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dorset gate
It is true that digital imaging does not do well today in jurored or curated venues. I believe this is at least partly due to the transitional state we are presently in. The situation is analogous to the one in which the French Impressionists found themselves at the end of the 19th century. The Paris Salon, run by the masters of the Acadamie Royale, was the arbiter of true art throughout Europe, and the paintings which hung there were pictures of things. The things could be real or imagined, historical or mythical, but they were always concrete things. These paintings were always of something.

With Manet and Monet, Morisot and Cassatt, this began to change. These men and women began to think less about how to paint stuff and more about the nature of painting itself: how could paint applied to canvas optimally represent a scene, or even a feeling or idea. Their work was not well received by the Salon, but sold reasonably well in private galleries. Eventually Napoleon III, himself a patron of the arts, declared there would be a second Salon, le Salon des Refusés, to exhibit this new art.


What the Academie masters had failed to recognize was that the Impressionists were not inferior imitators of the masters own art, but were introducing something new. They were not diluting or undermining art, but making it stronger, broadening and reinforcing its foundations. From the Salon des Refusés arose the entire panoply of modern and post-modern art.  The greatness of the Old Masters lives on undiminished.

From its beginnings photography, like painting, was almost completely representational. Minor adjustments of the image were possible in the camera (fisheye distortion, focal foreshortening, and depth-of-field effects, for example), in the darkroom (such as dodging and burning, negative sandwiching, and filtering effects), and on the tabletop (cutting and pasting), but the fundamental nature of the image could not be changed. In the era of film, photography remained tethered to its intrinsic representational nature.

Digital imaging has done to photography what Impressionism did to painting. Photography’s horizon has suddenly, joltingly expanded. Photographers can now contemplate images that were never possible before the attribute-by-attribute, pixel-by-pixel control that they now enjoy became available. They can perform aesthetic feats inconceivable a generation ago. All that results from this is not art, of course, but some of it certainly is.

Park Street

Understandably, an exhibition of paintings wants images that look like paintings, and an exhibition of photography wants images that look like photographs. Forward looking galleries and shows are beginning to include a new category with a name like Altered Digital Photographs, to accommodate this new art form while respecting the established aesthetics. These new categories give curators and jurors an opportunity to welcome the new art in with the old, honoring both. As it did when the Salon des Refusés opened, the world of real art has begun to slowly turn, and the world of established Fine Art, as it usually does, lags a little behind.

There is opportunity here. Like the early patrons of Monet, Renoir, and vanGogh, the patrons of modern digital arts  have much to gain, if only they can identify the true artists now before the lines among the many aspirants are clearly drawn .