by B. Allen Bayard
For better or worse, I have given up painting in favor of the computer as my main creative tool, outputting archival digital ink jet prints instead of mixed media paintings. As an artist earning a living by selling art, admittedly, there are hurdles to overcome creating digital art. For starters, there seems to be a stigma attached to anything digital in many circles of the current art market, most likely due to so much misunderstanding of the new technology. However, from my point of view, making original art digitally offers a rich and substantial potential for creative expression worthy of acceptance as fine art.
While the process of creating work is important and, in fact, substantially connected to its meaning, my goal in art is to move beyond a discussion on how the art was created, into the realm of motivation, intrigue, discovery and interpretation. But because the process of creating digital images is relatively new, there are bound to be many questions with regards to how the art is made and its legitimacy as an art form.
Allow me to make a brief mention here about the current trend referred to as giclée prints. Giclée refers to a printing process using an ink jet printer, the output of which is controlled by digital information from a computer. In the art market, the term has become synonymous with reproduction. When people refer to a giclée print, they are usually talking about a digitally produced copy of an original painting or drawing of any medium. Because imaging software allows incredible control over every pixel of the reproduction, the results can be stunning.
The methods used in creating such beautiful reproductions can also be employed to create an original artwork in and of itself. This is far more interesting territory for me, and the focus of my current work.
CHARTS, TABLES, GRAPHS is the title of an ongoing series of digital prints I am currently making using Photoshop software to generate a digital file of an original image, one that does not exist first as a painting or drawing. Then, using the same printing technology of a giclée, the end product is output. These electronic collages begin with my own photography as well as found images and objects scanned into the computer as digital files. These files are then combined in Photoshop using an incredible palette of tools to layer, tint, distort, soften, sharpen, delete, clone, blend and many other options to arrive at the final original image. Now that I have a fair level of competence using the software tools, my working process allows for sustained intuition, fortunate accidents, and a complex layering of visual information, all of which I attempted in paintings, but there with only moderate success in creating the work I had envisioned.
While most people seem to respond to these new prints favorably in terms of the familiar qualities of an art object-color, composition, detail, depth, symbol/metaphor, contrast, duality, emotion-the notion that they are digital; that they were created with the aid of a computer, somehow deflates the perceived value of the art. I have a few guesses as to why this happens.
First of all, I think people assume that the computer created the work with little input or control by the artist. This is an strange notion. The computer I’m using to write this commentary didn’t decide on the words; there’s no keystroke in Photoshop, for example, to evoke a deep-sea wreck. The computer does supply a new and vast array of options for creating images, much like the camera did when that technology was developed. Nonetheless, it takes the vision and inspiration of an artist in addition to an ability to put any tools to good use.
Secondly, because the digital file can be stored and any number of prints created from the file at any time, the concept of rarity enters the discussion. It’s my belief that rarity does increase value to some degree. That’s why I limit my editions to between 3 and 8. Not everyone does. Ultimately, the collector of art decides to what degree they will pay for scarcity, but the ability of an image to move the viewer is not dependent on how many of those images there are.
Which leads to the question of what does move the viewer? Is it the rarity of the work? Is it a brushstroke? The color? Is it the “presence” a work of art has? Or is it the concept of the art? Most likely it’s a combination of all these and more. Perhaps the virtuoso “brushwork” of a digital print is something for which an appreciation is not yet developed. Until that time that it is, responding to those qualities other than the means of creation allows for the possibility that the meaning of the work might make itself known.
Art is at its best and most valuable to our culture when it expands beyond the method of its creation and offers a mirror in which to see ourselves and the way we are in the world more clearly. My decision to create art with Photoshop and a gigabyte of RAM instead of a brush and the latest acrylic paint modifiers allows me to create work more in line with my artistic vision. However, the desire to make sense out of anything in this world through visual explorations is a more appropriate yardstick in defining the art of our age.
THE ART ASPECT
Musings on digital art by B. Allen Bayard
The advent of the archival digital ink jet print is truly a breakthrough in the realm of making art, in much the same way the development of the camera turned the world of art on its ear well over a century ago . It took a long period of time before there was mainstream acceptance of photography as art, and interestingly, a similar conversation about the acceptability of digital work as art is currently taking place. My guess is that people will come to terms with this new media quickly and without too much fuss. At least I hope so as, the rewards will be tremendous.
What is very exciting, apart from the new images we will see created with digital technology, is how this development will affect other, more traditional techniques. When photographic images first appeared like magic in the developing tray, it changed the way artists approached and recorded their subjects. Since the rendition of subject matter was so accurate in the photograph, the artist no longer needed to render reality in portraits and landscapes, and so was freed up to explore other ways of seeing and then painting those observations.
This resulted in impressionism, expressionism and the myriad of artforms that developed throughout the 20th century. Many forms incorporated the photograph: dadaism, post-abstract expressionism, pop; or elevated it: photorealism, video—to the great advantage of better understanding our humanity by exploring such a broad scope of images. Some of these images even foreshadowed major breakthroughs in scientific thought, but that can be left for another column.
The photograph itself eventually achieved independent status as fine art, and artists began using that medium in ever increasingly different ways. It has been a major influence in the way we think about and perceive reality. The digital work we are seeing now—and will see in the future—also will certainly change the way we view the world. It will require a reexamination of what is true about our assumptions and beliefs. The electronic collage, digitally generated and manipulated images, web-based art and all sorts of variations on the new technology will redefine what it means to be human.
Maybe there will be a fuss after all.