Physicality of the Medium
When we speak of a medium's physicality, exactly what are
we referring to? Physicality refers to the physical presence
that a work of art has. Paintings often have a physical
presence due to the texture of the brush strokes and the
way the paint was applied. In contrast, photographs usually
have less of a physical presence, as their smooth surface
creates an illusionistic window we can look through, diverting
our attention away from their physical characteristics.
The physicality of a work is important to consider in that
it dictates a certain distance or immediacy in a work of
art as it reveals itself to the viewer. This process of
revealing or uncovering is inherent in the various mediums
themselves, and it is important to have the proper expectations
before you decide to work within this or that medium.
Consider your initial response when you come upon a sculpture,
compared with that of viewing a painting or photograph.
Imagine coming upon a sculpture, either in a museum, or
outdoors. Regardless of whether you pictured a figurative
piece such as a Rodin, or an abstract work of Alexander
Calder, the sculpture will present itself to you in a specific
way, making unique demands of how you are to make sense
of it. Consider the way it occupies space. It has a three-dimensional
presence, it does not simply hang on a wall, or act as a
"window" through which you are to see the subject.
This "inside-outside" dynamic, with you on the
inside, looking out the window at the painting or photograph,
does not occur when viewing sculpture. Because two-dimensional
mediums often ask us to look through onto another world,
there is a certain amount of distance created between the
viewer and the subjects being viewed. While in this viewer
mode, we often feel like something of a voyeur, in that
we can see the subjects, although they cannot see us. Sculpture
removes any sense of distance from between us and the image
being viewed. We are no longer observing an object from
a distance; it is here, in the room with us, right now.
It can see us just as easily as we can see it.
Digital media looks like photography in most respects. The
detail, format, and feel of the print often leads us to
mistake one for the other. When we try to approach digital
art as a form of photography, another dynamic becomes very
clear to us, fundamentally affecting the way we look at
digital art. In v.1 I talked about photography being the
official recorder of our life and times. Almost from it
s inception, photographs were considered as true reflections
of reality. They were admissible as evidence in a court
of law, considered valid forms of identification, and printed
in the newspapers as proof that events actually happened.
(Whether or not this is true, it is the perception of the
viewing public that is important in this example.) The digital
image makes a decided break with this tradition by seamlessly
manipulating reality. One looks at a computer generated
photograph and realizes immediately that what he is looking
at is fabrication rather than truth. Consider the comments
of Geoffrey Batchen, from a recent article in Aperture Magazine:
"The difference seems to be that, whereas photography
claims a spurious objectivity, digital imaging remains an
overtly fictional process. As a practice that is known to
be nothing but fabrication, digitization abandons even the
rhetoric of truth that has been such an important part of
photography's cultural success."
So digital art not only
lacks the physical presence of painting and sculpture, it
also lacks the convincing reality once held by photography.
These are defining characteristics of this new medium, and
they are components that all digital artists should be aware
I'll pick this thread up
in the next installment....