Truly Virtual Web Art Museum

 

Frankenstein’s Art

by Rodney E.J. Chang
July 2013
 

 

     I 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.

    The 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. 

 

   


 

 

 


Until now.

     Besides 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 the original.

     And 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.

      But 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 recognized art.  

 

 


 


     But today's a different story, a new day of enlightenment for me.  “How so?” You may be asking.

     I 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.

     So 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.

      I 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.

     This 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.

      “I 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.

     “When I saw it, I just had to do it,” he explained.  Ah, a true artist!

     I reassured him I didn't mind; in fact that I was delighted by the results.  Just exactly what did MacPherson do? 

     See 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. 

     Macpherson 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. 

     Macpherson's 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.

      Hopefully, 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.

     Look 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.

     So 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 -

 

 

          “Pool Hall”                                                                                     John MacPherson  2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Pool Hall”                                                                              Rodney Pygoya Chang  2013  

 



  

“Night Café”                                                                               Vincent van Gogh  1888

 

 

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