Sunday, November 23, 2014

Digital Art: Is it Art?

I have been a practitioner of the black art of digital, or digital art as it is sometimes known, for perhaps 30 years. When dinosaurs still roamed the earth, I actually used a darkroom to process my (non-digital) photographic creations. Of course, then I resided in a black and white world.  I created pictures, sometimes as large as 11 x 14. Color was for otherworldly folks who possessed more money and knowledge.

Then in 1986 I acquired my first PC, and gradually the software that would allow me to create this thing called digital art. I used Corel Draw/Paint initially.  Of course, my first printer was a monochrome HP printer. In the old days, whenever I had a technical problem, I would call HP and actually speak to an engineer in Redwood City, California.

Slowly, the world kept turning, and my technology and some skill kept advancing. My darkroom was packed and stored in the basement and I began seriously engaging this world of digital technology.  Until we retired and moved to Concord, NC most of my digital art was family fun—photographs of a grandson playing soccer; family holiday pictures, etc. But sitting in the basement, next to the retired darkroom equipment was a box filled with 35 mm slides, most of which dated from 1964-1968, when we resided in India. I managed to take several thousand slides during our life in India.  The Taj at first light and again at full moon. The sun rising over Mt. Kinchinjunga, turning the peaks of that snowclad mountain golden, as the valley down below remained dark. The beautiful lake in Srinagar, Kashmir, surrounded by mountains  (and hostile Pakistani’s) and occupied by little boats gliding around carrying passengers or local artisanal crafts. Ancient mosques, fortresses, camels, and village folk dotted the large landscape that is India. I took full advantage, returning home with a treasure trove of artsy photographs.

After our retirement to our own century-old bungalow in Concord, I continued taking new photographs, and converting the old slides to digital format.  Slowly, I began to create my digital art. With larger printers, capable of printing on canvas, I became a “digital artist”.

Then I became aware of our periodic Art Walks in downtown Concord, where artists and craftsmen displayed and sold their artistic creations. Local folks would come out, wander the streets, gaze at some artistic creations, dine at local eateries, sometimes buy some stuff on display and go home happy.  Slowly I began creating larger works specifically for these shows, sometimes from new digital photographs, sometimes from my India collection. I began a blog ( to publicize my digital art.

At each art show, I would create, print and frame (or just stretch the canvas without framing) some of my creations. I loved showing my work, having a few people actually buy some, and then I expanded my display space by filling the walls of Gianni’s Italian restaurant, and the artsy shoppe, Little Feather, with my work, supplemented by the quarterly art walks.

As people would stroll by looking at my work, mostly admiring, I began noticing a consistent theme. Many people would look at a picture, and ask, “how did you do that?” they weren’t commenting on the beauty of the piece. Instead, they were asking for some technical explanation of what I had dome on my computer to create the picture. When I acknowledged using Photoshop to create an effect, I would get, “oh, you photoshopped it”.  As though, that was the full explanation. I began to realize that Photoshop was seen as the author of the work, rather than me. It was as though I waved my hand in front of the screen and declared, “Oh Photoshop God, make this humble digital photograph a work of artistic beauty.  And it would be so.  Then I could return to my cup of coffee and relax on the couch.  I was apparently not a real artist. I noted that the wandering folks never asked a water colorist, or oil painter (you know, real artists) how they had managed to create a certain effect. Nope, they only admired the work as an original work of art. My work was apparently seen as something different in its entirety, a production output of a software company called Adobe.
So, the question bouncing around in my head now is . . . “what is digital art?” Is it ART, or merely the creation of the Photoshop brainchild. I suppose, my question presupposes the question, “what is art?”
And I am left wondering, if my digital art is not really art, then what the hell is it I have been doing?
And if I am not a real artist, then what am I, just the hulk of an old aerospace engineer who wandered into the 21st century?

Perhaps I should engage in another smallish nap, and ponder the question at another time. 
Post a Comment