A Few Digital Words
Please let me re-introduce Jennifer Lewis, visiting my blog again.
What Is True & Tactile: Art & the Digital Revolution
Getting a grasp on how the digital age has rocked the art world is probably easier for non-traditionalists. Postmodern and passionate, much of the world’s art scene revolves around the acceptance of art’s marketability as a product as it continues to transform into new incarnations with every technological leap.
Some say it is tragic, breathing their Dickensian overtones. Impersonal, mechanical, and void of the same kind of intensity which gave the Renaissance its divine exuberance and the 20th century its chaotic and revolutionary power. Purists spurn the lack of getting down and gritty, of being able to leave the drawing board with chalk or charcoal clouding their fingertips. Art, it is felt, has begun to fulfil utilitarian function, conforming to design principles that fill a corporate space. And just about anyone can cast a lens flare on a shot which should have taken meticulous planning to capture, even hours to achieve.
Mediums as Communication
But of course this isn’t entirely true – the digital era has granted unprecedented access to wonderful things. It’s not just the Adobe phenomenon which pushes the limits and sculpts a virtual world which is becoming more fantastical and realistic at the same time, a marvellous theatre of sorts – but the fact that millions of artists throughout the world have created their own niches and communities and share their work, giving and receiving critical feedback. Online tutorials, open-source software, and a vast library of galleries spawned from grass-roots groups to international institutions have uncovered an age in art which empowers and enthrals. An inspired individual can sit at their desk into the late hours of the night, clicking their way through some of the most unique and interesting pieces of art from the other side of the globe – a feat which would not have been possible at any other time without considerable difficulty. And despite our wildest imaginations, where would those colossal paintings of quasars and nebulae be without the Hubble?
Perhaps the biggest reasoning behind resisting the age of mass digitization is the trivialization of the artistic process. Some argue that it has been robbed of its essence, when gruelling hours of physical toil and meticulous composition can be executed in mere minutes via a high-tech graphics-rendering program and be mass produced. Artists have been rebelling against this for centuries, including outspoken thinker John Ruskin in his defining work The Stones of Venice as a response to how the Industrial Revolution (the “first” digital revolution, if you will) was degrading authenticity and craftsmanship, pitting aesthetics and function against one another.
Rebirth through New Technology
But this can also be reviewed as a slightly reductive analysis – the Industrial Revolution certainly captured artist’s imaginations socially as well as scientifically, in concept and in material with better resources at hand to create their world. And the same can be said of the digital age, which has liberated various mediums. Design has always been functional as well as substantial, and its evolution into minimalist, more stream-lined forms is not representative of a lack of spirit but a reflection of how art encapsulates the core of present society. As a response, period revivals and wonderful fringe genres like steampunk have emerged from the edge to garner their own hip following and start their own movements. The novelty of mixing “futuristic” tech style with Victorian fashion has found its way in everything from Goth festivals to self-customized laptops and flash drives. Artists are intrinsically intuitive, and very aware of the materials and means they choose for conception – even if it means using technology as a way to defy or parody itself.
The depth of the artistic process itself has not changed, either. Just as a city-dweller can easily escape into the world of nature, the presence of digital art has not deterred art lovers from the joy of feeling a soft crayon scrape into a section of porous Bristol vellum. Art therapy, for example, is an increasingly recognized profession which is gaining momentum by its effectiveness in providing treatment through direct, tactile interaction with materials as expression. Digital technology is not likely to hinder this, but its ability to accurately document art therapy and distribute it to a wide range of viewers makes it more than useful.
Now, more than ever, accessing art supplies, learning about various techniques, discovering new artists and delving into history from around the world is easily achieved thanks to digitization. Photography in particular has become a common pastime for everyone, with digital cameras of ranging levels and photo editing programs readily available on everything from specialised computers optimised for graphics performance to ipads and smart phones. As these devices are becoming more enhanced, their availability is increasing with the growing network of online trading and selling. This open, accessible, and highly-driven market makes it easy to buy, trade, or sell your ipad 2 or old Polaroid so that you can upgrade to the next level and has formed its own niche, becoming a vital life-source for students and aspiring artists who are able to work on their projects anywhere at any time, even at the source of inspiration itself. Portability is key in this fast-paced world.
The art world has always been subject to social change – or rather, society has always been shaken into redefining itself through a poignant interpretation and reaction of its condition through art. The digital age will not limit the role which makes art so crucial for the human soul, nor will the basic tactile ritual of creating art diminish. Whatever a screen cannot capture that is found in the presence of the real thing only challenges digital artists to experiment with new ways to convey the sense of texture, lighting, and even smell. As long as technology is treated as a means to an end rather than an end itself, it will only add the legacy of art. And even if it overreaches itself, it will be the primary characteristics of art which herald another renascence and return the world to itself again. The debate will always remain, however – and it must, for art must always challenge and be challenged itself.
Thanks to Jennifer for sharing, I hope you enjoyed her post as much as I did.