Global Living Diary of Digital Art

news, articles, and artist's experiences from around the world

HAWAII - 1998


Is it art or is it digital decorating?


by Nadine Kam, Assistant Feature Editor, Honolulu Star-Bulletin (daily), June 18, 1998


RODNEY Chang started the Hawaii Computer Art Society 10 years ago with the vision that computers would quickly revolutionize the art world.

Today, Chang, a digital artist - and dentist in his other life - is more subdued, saying that in Hawaii the movement is "pretty slow, stagnant, flat-lined."

While computers have taken the commercial world by storm - used everywhere from big-screen extravaganzas such as "Twister" or "Godzilla," to the design of the prints on shirts or shorts - progress has been slow in the fine art world.

According to Chang, digital artists must contend with reservations about the lifespan of computer prints, which is improving as archival quality inks are developed, plus more philosophical and ethical questions about just who is creating the art.

One thing is certain: Like photography in its infancy, Chang says, "The Internet and digital art are not going to disappear. Fifty to 100 years from now, digital art will dominate."

The best place to find digital art so far has been in its element, the Internet, where Chang's virtual gallery, can be found. Those who are not wired can get a glimpse of this future world Sunday when HCAS demonstrates what can happen when art and technology merge in the exhibition, "Digital Decade: The Painted Pixel," at Queen Emma Gallery.

One of the participating artists, Arthur Nelander, dubs the computer revolution in art the second Renaissance. The first took place more than 3,000 years ago, he said, when technology gave artists better pigments and new feats of engineering made it possible to work on large-scale pieces.

This time around, he said, technology is helping artists work through ideas as fast as they can think of them.

"If I want to see the effects of crayon over pencil, I can do it as if I'm working in the physical medium," said Nelander, who sees the computer as just another tool.

"It's a godsend as far as constructing ideas. I can work through a myriad of colors, shapes and juxtapositions in a fraction of the time it takes to make sketches or mock-ups of large-scale works. I see the computer as a trouble-shooting, problem-solving vehicle."

Detracting from the value of digital imagery is the notion that anyone with a draw-and-paint program will be able to make art.

"There's that same question we were arguing 10 years ago, which is who created the art - the computer, the artist or the programmer?" Chang said.

Software programs offer digital effects that mimic pencils, erasers, air brushes and paint brushes. Yet, one doesn't give a non-artist a pencil and expect him to create a protrait or landscape that is a work of art.

"It's the same as when a kid splatters paint and the parent says, 'It looks like Jackson Pollock, or better,' " said Nelander. "But that's not true. A person can be very technologically advanced but have no creative skills or training. That would show."

"You have to bring ability to it," said artist Bobby Crockett. "It's possible to create something by accident, but to be successful, you really need to be an artist."

Crockett was a weaver and printmaker before discovering her husband's computer six or seven years ago. She is able to achieve on the computer the texture and richness of her three-dimensional weaving, and said, "It's so easy to get rid of a mistake. With weaving, I could work on something for a couple of months and it wouldn't work out."

Storing those imperfect works was a problem, but these days, she said, "I don't have to worry about closet space."

Crockett said she doesn't feel guilty about abandoning her weaving, which raises another criticism of the digital revolution, that handmade traditions will be lost to skills in mouse manipulation.

The day is coming when, Chang said, "we will cease to be able to tell what is digital and what's not."

Computers are making it increasingly possible to create photo-realisitic images and painterly quality works and sculptures.

"That's scary," he said, contrasting work done today to his own pieces from the '80s. He refers to his old work as "antiquities" with their blocky, pixelated forms and limited palette of 16 colors.

"Kids today can do super-realistic 3-D images with instant lighting and shadowing. That's gotta take away from the difficulty of drawing an actual landscape."

Nelander said that he struggled with the notion that his soul would be swallowed up by the machine.

"I feared for a long time that I'd lose the painter in myself, that technology takes the hands out of the medium. It still frightens me to an extent, but in defense of digital imagery, I still paint. That's my discipline," he said.


Digital Decade: The Painted Pixel

10th anniversary exhibition of the Hawaii Computer Society:

Place: Queen Emma Gallery, Queen's Medical Center lobby, Honolulu, Hawaii


Opens: 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., Sunday, June 21


Continues: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., weekdays; 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays, Sundays, holidays through July 26