FINE ART OF ORIGINAL PAINTINGS IN DIGITAL MEDIUM

VIJAY BHAI KOCHAR

Art circles in India, as elsewhere, have poor understanding and appreciation of digital art works. Some see it as a threat to the integrity of fine art traditions. Among artists, gallery owners, and collectors, digital paintings are looked down upon. Digital art works have low value among art lovers; something fishy and tricky. The prints of digital creations are not considered 'paintings'. Even etchings, lithography, leno, collage and other print works of the artists have better profile than the prints of digital artists. The fine art of original paintings in digital medium is yet to gain its due recognition. "How can you call something done mechanically without brush, canvas and colour, a painting?" Well-meaning artist friends invariably say, "This is very good, you should do it on canvas."

TYPES OF DIGITAL ART:

All digital art or computer art is not digital fine art. A number of terms are in use for computer-based art works - Computer Art, Digital Art, Cyber Art, mixed media, 3D-art, animation art, web-art, etc. Internet art-portals have 'computer art' or 'digital art' as one of the categories, often the largest one. The generic term 'Digital Art' stands for a variety of computer based applications in the field of art. The "fine art of original paintings in the digital medium" (item 5) is a minor category of Digital Art.

1)      Digital art market: Digital copies of the original works of artists and photo-graphers (made from digital cameras or scanned from prints) for presentation, promotion or sale. Some websites deal with prints of worldwide artists – past and present. Some digital 'artists' make digital copies of classic art woks, or works of eminent artists, and sell the prints. Websites of Art Galleries are of this type.

2) Applied Graphic digital artists:  Works of images, drawings, photographs, graphics, paintings created for illustrations, advertisements, web-designing, software development, projections, presentations, animations, models and architectural works, training, cartoons, games, videos, media and cinema.  A great variety of tools and technologies are in use. This is the frontline of digital technology and products are of a high quality and very appealing.  Most of this work is demand, client or customer oriented. A very large proportion of employed digital artists in the market are in this category. Sometimes, whole teams of digital artists work on the same project. This includes use of pre-prepared clips, models, drawings, photographs, etc. that are freely copied, modified and used. Many of them use 3D software and animation tools to create three-dimensional moving images. There is no rivalry or competition with conventional art in this field.

3) Part-time digital artists: Some professional artists and photographers experiment in digital medium as an additional line. In India a number of eminent artists have done such exploratory works on computers with good results. Some well-established artists abroad use computer to first try out a variety of digital drafts before starting work on canvas. These part-time digital artists however continue to work in their regular medium and retain their identity as conventional mainstream artists and photographers.

4) Original Mixed Media and 3D digital art: Some digital artists use photographs, clips, and scanned images to digitally modify (using a variety of software packages) and recreate strikingly new original images. Some of these works are very impressive. Many of the well-known digital artists on the internet are of this mixed media type and produce stunning original ‘photographic’ or virtual images. They produce original works and are different from graphic designers. Special software packages are available for them. This is perhaps the more common form of digital art on the internet. Some websites specialize in this type of digital art.  Some Digital artists/photographers combine 2D and 3D tools in their works with very good results.  They use paint tools but do not generally start with painted compositions.


5) Digital Fine Art: Then comes the category of digital artists who primarily create
original fine art paintings in the two-dimensional digital medium. They generally start with compositions from basic paint tools or a combi-nation of photographs and paint tools. Some prefer to start with 3-D paint tools or mathematical art tools. Distinction between type 4 and 5 is heuristic. Their works are placed on the Internet galleries and websites as digital fine art.  Even exhibitions and competitions are held on the Internet. Some digital artists convert their digital images on canvas for exhibition or sale. Others exhibit prints of their works in regular art galleries. However digital fine art primarily exists in the cyberspace of the Internet for the community of international (rather border-less) practitioners and surfers.

PERVASIVE DIGITAL FINE ART

Original fine art has never been in history created on such large scale and so democratically shared worldwide as is in the case of digital fine art. This is perhaps a serious challenge to the conventional close-circle expose and deals of original fine art. Rejection of digital fine art by these elite art circles, at par with conventional fine art is understandable. It is perhaps a defense mechanism (self protection) from being overwhelmed by the sheer quality, quantity, variety, popularity and availability of digital fine art beyond their protected “boundary” which is artificially imposed on art.   

WEBISM – a community of international digital artists who create and share art online in cyberspace worldwide is a fine example of this movement. So are the museums of computer art and a large number of websites dedicated exclusively to digital art of various categories.  The number of websites, digital artists and digital art works on the internet is simply overwhelming.  It is difficult to hazard an estimate of the total internet traffic to all these websites worldwide, but I can safely bet that it is likely to be many, many times more than visits to real life galleries per day. 

THE MYSTRY OF DIGIAL FINE ART  

A unique feature of digital fine art is the mystery and technology surrounding the process by which digital paintings are created. The viewers, fellow artists and art critics when they see a regular (physical) work of art rarely do they ask, "How is it done"? But in digital art, the technology (the hardware and the software) - creates a mystery, a lingering suspicion. Why can't a digital painting be appreciated for its intrinsic artistic worth and aesthetic value? Conventional fine art is no way devoid of the magic or mystery of the medium and style. Strangely these doubts emerge only with regard to digital fine variety not with regard to other categories where the

Lack of a clear understanding of the variety of steps and procedures through which digital fine art is created has contributed to the mystique that feeds suspicion. The digital artists need to pay more attention to their obligation to the community of art lovers and write openly about the steps and process behind their digital fine art creations. There are many websites where artists share their digital techniques behind specific effects, or teach others about software they use. These examples are piecemeal and sporadic; not specific to artwork of a digital artist.  There are some good examples where this has been done in some detail. These examples are too few and not well known.

MAN AND MACHINE IN DIGIAL FINE ART

It is commonly misunderstood that “digital art is done by the computer” and that “software creates art automatically”. Computer and software does not create art automatically. There are some things that the artist does and some things that the computer/software does. In digital fine art the artist does (decides and chooses) more and computer does less. In simplistic terms I could say that computer software offers a variety of ‘actions’ each with a series of possible ‘options’ for each action and a range of ‘value’ for each single option. It is the artist who must click the mouse after choosing the action, option and value. Then only computer does something automatically as per the software. So when computer does something, it is done through a series of choices and decisions of the artist.  Computer software requires feedback from the artist about ‘which option’ and ‘what value’ without which a given action cannot be executed. Artist interacts with the software tools and options back and forth, sometimes decisively and sometimes tentatively, to modify/improve the result. If artist finds the outcome unsatisfactory she clicks “undo” and feeds another set of options/values.  Artist compares the output with the ideas or vision in her mind.  Or the output may suggest a new possibility or direction. Artistic sensibilities guide this interaction between man and the machine.  Digital art represents images created and refined on a digital canvas by the artist with the help of software tools.  Artist’s mind interacts with digital tools of the selected software and sometimes creatively transcends the limits of her initial vision or the limits of software options.

Repeated exploration of options and limits of the software tools is a challenge in the digital medium. This leads to a creative learning through trial and error.  Exploration and experimentation is essential ingredient of digital medium – much more than in the conventional fine art.  Never before in the history of fine art has it been possible for the artists to repeatedly do and undo various alterations or effects, and compare the result of various permutation and combination of various options, and then finally select, through her artistic sensibilities, the direction in which the artist wishes to pursue his creation in finer detail. And all this within a very short span of time compared to redoing a canvas.  It is because of this process of “do, undo and choose” that digital fine art is likely to be aesthetically more rich, focused and mature than the conventional fine art (of comparable experience), where the artist does not have the same freedom of trial and error. It is a fact that many conventional artists today, secretly or openly, make use of computer applications to explore their “sketches” on the digital canvas before putting brush and colour on the real canvas.

THE EASE AND PLEASURE OF CREATIVITY IN DIGITAL MEDIUM:

Many digital artists have expressed that the outcome of their creative exploration through trial and error is sometimes startlingly different from the original they start with, yet artistically so potent.  Conventional art is bound by the limits of artists’ imagination, and physical limits of brush, canvas, colour, time and space. Digital fine art is able to transcend beyond these limits and is emergent through interaction between man and machine, mind and software. It is something of a new dimension of fine art, so to say. Digital artist is sometimes guided in a new direction by these unforeseen outcomes when working on computer. As some digital artists have expressed, these meta creations “speak” something refreshingly new to the artist. The artist then responds creatively to the “voices” of emergent forms, invitation to work in a new direction, sometimes much different from the one originally conceived. Some digital artists have expressed emotional bond they feel with their emerging work.

One aspect of the conventional style is iteration of similar medium, similar form or composition, similar tool (colour, brush, etc.), and a unique treatment. This creates an underlying similarity in the different works of the same artist – a distinct unmistakable flavour unique to an artist. This is formalistic meaning of style. In another sense all works of an artist, if truthfully coming from the sincere application of the same mind, heart and spirit, have a deeper underlying unity despite variety in form. Since digital fine art takes shape through interaction of mind, software and machine, style in digital fine art is as much a matter of a learned sequence of mouse clicks (actions and choices within a software environment).

THE PHYSICAL OUTPUT OF DIGITAL FINE ART:

Another unique feature of digital art is the nature of physical output. The "painting" is created on the "canvas" of monitor within a given software environment. The actual "original painting" exists in the hard disc of a personal computer in a binary digitised format. But once the "painting" is copied on a floppy or a disc, or uploaded on the Internet, there is no limit to the number of PCs, anywhere in the world, that can display it. Contrast this with the pride of a buyer of a painting in possessing a work of art, one and only one, in the whole world. Physical paintings can be viewed by a selected few in the galleries or exhibitions only once in a blue moon. Copies of digital paintings can be viewed or shared by multitudes through the Internet, anywhere in the world, at the same time. Digital fine art is more democratic, universal and close to popular cyber culture.

A print from a printer is the standardized physical output of the digitized image. There is great range of the number, size and variety of prints that can be made of a particular digital painting. It is for the digital artist to decide how he produces his work or restricts its access. In real fact these restrictions, such as of copyright, are more symbolic than real.

 

 

I think one's 'beliefs' (ideals, visions) are powerful inspiration (instrument) both for self-realisation and for altruistic social objectives. But I do not think beliefs (ideas, visions, ideals such as afterlife or God); have to be "real" (physical facts) or scientifically valid. There is a borderline between "vision" (beliefs) and "reality" (physical facts). The thickness (or visibility) of this borderline depends upon the perception of the viewer shared by some others who have similar vision-view. Yet visions (ideas and beliefs) have an existence of their own independent of, or even interacting with, the physical reality.


Perhaps a similar borderline separates the digitised “original” in computer language stored in the hard disc and its display on desktop monitors through Internet worldwide. Compare again the hard “copy” of digital art (on paper or canvas) through a printer for physical display and the “real” painting on canvas, which in effect is a copy of the vision in the mind (brain-cells) of the artist.

 

TAIL PIECE:

 

Those who underestimate digital art are concerned less with the intrinsic aesthetic and spiritual qualities and more with "market" value, privileged (unsharable) possession, and vested interests. Digital art is not considered collectible because it is not as scarce (rare) as a real art canvas (the supply). Something becomes collectible when the supply is low and demand is high. The market managers thereby put low value in money on the digital art. The digital artists need to learn this equation and practice it in action – restrict the supply of real product (print) and increase the demand for it through aggressive promotion and marketing to increase the price. Or reduce the price and increase the sale (pavement sale) so that many can possess it.