Saturday, 29 September 2007

On being a 'new media' digital artist.

This posting serves as (I hope) a useful explanation of what 'new media art' is and how it developed, and more specifically what a digital artist (a sub-strata of the new media arts) is and does, and finally will provide a permanent location on the blogosphere that I can point to when I am asked at a social gathering "so what kind of artist are you and what kind of art do you do'?

Being a 'new media' or more precisely 'digital' artist the answer to such questions is rather more complicated and in the time available in social situations requires too much time and patience on the part of the listener for me to go into anything like the depth I propose to here.

New Media Art

Digital art is a branch of 'New Media' art, but what exactly is this?

"New media art is a genre that encompasses artworks created with new media technologies, including computer graphics, computer animation, the Internet, interactive technologies, robotics, and bio technologies. The term differentiates itself by its resulting cultural objects, which can be seen in opposition to those deriving from old media arts (i.e. traditional painting, sculpture, etc.)"

"This concern with medium is a key feature of much contemporary art and indeed many art schools now offer a major in "New Genres" or "New Media." New Media concerns are often derived from the telecommunications, mass media and digital modes of delivery the artworks involve, with practices ranging from conceptual to virtual art, performance to installation. The term is generally applied to disciplines such as:

Ascii Art; Computer art; Digital art; Electronic art ; Generative art; Hacktivism; Information art; Interactive art; Internet art; Performance art; Robotic art; Software art; Sound art; Video art; Virtual art; Video Game Art."

The above section "..." was from the Wikipedia entry and serves as a useful starting point.

But this is not sufficient to fully explain the concept of digital art and the explanation that follows is paraphrased from New Media Art by Mark Tribe and Reena Jana, Taschen, , Koln, 2006 ISBN 3-8228-3041-0 'Art in the age of digital distribution.' pp. 6-25.

The term New Media was created in 1994 when the Netscape Corporation introduced the first commercial web browser and the first new media entitles were digital publishing companies on the web. But is was not long before artist were exploring and sharing their works concerned with the cultural, political and aesthetic possibilities of these new tools.

The core of the new media art derived inspiration from the early 20th century Dadaist movement in mainland Europe a reaction against the self-destructive bourgeois impulses that had led to industrialisation and the First World War. Many of their preoccupations with collage, readymades, political action and performance, applied with irony and absurdity are carried on by new media artists today. Borrowed images, texts and collages were and still are central to such art forms. Marcel Duchamp's readymades blurred the boundaries between art as a concept and art as a craft and skill, and between art and politics. Pop art was another significant influence - the reproduction of commercial images and culture as an art form - but distanced from this culture and reflective upon it rather than for it. Finally conceptual art was a huge influence, the realisation of pure concepts using images, signs, symbols and fragmented situations was easily transferred into the digital context of new media art, which includes video as well as still images.

In the mid 1990s 'net art' emerged as a world wide movement with artists uploading and sharing their works on line and even beginning to create them collectively on line. Art exhibitions and international art competitions also entered the virtual world as the new media arts reflected the globalisation of arts culture as the millennium approached.

As a result a new generation of artists was drawn towards the information technology based global art scene. Computers and the web became to tools for digital artists to create, promote, and sell their work as 'net art'. And companies writing 'photographic manipulation' software offered more and more sophisticated filters and devices to alter and reform digital images, while printer technology began to create the kinds of large format archive machines capable of printing works indistinguishable from hand painted or hand drawn works on a variety of increasing sophisticated paper and canvas surfaces.

In the process the hyper-abundance of source materials combined with "copy" and "paste" facilities in standard software offered endless possibilities of copying and altering pre-existing images and eroded the need to create images from scratch - rooted in Duchamp's readymades philosophy and pop arts use of commercial images.

The response was for governments and big corporations to tighten up copyright laws as the tensions between new media artistic practices and the intellectual property system grew new media artists developed alternative methods for authoring by sharing images they created between themselves and others in open source image cooperatives.

By 2000 the virtual sky was the limit for the most advanced and purist new media artists with Jennifer and Kevin McCoy creating a fictitious corporation with a logo, web site and uniforms etc. on line and building a software web bot that crawled around cyberspace searching for corporate marketing jargon which they then broadcast via the audio web etc etc.

Other new media artists have explored on-line identity, or rather the uncertainty of it, with the ability to create false identities and impressions of an individual on line.

In recent years museums, galleries and the art establishment had embraced new media art and in 1995 the Whitney Museum of American Art was the first to purchase a work of net art by Douglas Davis - 'The World's First Collaborative Sentence' (1994) and many of the worlds other great art galleries were following by 2000.

Preserving pure new media art is difficult and complex as it is an electronic medium and often does not appear ad a pa inted or drawn image and because the equipment is is created on is made rapidly obsolete.

However the boundaries between one branch of new media art, digital art, and traditional forms of painting and drawing have been eroded in recent years and this is where my art originated and stands today.

Digital Art
In writing the following section I have used material from “Impact of digital imaging on fine art teaching and practice.” by Max Davison, Staffordshire University: Blocks of text marked which I acknowledge with thanks.
Within Fine Art departments computer technology was initially imported to printmaking departments. Artists exploited the ability to reproduce the hand drawn images through the media of silk screen, photo-etching and photo-litho. But subsequently software designed exclusively for photographic management and retouching has developed enormously and become extremely useful for artists, most famously in the form of Adobe's 'Photoshop' range of programmes, (although I use currently use a range of more primitive programmes and pass my works in progress between them to create the finish I desire).

It is often argued that digital painting means that marks and gestures made by the hand are no longer ‘unique’ or 'original' since “they become both reproducible and, more problematic, constituted by a complex set of factors like the capabilities of hardware and the possibilities and limits of software which are, in turn, determined by other people; the auto graphic mark becomes a ‘team effort.’”
In that sense the digital artist flies by wire, but then so does the fighter aircraft pilot and yet no one argues that they are not skilled pilots, or that the machine flies itself when they are in combat. But, equally, traditional medium artists have always been limited by the quality, condition, and manufacture of their brushes, paints, and surface preparations etc, and the end of mixing paints as part of the artist's skills were greeted as the end of 'real' painting when they arrived, as was Warhol's screen prints and Hockney's poloroid pictures. Nevertheless where this criticism is accurate when leveled against digital 'artists' is when they succumb to “the ease with which images can be manipulated [which] often leads to volumes of gratuitous work in which images are subjected to a catalogue of processes, effects and filters.” But then formulaic and unoriginal traditional arts also abound.

In contrast to this is the work of Rosalind Kunathn a successful painterly digital artist from the Royal College of Art "whose work is outputted as ink jets on canvass via the Scanner chrome process. Her work has managed to discover for itself painterly specificities particular to 'painting' using a computer; a diaphanous multi layering of space with peculiar smoke-like trails which would be impossible to produce in any other way.”

Mine art is a form of Digital art since my art is created in a computer in purely digital form, sometimes purely computer-generated, but mostly taken from scanned in drawings or paintings which are then digitally reworked, and these days most often directly from digital photographs that I take.

My digital art dates back to early in 2001 and began with scanning in my traditional media works in watercolors, acrylics, pastels and ink and photographs. Subsequently it has taken two primary forms: first the use of computer art to simulate my existing practice of drawing and painting, especially for abstracts, landscapes, cityscapes and portraits.
Second - those works which concern with photographic and other image manipulation and re-composition/combination through forms of digital collage work, including the insertion of text in purely conceptual pieces. My surreal and conceptual pieces rely on this technique.

Over the years my hardware has improved considerably (not least the screen size, resolution and colour accuracy) and the traditional “disappointment that is often felt in the difference between what artists see on the screen and what they can get in terms of printout …” has been overcome and I am able to closely control what I see on the screen in terms of what will later be printed out and to control the printer output to match this. I do not use programmes like 'Painter' which “convert the tonality of a scanned photographic image into a 'painterly' equivalent, an automated painting of a photograph" since this is to apply a standard finish and completely unacceptable to me.

A classic example of the painterly techniques I use as a digital artists can be seen from my series of Bath cityscapes many of which are derived from photographs to create painterly and drawn effects.

Another example would be this abstract piece:

Works which display the digital collage, surreal elements and conceptual elements of my digital art include the following examples:

See examples of the full range of my digital work at my Yessy Gallery at: