First, and let’s get this out of the way right at the start: I would never say that digital art isn’t Art. I have never claimed that digital artists aren’t “real artists” – as some traditional artists do – because “the computer does all the work.” I’m not spooked by the competition (go ahead and enjoy your giclee’s) nor shifts in the marketplace (s*** happens). What I am, is not drawn to flux and the ephemeral.
I do not crave the fleeting, the impermanent, the transient or the temporary. I prefer rain to fog. Or, to lay it out in a way that relates in a clearer way to my bias: When I talk about “Art” I’m thinking of it a “tangible cultural artifact”: a product of human endeavor which has material form; physicality.
This definition does not exclude the requirement of all art: that it communicates; it conveys a message. All visual art does that. Indeed, all types of art do that. And, I will concede, illustrative art has the added burden of being persuasive….because it is a marketing tool. Whether advertising a product, or interpreting an author’s words, it is art which exists to serve a purpose. But beyond that, and purposely for the sake of being able to distinguish between physical art or “easel art” and “digital art” I am saying “tangible art is where the value is” for me. Not as an apologist for capitalism, but rather because in human history, the actuality of the object, as opposed to a reproduction, draws people in and gives them a literal way of touching the past. We make efforts to preserve the original – not a reproduction of Stonehenge – because copies aren’t what we cherish, or value, as a society.
And speaking of what we cherish, or treasure, another unfortunate by-product of the computer is the elimination of memorabilia. In an interesting article “Flights of Fancy” published by the Smithsonian magazine (April issue, 2013) the noted playwright, author and director, David Mamet “considers the significance of memorabilia throughout his life.”. He takes the position that (while) “the Gutenberg Press had its antecedents in millennia of writing, the movies and flight were the two greatest and most influential accomplishments of the West that had no antecendents . . . and have been surpassed, if surpassed, in cultural significance only by the computer — one unfortunate byproduct of which is the elimination of the physical artifact: the flight log, the sectional map, the postcard, the pin-back button and the poster. In short, of memorabilia.” (p. 39)
BUT IT’S NOT JUST A MATTER OF “STUFF” PRODUCED FOR THE PLEASURE OF NOSTALGIACS
Whether you’re “into” mementos, or not – or even give thought to the passing of such things as phone books, address books, and wall calendars,”lack of physicality” has economic consequences. While I hate to bring monetary value into this discussion, because there are many ways to value work beside “money” – I also think it’s something we have to consider, because that’s how our economy assigns value. You can rail against it, you can hide from it, you can live your life without a television set or computer, too. But that won’t make consumerism go away. Are you going to spend the same amount for a giclee’ (computer print) of a digitally created artwork as you would spend for a comparable image, hand-painted? I know, I know, there are computer techniques that are not reproduceable using a paintbrush, and vice-versa. But can you grasp my basic point, here?
Would you spend $5,000.00 for a computer print (giclee’) of the image you see to your right? This was all collectors of Hugo-Award winning British artist Jim Burns’ illlustratiive art would have been able to acquire unless they found acceptable an unfinished painting. Seems the publishers changed direction after Burns had begun work on the commission, and decided they wanted the cover image created digitally.
So Jim stopped work on the painting and turned to his computer, leaving the artwork in unfinished form. (see left)
Then came along an admirer of Burns’ work, and (thinking the cover had been completed in traditional media) asked if it was available for purchase. Alas. It was not. But the unfinished painting COULD BE COMPLETED . . . if the collector was determined to have it in painted form. And he was.
And so – that was how the painting – in traditional media – came into existence, after the image, in digital form, had been published. Had someone not have been willing to pay the equivalent of another full commission, this artwork would never have existed in physical form. And Burns would have been that much poorer – because no one, to my knowledge, would have been willing to pay – for a digital print – the thousands he earned for completing the painting using HIS HANDS AND PAINT. For every digitally-created, commissioned illustration, or (more precisely) for every published illustration for which no finished, complete, tangible equivalent exists – the artist is being cheated out of another major source of income: the sale of an original, one-of-a-kind piece of art.
From time to time you’ll be hearing more on this subject from me. In the world I inhabit, I’m constantlly being faced with the consequences of digitization, one that until relatively recently was dependent on paper . . . and paint. My new job, as I see it, is finding ways of defending what is an increasingly difficult position to defend 🙂