steve and others for their views on this topic ... Here are mine:

    First, a disclaimer: my recent paintings are digital mixed media, 90% traditional materials (ink on paper) and 10% digital ... And the 10% digital really has little to do with creating the artwork, but is related to production, to formatting and presenting the original ... I want others to see what I've done, so I have to transform those works into a digital format for display on a blog or on a forum ...

    Yet despite the low involvement of high-tech, I intend these mixed media artworks to exist digitally only (this is a longer conversation, and gets to ideas of scale that Steve mentioned, but also calls into question the status of an original artwork and the value of originality in a digital world -- tracing is a flashpoint issue on these forums because originality easily is faked) ...

    So my preference for working with real ink and paper shouldn't be taken to mean I'm against "digital" art -- anyone who looks at my AR Gallery will see that I've done a considerable number of purely digital artworks ... It's just that in the whole debate about digital versus traditional, I've come down on the side of integrating the two, rather than choosing one over the other ...

    The question "What makes digital art digital art" could be posed negatively: If you had only digital tools to create a painting, would you be missing anything? ... If no, then you should also consider asking yourself, Is my worldview being limited in any way by the limitations of digital art? ...
    xiěyì, n. freehand brushwork, spontaneous expression
    Artrage Gallery
    / Leaning Tree Ink Studio

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by chinapete View Post
    Many thanks to Steve and others for their views on this topic ... Here are mine:

    First, a disclaimer: my recent paintings are digital mixed media, 90% traditional materials (ink on paper) and 10% digital ... And the 10% digital really has little to do with creating the artwork, but is related to production, to formatting and presenting the original ... I want others to see what I've done, so I have to transform those works into a digital format for display on a blog or on a forum ...

    Yet despite the low involvement of high-tech, I intend these mixed media artworks to exist digitally only (this is a longer conversation, and gets to ideas of scale that Steve mentioned, but also calls into question the status of an original artwork and the value of originality in a digital world -- tracing is a flashpoint issue on these forums because originality easily is faked) ...

    So my preference for working with real ink and paper shouldn't be taken to mean I'm against "digital" art -- anyone who looks at my AR Gallery will see that I've done a considerable number of purely digital artworks ... It's just that in the whole debate about digital versus traditional, I've come down on the side of integrating the two, rather than choosing one over the other ...

    The question "What makes digital art digital art" could be posed negatively: If you had only digital tools to create a painting, would you be missing anything? ... If no, then you should also consider asking yourself, Is my worldview being limited in any way by the limitations of digital art? ...
    Interesting Mr Pete. While I understand the notion of "faked" real media as you bring it up, it's interesting to me that later in your comments you seem to separate digital and traditional when in fact you are integrating them. The end result may be seamless between them, but at some point along the way you are using one or the other in steps. So are you faking the digital or faking the traditional? (More or less a rhetorical question since I think neither is faking because they're merely component steps in creating some third thing which is both and neither.)

    However I agree with your process of examining the components and qualities of each. That in itself can yield much = innovative techniques behind innovative concepts. So bravo you guys on that.

    Trying to think how I might add to that discussion since I've done it every way I could think of in so far as getting digital to look like traditional. I had a reason for that -- because I had a group of people expecting repeatable technique for uniformity regardless who was painting.

    But that's far less important with a cutting edge fine artist because consistency is only partially important in that case.

    Scale is an interesting choice and has been curious to me since you (Mr Pete) were exploring that direction. My interest is more academic than yours. But it's exciting to watch you go -- both you and Steve B.

    I look at words and discussion as another component in this sort of exploratory aesthetics. For me I've come to the point however where the words are more interesting and faster moving and as such I'm leaned in that direction, with a history of visual art more or less behind me as one of my subjects for my process.

    But to me the concepts are the real juice. And I can apply conceptual thinking to anything at all, so digital vs traditional is not a lot more to me over conceptual thinking in philosophy or in literature or spirituality or music. So forgive me if I sound challenging. I'm right there with you but I spin the concepts differently than you guys might. Though I certainly admire your process and find great validity in it. Go go go! Make great art!
    "Not a bit is wasted and the best is yet to come. . ." -- remembered from a dream

  8. #8
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    haha, D Akey, I guess I was leading with my chin with that remark about faking ... Well, you're in luck, today I don't feel well enough to make my usual trek down to the local museums and grovel before the masters, but I am well enough to stay home and sharpen pencils

    A factoid that's often overlooked: HD Thoreau, naturalist, keeper of journals, political activist and author of Walden, was heir to a family of pencil makers -- wood-encased graphite was still a relatively new technology in his youth (early 19th century) ... Although he declined to carry on the family business, a fascination with the pencil led him (no pun intended) to discover a way to produce pencils more cheaply ... Far from being an isolated, reclusive, herb-eating nay-sayer, he was in fact in the forefront of innovations in technology and in literature, as his 18 volumes of (amateur) nature writings might indicate ... He relied on a pencil to convey his every thought, especially when outdoors ...

    So there's something to be said for embracing a new technology and also trying to advance it ... I might mention that the much admired ancient Chinese ink paintings on paper dating from the Tang (7th century) and going forward, were largely done by amateurs ... The term "amateur" then of course meant something slightly different than it does in our culture -- "amateurs" were rejected by the academic powers, or refused to serve in government, or in some cases were just plain insane ... But collectively they revolutionized academic painting in China by changing an entire culture's thinking about the brush, how it could be used to paint more expansively by destroying line and replacing it with mass, disrupting perspective, valuing impression over close observation, and so on ... And they did all of this a thousand years before Western artists -- who never really fully embraced the brush -- got around to revolutionizing their own arts ...

    I am pretty sure most people would agree that it is one thing to say, "I can make a digital painting," and quite another to say, "I am a digital artist" ... The difference is between "painting" and "art" ... For art, I think we require something special, something unusual, something that cannot easily be reproduced, or that requires a skill practiced over very long periods ... I can't speak for Steve, but I think his insistence on one category of painting -- watercolor -- is meant to remind us that "watercolor" has its own set of challenges, we can't just arbitrarily produce a painting and call it a "watercolor" -- if the distinction is to be worth anything at all, then a watercolor must be recognizable as such ... In digital, everything is mixed together, so it sounds "anti" digital, maybe, to call out a specific form of painting ... Nevertheless, Steve is doing just that, and I think he has a good point ... In China, it is generally acknowledged that even with very hard work and a lot of talent, it takes twenty years to become a painter, and thirty years to become a calligrapher ... The emphasis is on skill, not art, but art is the result, not just a showcasing of skill ...
    Last edited by chinapete; 04-12-2013 at 08:44 AM.
    xiěyì, n. freehand brushwork, spontaneous expression
    Artrage Gallery
    / Leaning Tree Ink Studio

  9. #9
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    My brain doesn't 'do' abstract ideas very well, so I won't buy in to this very deeply. I am totally besotted by learning to 'harness' this medium, trying to circumvent its limitations and exploit its possibilities, as many of us are. I have always been versatile in mediums in natural media, and have now enjoyed using that knowledge to emulate in digital.

    Having the AR brushes named seems to limit some users to using only (e.g.) the watercolour brush for watercolour, etc, but digital makes any brush possible to do the same task.

    It's all possible to a point, but you can't beat paint on your your shirt, and the feel of canvas/paper under your fingers. I am yearning for that, but the digital keeps drawing me back because there's always a new challenge to be met, it's cheap and your work takes up no room in your studio.

    Transferring it to print sometimes is essential for me because its ethereal nature becomes solid. There's a disconnect if it remains only on the screen.

    Of course the AR forum is essential, and I would think for many, because we are able to display in a 'gallery', which is great validation for the hours we spend. It wouldn't be nearly so much fun if we just 'Saved Painting As' and put it away for no-one to see.
    Last edited by copespeak; 04-12-2013 at 09:44 AM.

  10. #10
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    Nice conversation, maybe, the following documents on Ontology of Art might contribute to it:

    1. Ontology of Art

    2. Beyond the digital.


    Regarding zooming and scale this magnificent site might show the grandeur of painting minute details in a huge painting by a true master: a mandatory viewing: Closer to Van Eyck


    As for this state of the art ArtRage digital program:

    1. Perfect to study color mixing (just like the real thing);
    2. for traditional painting art solving problem as a complementary tool: SEE HERE.
    3. To make digital beautiful contemporaneous art.

    Last edited by Lima; 04-12-2013 at 08:57 AM.

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