, , , , , , , ,

Winter sunset in Vermont

A while back I joined a Flickr group called Digital Painting 101Some very gifted artists gather there—I recommend it highly.  There is on that site a discussion thread on a subject dear to my heart:  What is art?  Some very thought-provoking questions are asked there, and here are my responses:

What is Art? At the end of the 19th century in Europe, art was defined by the Paris Salon: If you were in, you made art; if not you made junk. Then, by popular demand, Napoleon III created a new venue for those who didn’t make the cut: the Salon des Refusés (Exhibition of Rejects). Today those who exhibited with the Refusés, including Manet, Cezanne, Pisarro, and Whistler, are recognized as the fathers of modern art, while many of those who made it into the Salon that year, Meissoner and Cabanel for instance’ have slipped into obscurity. The Refusés were introducing something powerful (Impressionism, and all that grew from that) that organized art (The Salon) did not recognize as art.  Over time, it has turned out that it was art after all, more lasting than much of what was happening within the Salon.

There is something to be learned in that. Digital art stands on a similar threshold today. It is printmaking in the finest tradition, though it uses new tools. Had Rembrandt had such tools, he might have used them instead of etching. It is art. I know it. You know it. Sooner or later the gallery owners and museum curators will know it, too. Until that happens the question has little meaning and less importance. You are an artist; go do your art and forget about it.

Is anything computer-generated, art? Come on, people! These questions are born of our own insecurities, and reinforced by the criticism by others with established interests in more traditional art forms, who have their own turf to defend and simply do not understand what it is we do.

First of all, our images are not computer generated. They are generated in the right sides of our brains, and passed to the left sides for execution. That’s exactly how the cave paintings at Altamira were generated in prehistoric times, as were the mosaic floors in Pompeii and Herculaneum, and the Mona Lisa, and Whistler’s Mother. The left brain (I know the left-brain/right brain is not sound neuroscience, but I find it a useful metaphor nonetheless) uses whatever tools it has at hand to convey what the right brain conceives. The cave men (or very likely women, who even then spent more time at home than men did) used red clay and soot. The Pompeii artisans used bits of colored stone and tile. DaVinci used ground minerals, berries, and spice mashed up in linseed oil. Today we order our media and tools from Dick Blick, or work on a computer. Does that make us lesser artists than the ones who came before us? I think not.


What do I say to those who say it is not art? I say it’s true, it is not painting, though sometimes it can look a bit like that. It is not drawing, though sometimes it resembles that as well. It’s closest kinship is probably to printing (etching and mezzotint, serigraphy, lithography) since a form of the image is stored in a medium that is not the finished work (copper plate, silkscreen, stone, hard drive) and multiple copies can be produced by the use of a device for that purpose (press, squeegee, giclee printer). Actually, it is something new, whose depths we have only just begun to plumb.

Not everything that comes off a printing press or silkscreen is art, of course, but some of it certainly is. This is determined not by the medium, but by the intent, skill, and vision of the creator. So it is with digital art.

Why do I participate in photo art? Because I have no choice. I am a Photoshop addict.

Is it a hobby?   No, more of an obsession.

Is it a way to make money? If anyone out there has figured out a way to make this pay off, call me at once. I am in desperate need of your advice.