Truly Virtual Web Art Museum
Rodney E.J. Chang
am a digital artist. Fortunately, I
have referred to myself as such for over a decade.
Almost thirty years ago, when I first experimented making pictures using
a personal computer (1984), I called myself a “computer artist.”
Presently the label, back then radical in a world of traditional arts,
would be obsolete. In the present
fast-break world of conversion from the wired to the wireless, data aggregated
to compose pictures exist in the air, on a “cloud.”
Less and less reside merely in some artist's PC hard drive, activated
into action only when commanded unto the monitor's screen. Digital art today is
information in the air, arriving wirelessly unto viewing screens,
conveniently smaller and more portable, such as electronic tablets and even
pocketsize “smart” cell phones. At
the moment the most popular art is invisible communication signals.
We've come a long way from paint, clay, and bronze.
conflict between “real” painting and switch on or off digital imagery has
been a constant interest of mine. I
have for decades created visions composed of light, attempting to simulate the
perceptual experience of viewing “real” art.
I have gotten so much positive feedback that my digital efforts are
indeed experienced aesthetically, but there has always been this invisible
barrier between physically endowed
art using matter and my compositions of colored light.
making my own art, I have been director/curator of a virtual museum on the
Internet since 1997 (LastPlace.com). Dedicated
to digital art, of course. It has
been an exciting challenge, probably a calling in life, to round up as much
excellent digital art that I could find online from around the planet.
After seventeen years, my efforts do not go unnoticed, at least by the
computers themselves. In a virtual world needing, I would like to think, it's own
digital cultural artifacts, my “museum” presently (2013) ranks at the top in
Google when one types in the keywords of “internet,” “art,” and
“museum.” So in cyberspace, it
seems digital art does rule. The
imagery is intrinsic to the realm in which it resides.
It's digital pictures in a digital world for a digital audience. It's poetic justice. Online,
real art objects are merely photographic reproductions whereas the digital is
pictures communicate on a universal level, beyond the limitation of the
multitude of different written and spoken languages.
Through art all of us can better understand each other by communicating
at least at a pictorial and emotional level.
Guess what? We all possess
the same emotions and harbor similar basic needs and issues.
what about external to this virtual world?
Is there still this demarcation between real world, laboriously
made-by-hand crafted works of art, and pictures made merely by manipulating
software through pushing a mouse, or now just the tactile movement of a finger
on a sensitized surface? Up to
yesterday, for me, one solitary digital artist, the answer is yes.
I still felt like an outcast from the “real” world of established and
today's a different story, a new day of enlightenment for me. “How so?” You may be asking.
was putting the finishing touches on an exhibit of digital art by John
Macpherson of Las Vegas. Great
stuff, digital imagery that derived aesthetic sensitivity from the many former
years that Macpherson dedicated to creating glass blown art.
“That was quite a run,” wrote John in email. “I did over 40,000 pieces.”
It was interesting to discover digital art that viscerally felt like
glass. But its mimicry of stained
glass still placed it within a broader category of digital art.
much digital art that I have encountered, and yes enshrined within my virtual
museum for perpetual viewing posterity, echo the visual sentiment of traditional
art media. It seems most of us
digital artists create, using traditional media visual qualities as a standard
from which to embark. It's as if
the look of traditional painting and sculptural serve as the golden rule.
Few digital artists dare to cast off the legacy of art and leap into the
untested waters of, as far as being considered “art,” fractals and other
digital graphics that suggest no reference to historical, land-based art.
wrote email to John, “Your exhibit is coming along fine.
I'll be able to post online your exhibit on the lst of June (2013,
LastPlace.com). Thanks for promptly
sending all the materials I requested to put together your fine show.”
Working together for the common cause of promoting excellent digital fine
art, I got to know this artist better. A
“portrait” of the artist is required for my museum exhibits.
My mug is plastered all over my museum's content.
So we both had a human face to refer to, as virtual “friends” (as in
Facebook) who never met in “real” life.
As fellow artists, we “Liked”
each other's art.
relaxation of formalities between museum curator and invited artist resulted in
the best gift that could have been presented to me by a fellow digital artist.
I will forever be indebted to John Macpherson for his audacity to
surprise me by messing with one of my own exhibited digital works in the museum,
as only a friend would dare to do.
hope you don't mind,” he respectfully wrote in the email that included a
stunning manipulation (without permission) of one of my original digital works
of art, using his own uninhibited artistic skill and zany creativity. He had been browsing my virtual museum that was preparing his
upcoming contribution to the permanent online collection.
I saw it, I just had to do it,” he explained.
Ah, a true artist!
reassured him I didn't mind; in fact that I was delighted by the results.
Just exactly what did MacPherson do?
below. Like Dr. Frankenstein, he
stitched together portions from different bodies of works.
My “Pool Hall,” derived from a photo of the student pool hall at
Indiana University-Bloomington, was spliced with a digital reproduction of
“Night Cafe” by none other than famous Vincent van Gogh!
I myself had to look carefully as to where my own digital picture parts,
of this freakish new work, connected to transplanted elements of a masterpiece
by an icon of art history.
is a genius. The flip-flop effort
held visually together as one convincing work of art. The whole was more than the sum of its parts.
Like underlying common DNA, both my digital and van Gogh’s painted
elements mutated into one working whole. The
artistic surgery was successful.
own “Pool Hall,” officially a “collaboration” among van Gogh, himself,
and me comes alive with its own pictorial vitality.
It still vibrates with the color palette and brushed textures of the
master from the past, but now blends well sandwiched within a present 21st
century recreation room, making van Gogh's pool hall appear more modern day.
In my opinion, Macpherson's piece deserves to garner much publicity and
recognition. He has brought one of van Gogh's masterpieces alive to exist
in the present, making it relevant to modern times. He has assisted van Gogh through the use of digital tools to
show what is possible with today's electronic paint brushes.
Maybe the master might have loved to use them too, if they were available
during his time.
Most importantly for me, the digital artist, the Macpherson “Pool
Hall” provides concrete proof of my decades of effort in emulating real art
using digital tools. I have spent
years simulating the effect of reflected light on a real canvas surface,
seemingly covered with the texture of paint laid down at different depths.
Physical paintings have shadows and highlights when lit by gallery
spotlights. Software manipulation
attempts to imitate the same visual effect for digital pictures.
I felt my efforts achieved this, at least satisfying my own aesthetic
judgment, necessary for personal enjoyment and consumption.
But there was always this lingering doubt.
“How convincing is my digital art in its attempt to be experienced as a
real painted surface?” All
digital artists who make representation imagery, I believe, still secretly
harbor this nagging doubt.
this piece is a breakthrough that reassures the validity of digital artists'
efforts to perceptually convey content, whether landscape or portrait,
just like in the old fashion way with paint and canvas.
carefully. In Macpherson's piece,
my digital sections are compatible in textural and lighting effect as that of
the sections provided by van Gogh's “Night Cafe.”
Digital and oils become one. The
surface visual quality becomes irrelevant in the viewer's mind. The work can rise above “what the picture is made with”
and focus on the subject of the work of art, the message - people enjoying a
human moment of relaxation from the stresses of real life.
Content rules supreme over craft, materiality, and technique.
The art “works,” it's successful, it comes “alive,” it
“speaks” to us.
by extrapolation to my vast collection of other artworks so executed with
digital tools, now I am personally convinced that I have achieved the look, with
software but without paint and brush, of fine art “painting.”
Today is a great day for me to be working as a digital artist!
See illustrations -
Rodney Pygoya Chang 2013
van Gogh 1888
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