There is a very famous,
if much overused quote where Pablo Picasso says that when
he was a child, he could draw like a master, and he spent
the rest of his life learning to draw like a child. This
underscores the need for all artists to focus more on the
expressive and emotive component of our art, and to spend
less time cultivating craftsmanship. Picasso realized that
many artists were brandishing technical skill and virtuosity
as the ultimate goal of their work, holding it up as a sort
of validation of their right to call themselves an artist.
The computer allows the artist to focus more on the message,
with less emphasis on the execution. The ability to render
an image, choose color, scale, repetition of imagery, and
lighting is handled so easily that it no longer becomes
a question of how to do it, but indeed what to do. Making
art is about making choices and establishing priorities,
and the computer simply gets the encumbrances out of the
way and lets the artist combine variables until his intentions
What would Picasso have done were he able to change direction
in a painting while still retaining an exact copy of it?
I am confident that someone like Picasso would have run
to embrace digital media. The component that would have
excited him, and that should excite the rest of us, is the
computer's ability to help us work through ideas. He spent
hours working through a piece, modifying and combining images
in various ways until he got a sense of where a painting
was going. He would then put the painting aside and start
fresh, recreating the first paint on the second canvas after
working through his intentions.
The act of combining multiple images and effects quickly
allows for more intuitive and fluid access to visual images
which in turn results in a more cohesive and articulate
piece. Picasso defined himself as an artist, as someone
interested in showing people how he saw the world, and telling
us what was important to him. Digital art would have put
the universe at his disposal, and he would have defined
that universe as the world inside his head and heart.
I often find that I'm too
easily satisfied by the first thing that that my computer
spits out...how about you?
Today's digital artist has
the ability to click a mouse twice and open a program that
someone else spent months or years developing. He then is
able to appropriate an image and click the mouse once or
twice more to apply a filter to that image which will result
in breathtakingly beautiful effects. It is easy to be seduced
by this effortless process, which could potentially result
in a scenario where the computer manipulates the artist
more than the artist manipulates the computer.
The intelligence is not artificial, and it does not rest
inside of the computer, instead it rests in the skills of
the programmers who created these amazing effects generators.
As an example of this, a friend told me of a well-known
computer art magazine that ran an art competition, soliciting
work from digital artists across the country. Unlike many
competitions of this sort where the winners simply get published,
this competition was giving substantial cash awards amounting
to thousands of dollars. Out of the hundreds of entries
they received, one was chosen as the best of all, given
a prominent place in the magazine, extolled for itÂ¹s mastery,
and of course, given the cash. It was only after the fact
that the magazine learned that the "designer"
had created the piece by taking an image and applying only
one filter to it, then printing it out. This approach, involving
perhaps one or two mouse clicks, and precious little time
or effort, was the approach given the prize. Whether this
is a techno-version of an urban legend or not, the digital
art communityÂ¹s eagerness to believe it underscores this
While in art school, I took a painting class where the stated
goal was to show the student how to recreate a famous painting.
The instructor would tell the student what materials to
buy, how to mix his paint, and in some cases even put the
paint on the canvas or panel for him. This class was very
educational for showing technique and giving a glimpse of
other potential ways of working. It was never assumed that
any creative capacity was being developed by the student,
it was pure emulation. If my art school had only given courses
like this one, it would have simply turned out artists who
reiterated the works that had come before. All of the graduates
would have been able to paint wonderful Rembrandts, Pollacks,
and Rothkos, but would have been deficient in their ability
to express their own individual creativity.
The artistic process seeks to reveal things that are hidden,
to allow the individual to express himself honestly and
accurately. In this search, the artist has always had to
fight against being too easily satisfied. In elevating the
caliber of digital art, the first thing to do is establish
priorities. First and foremost is the fact that we are creating
art rather than flirting with technology. Following that
is the responsibility that all artists have in mastering
their medium, and using it to do their bidding. Therefore,
it is not my intention to dismiss computer effects books,
or to denounce the use of filters and unique software applications.
I merely wish to demystify their capabilities, and suggest
that the creation of good digital art does not rest in owning
the latest program. The digital art community needs to put
more brains and heart behind the mouse. It needs to think,
feel, and ultimately be more discerning about it's product.
I'll pick this thread up
in the next installment..