Monday, 25 October 2010

Digital Art

 'Flow' by Australian Fractal Artist, Helene Kippert

This will probably sound very naive but when I first started investigating the greeting cards business last year, I was surprised to discover how many artists were using digital art for their designs. I had obviously been badly out of touch with what was going on in the art world while I was preoccupied with finding ways to teach reading and spelling in a way that would work for everyone.

My first impression was that I didn’t like it - I even had thoughts about it being somehow ‘cheating’! The furthest I would go was to use photo-editing software to bring my paintings back to resembling the originals after scanning and, of course, to use the computer to add the captions or greetings.

The difficulty was that I couldn’t pinpoint why I didn’t like digital art. So I asked around among fellow artists who use ‘traditional’ methods in their work. And the most consistent reason they gave was that it seemed somehow ‘too perfect’. One young artist mentioned the ‘pleasant imperfection’ in ‘handpainted’ or ‘hand-drawn’ art. And I do think it’s often those little imperfections that allow something of the personality of the artist to show through, that add spirit to the work. By comparison, much digital art can seem lifeless, formulaic.

I wonder whether this lack of ‘life’ in digital art could have something to do with the lack of physical movement involved in its making. Could what I know from my teaching about kinaesthetic memory be in some way relevant? Is it connected to how the physical act of writing a word repeatedly helps a student to remember a spelling? People have commented that my pastel paintings, whatever the subject, are full of ‘energy’. And that kind of painting is for me a very physically energetic experience. I always stand to paint and have been told that I pace about and almost ‘attack’ the paper – and I often feel quite physically exhausted afterwards! For me it seems unlikely that I could enter into that physically energetic state, seated at a computer.

But a few months ago, someone pointed out to me that the line between digital and ‘traditional’ art is quite blurred.

For instance, traditional drawing skills can be called upon when using a graphics tablet. And the ‘brushes’ in some ‘programs’ can give just the same sort of effect as a ‘real’ paintbrush. A huge advantage of  ‘digital’ can be the cost, especially as some graphics/illustration programs cost very little or nothing at all whereas most traditional art supplies don’t come cheap! No more expensive paper and paints to buy and mistakes can be reversed without wasting materials!

I’m almost tempted to have a go – but not quite, not yet! I enjoy the physical act of putting pencil to paper too much. But then there was a time when I honestly believed that I couldn’t write freely unless I had a pen in my hand and that has turned completely around so that nowadays, if I want to write something, such as a letter or a blog post, I would find it difficult to do without my computer! So who knows, maybe it’s just a matter of time?

I recently came across some digital art that took my breath away! Yes, really! It’s the work (above) of. Helene Kippert, showcased here, on Elinor Mavor’, Mavor Arts, where she interviews the artist. 

The thing about it is that it would be practically impossible to make art like this using traditional painting methods and it would be pointless to try! So maybe I’ve been misguided in comparing ‘traditional’ with ‘digital’ art and each has its own discrete place, like books in relation to plays and films. Maybe it’s when digital art tries to achieve the same end as traditional art that it falls short – in my opinion? Maybe digital art is at its best when it stays within its own boundaries as a separate but related ‘genre’?

What do you think?



Annalee Blysse said...

I think the colors and patterns in fractal art appeal to me because I love the artwork of Kandinsky. Lovely colors and patterns created by the artist you've picked out.

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Annalee - thanks for stopping by. It's interesting that you mentioned Kandinsk because he is one of the very few artists whose work I actually don't like - makes me feel uncomfortable somehow - and yet I love Helene Kippert's fractals!

Ulla Hennig said...

For me it is not an either or thing. You can mix "traditional art" with "digital art"-combine hand-drawn pictures with backgrounds in photoshop for example. People who do comics for example often do the lineart with pencil and ink and the coloring with photoshop.
Many hand-painted Mangas look almost perfect because it is the way they are to look, and I think you could also produce an imperfect look with photoshop...
I think that it is the man/woman behind the tool (digital or non-digital) who decided about the way the results look, not so much the tools themselves.
I am sitting down while drawing with pencil and ink and coloring with copics, and I am sitting at my computer while working with photoshop. So, where's the difference?

Country Mouse Studio said...

wow, I can see why it took your breath away, it's beautiful!

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Ulla - thank you for your detailed and thoughtful comment. You have demonstrated clearly that there is a very 'grey area' where digital and traditional art can overlap and how digital art can mimic traditional methods.

I have to say that though that I still find a lot of digital art somehow lacking in something - maybe it's not the 'pleasant imperfections'that one artist suggested? I wonder what it is!

Hi Carole - that was just one of Helene Kippert's artworks. There are several more and an interview with her on Elinor Mavor's blog that I gave the link to.

Elinor Mavor said...

Great article, Judy! Every new medium and trend causes controversy because many people basically don't like change and feel compelled to resist it. It's a little scary. Eventually, when people discover that the electronic paintbrush can produce the exact same look as the traditional one, they realize it is simply a different and very advantageous tool for the artist to use and master. Finally, when they discover what really amazing things can be done digitally such as with Helene's exquisite work, they can fully understand that a new medium has been born.

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Elinor - thank you for your comments. I'm not at all against change if it means progress and as you know, I think Helene's work is stunning - and different! And therefore it adds a new and very worthwhile form of art.

But, apart from saving money on art materials, I can't really understand why anyone would want to use digital methods to create something that looks exactly like a piece of non-digital work. Maybe someone can enlighten me?

Norm said...

To me art is the physical expression and manifestation of emotions, feelings and ideas.

The physical act of creating IS the art.

Of course the validity of the end product as "art" is important. But the means to produce it plays a significant role in defining the underlying character of the final image that in many cases is practically a signature in itself.

I know what you mean and sort of agree that using digital "programs" is cheating but it involves creativity with a completely different skill set that has another character of its own and is valid as art in its own right.

You strike the nail in the head that maybe it is too perfect. The subtle nuances, detuning and variants that give "real" music depth and interest also define the unique character of hand crafted art.

IMHO the strength of the fine fractal images in the link is that they have 3D ethereal depth. As you point out an effect that traditional methods could not easily produce, if at all. They also display excellent colour and strong compositional excellence.

There is room for everything. Charcoal, pencils, crayons, inks, wax, oils, acrylics, watercolours, tapestry, silk screening, lithography, etching, photography - film & digital, etc. None has destroyed the other and each requires its own specialist skills. There will be a place for "real" art for a long time and only the digital arts that look most "real" will survive.

Whether by manual, digital or other technical techniques, in the end it is the eye, skill and creative vision of the artist that determines the result, irrespective of the method.

Judy Adamson said...

Thank you, Norman, you've given me lots to think about.

I agree that there is room for all but, for me, it's when digital art tries to become a substitute for 'traditional' art that it fails because there is something missing. I can't quite put my finger on what that 'something' is but I do sense that it has something to do with the physical process of making the art.

Judy Adamson said...

Just coming back to what Ulla wrote about mangas, to me that's fine because that's how mangas as supposed to look. They're 'in a class of their own', like fractals.

And meanwhile, Elinor has suggested that the answer to my query about why anyone would want to use digital methods to create art that is exactly like non-digital art might be found in another of her articles:

Di said...

I'm an ink & watercolor traditional illustrator but I think of computer generated art & the tools, software used to create the art as just other tools in an artist's bag of tricks. The creator that wields the tools is what makes the difference between something brilliant and something rote. it is just the medium of choice for some.
There are advantages to digital art - even for a traditional artist. IE when a client wants changes. Hard to do with watercolor but I can be very accommodating with some photoshop tricks.
There are also some disadvantages. I was recently involved in a Group art exhibit wher a few of us were digital and of course among 18 of us there were the usual computer snafus. My computer included. As mine was a physical traditional image when my computer crashed - I just took my piece elsewhere to get scanned etc. for the promo piece. My friend who was 100% digital lost the original art and had to pay costly sums to recover the file as she hadn't had a chance to back it up.

Judy Adamson said...

Thank you, Di - you make a lot of interesting points! I agree that computer programs have their uses, even for generally 'traditional' artists. Recently I accidentally cropped off the toes of an angel in one of my Christmas card designs at the scanning stage and it was much easier and quicker to fill in the missing line with my wacom tablet than to rescan the whole thing.

Jan Scott Nelson said...

I think I'd draw the line (!) at using software to transform a photograph into an ersatz oil painting or suchlike. For me, and this is SO personal isn't it, that lacks something. ?integrity ?not sure?
Beyond that, bring it on! And I utterly adore this image. Fabulous and inspiring. Thank you for sharing it. :)

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Jan - yes, I think it is important to stress that this is all a matter of personal choice.

And I see I'm not the only one who can't quite articulate what it is that, to me, is lacking!

Thank you for your comments.