Digital Art 2007/ A Conversation With Don Archer -    March 2007

[Previous entry: "A Painting Lesson"] [Next entry: "Destroying Art Part Three – Finale"]
03/08/2007: "Digital Art 2007/ A Conversation With Don Archer" by Bruce Price

Don Archer is himself a digital artist, and he is the co-founder and director of MOCA, the famous digital art site. This guy has been at the epicenter of the digital scene for the past decade. Who else, I thought, knows more about digital art than Don Archer? So I was quite pleased when he agreed to a little chat on Where Digital Is Today:

Bruce Deitrick Price: What's the most surprising aspect of today's digital art scene, the aspect you didn't see coming 5 years ago???

Don Archer: The discovery that digital artists are desperate for validity and are willing to pay for representation on high-quality, respected sites.

BDP: I had to laugh. I meant the biggest surprise inside the art, within the frame. In the digital sensibility or approach. Or within the digital community. Please comment on that.

Don: No great surprises but wonderment:
-- That 3D rendered arthas failed to achieve its promise
-- That algorithmic (mathematical art) is alive and flourishing
-- That manipulated photography retains its potency
-- That computer-mediated hand-drawn art remains a viable alternative to conventional painted or drawn art.”

BDP: "No great surprises" means you are seeing what you expected, more or less...Okay. Let's talk about 3d. I believe I expected more from that also. Why hasn't it happened? "Its promise," you say. What was its promise? Who made that promise?

Don: 3D graphics has gone to commercial animation, to Hollywood, to TV and games. What artist in his right mind would want to compete? Can you even breathe as the next news, talk or sports event is introduced on your TV screen by the imbecilic cascading of text and image? It takes the air out of the room.
I'm going back to real art, like paper-cutting--or maybe fractals.

BDP: When I speak of 3D, I mean, for example, the piece that won your October ‘06 contest ("The Fiction Dependent Upon All Fictions" by Peter Ciccariello). Here we see strong forms, aggressive shadows and realistic depths. In my mind, this is a digital artist beating traditional artists at their own game. I've always suspected that this sort of 3D, harnessed to make fine art, would be digital's future. Your feelings?

Don: I agree! But this artist attended graphic/design school seriously, has worked in commercial art for years, is talented, experienced and sophisticated in his art. His 2D art is very accomplished too. There are very few who can bring his skill set to this sort of thing. (Werner Hornung, who shared First Prize with him, is similarly endowed.) Most 3D work that I see are models drawn in Poser or are conventional sea, sky, mountainous, and/or medieval landscapes drawn in
popular 3D programs.

It would seem that these programs would unleash the artist's potential, as the effects are breath-taking, but it seems ultimately they put a block to creativity, possibly because they do too much of the artist's work. For interesting 3D abstract art or sculpture, see Chaim Asch, an Israeli artist whose work appears in both recent contests and in a featured exhibit via our index page. He uses 3D MAX, largely a 3D architectural rendering program (Asch is an architect). But Asch's work is "difficult", almost deliberately so, and lacks dramatic scale, a self-imposed, limiting constraint that does him no good, in my view. Other artists may work this vein to more powerful effect.

BDP: Good! I think we've got the future of 3D settled. Let's skip to your wonderment that "manipulated photography retains its potency." Does it? Has it evolved? Or is it new ways of doing same-old, same-old?

Don: I would have to talk about particular artists to explore this question in depth (Hornung, Scheuhammer, Rouse and many, many others, all of whom are leading digital artists). But generally speaking in reviewing the many images submitted here over the last year or two, fully one-third
incorporate photographic elements to a greater or lesser degree. It is not so much that "manipulated photography has retained its potency" (although that is true) but that the photographic image is the linqua franca of so many artists, who feel free to appropriate it and put it to use in their art, either grandly or minimally. Overlay and collage are the primary techniques. Images are often leavened by darkness. Call it Surrealism, but I think artists may be lightening up. Of course the universality of the digital camera has put the option of photography into every artist's bag of tricks and treats. It's almost as if it's Halloween time on the digital art front.

BDP: By ligthening up, do you mean they’re wittier? They have more fun? Why is this?

Don: More fun! Sinister is easy. Like smog it cripples the view. Lightside requires more genius.

BDP: Okay, let me like Joyce in Finnegans Wake return - “by commodius vicus of recirculation” to where we started: what in the last several years surprised you most, digitally speaking? One thing.

Don: Gays have come out of the closet. Not digital art. It's still a secret vice we practice.

BDP: And what will be the big surprise of the next several years?

Don: When digital art hits it big at Christie's and Sotheby's.

BDP: Excellent. Thanks very much.
Don Archer’s site is: Bruce Price’s art site is

Replies: 5 Comments

on Thursday, March 15th, manekineko said

Seems to me that the person being interviewed has a very narrow scope of what digital art is in the first place.

Just about every advert we see (both in print or on TV) was created by a digital artist; most all successful box office movies have an element of 3D; certainly all television and modern films are edited using digital equipment.

In fact, it may be that the only group of digital artists having a problem are the ones still trying to mimic physical art and its modes of sale.

on Friday, March 9th, Barney Davey said

Great interview - nice job! At every turn, new technology and new art forms meet resitance. It's natural. It's also natural when these development crossover to acceptance by a wider audience than the early adopter crowd that is always looked at somewhat askance by mainstreamers and traditionalists.

A news item on this site titled, Paint + Pixels ...Art for the 21st Century celebrates the museum show of three digital art pioneers. It's wonderful to see such acceptance of the art form growing. The element of the print market that is epitomized by the New York ArtExpo show has been for years now presenting the public with the output of digital printing in the form of giclees. Why the genesis of the name was at an ArtExpo show circa 1990.

Speaking of New York ArtExpo. The most recent iteration concluded on Monday this week. I found the show to have slipped again. Many of the top tier fine art publishers were not to be found. In the past few years, they gathered at a concurrent show titled Fine Art Forum. With the demise of FAF, one would have thought at least some would return to ArtExpo. Alas, that was not to be the case.

One can speculate on the reasons why the show is in decline, or even freefall as some characterized it to me this past weekend. Certainly rising costs are a key factor, show are a host of other things including the rise of importance of the Internet, the increased competition of giclee prints of dubious quality, show management distracted by a yet again sale of the company completed only last November.

I'm sure there are more, but regardless it is a disturbing development to see this show's current composition of exhibitors. It wasn't all bad news. I talked with several exhibitors who reported great shows. I assume they were selling mostly to their established buyers...meaning it was still expensive for them if gaining new dealers and galleries was the chief objective.

Please excuse the digression. Keep up the good work with digital art. Bill Gates in his book, The Road Ahead, predicted more or less, that despite our advances in technology, that the future would deliver more than we imagined. I expect the same is equally true of digital art, if not more.

on Friday, March 9th, Brad said

Paint and sculpture - my organs, my skin. Digital rendering - my breath's imprint upon a mirror. Thanks for approaching the topic. I visited them (MOCA) several days ago - to see about entering images, and they required membership. Best of luck to them anyway.

on Friday, March 9th, jose said

Very interesting interview, Bruce. It has made me curious to find out more and keen to experiment more seriously than I have so far in this field.

on Thursday, March 8th, Ellen Fisch said

I am a traditionally trained artist who has been painting and drawing for more than 40 years. Three years ago, my Mother passed away and I inhertied a small amout of money which Mom had intended for home improvements for my house. I promptly bought a Mac, scanner, digital camera, and Epson 4000 printer. In my crumbling house I am having a ball! The digital world has not supplanted my passion for traditional art, but, rather enhanced it. In the immortal words of Tiepolo: "I have just begun to see." The computer is a wonderful tool that can heighten perceptions. By using the computer, I have relearned the basic skills of composition, drawing, perspective, design, etc. There is nothing like the smell of oil paint and the feel of a sable brush, but the computer has allowed me to persue traditional painting with renewed energies and observations. And like with any new tool, especially expensive ones, experimenting is great fun!