My Early Work is Saved
There are many reasons being an artist is rough, or as we artists might say to ourselves at times “sucks”. 90% of art majors do not continue on to art careers (according to an article in The Atlantic), and I would guess that among visual artists that number is even higher. Consider that with a degree in art, if you aren’t doing art specifically, or something closely related, your degree is not helping you beyond giving you the qualification that you have one at all. That so few people are able to pursue art should tell you surviving at all as an artist is a long shot, and that survival might be on earnings you could beat with a full-time job at McDonald’s. Another difficulty artists have is storing their art.
Storing art can be the double-whammy for artists of 1) not being able to afford to make new work, and 2) not being able to afford to preserve the work you’ve already made. An artist might say privately to his or herself that this “sucks shit”.
This became a harsh reality for yours truly in the last few years as my relatives who faithfully kept my art in their garages for decades moved, and no longer had room, which meant that the artwork had to go into storage, which meant that outrageous storage fees needed to be forked over. I say “outrageous” because I looked up the storage fees and was shocked to discover it costs more in CA to rent a small, empty space, with no heating, plumbing, or internet access than it does to rent my furnished apartment in SE Asia, which is also probably at least 4 times as large.
Well, I couldn’t pay the storage fees, and neither could my family, so, the issue of NOT being able to save my art arose. Naturally, this hurt, and for many reasons, and I tended to avoid thinking about it because I had no solution.
The good news is an old friend of mine and my brother teamed up to ship my art across country, where my friend has space in his home (there’s an ample basement) to store my work for the foreseeable future. Not only the 3 life-sized sculptures, but a dozen 3×4′ paintings in my early style, and dozens of other works, probably hundreds including all the drawings going back to my childhood. Should I ever make it as an artist, yup, we’ve got early drawings of robots, aliens, monsters, space-ships, cartoons, caricatures, and various other things going back to when I was 8 or 9 years old. [Note to enterprising and astute collectors, these artifacts are collectibles, or will be, if nothing kills me soon-ish. They will all be for sale.]
Another boon for me is that all my work until after I got my MFA is what people now call “analogue” work, or “physical” work. This is nice to retain because, well, artists and people in the art world can be incredibly competitive, petty, and look for any opportunity to dismiss an artist out of hand. The biggest criticism I receive is that I work digitally, and there’s nothing like hundreds of physical works to prove that it isn’t because I can’t work physically, it’s because I see the extraordinary imaginative potential that the window of computer technology has opened for artists who can make the mental leap, learn the software, and begin to explore.
The Dumb Prejudice against Digital Art
Below you can see my (low-end and old) drawing tablet, monitor with a digital drawing I recently completed, and then just the drawing. Drawing with a tablet can be a real challenge at first, but the computer offers enough flexibility to make up the difference.
This antipathy or resistance to digital art is something I’ve been dealing with for a long time, and a battle I’ll be fighting for a long time to come. Every now and then a concerned individual will give me some tough love which says, essentially, “give up digital art”. One of the nasty features of this helpful advice is that it necessarily dismisses all the quality, and pioneering work I’ve done in digital, fine art.
These people universally have never opened up Zbrush, Blender (or digital sculpting software of choice) and started to digitally sculpt, for example. I could as easily counter, though I never do (because I like most forms of art-making regardless of medium of preference), “Put away your turpentine, oily rags, and charcoal. It’s time for you to evolve your relation to media and do the hard work of learning to navigate computer software for visual artists”. I don’t say this because it’s dick-ish, even if they deserve it, but also because I really do love all kinds of art-making, and am likely to do some kinds of physical work in the future. In fact, I don’t want them to put away their oily rags – far from it – though in some instances I’d like to see them incorporate some of the possibilities the computer offers to implement their technique, perhaps before they make their final paintings. Traditional painters do have rather clumsy techniques that approximate using the computer for preliminary work anyway (they project images onto canvas, use grid systems, tracing paper, etc.), but it’s not nearly as powerful. The prejudice is one-way, and I have nothing to do with it. To make a musical analogy, perhaps my two favorite instruments are acoustic guitar and synthesizer (one is analogue, and one is wickedly electronic).
People who don’t like my digital art wouldn’t like it any better if I did it with traditional mediums, which I have in the past, and truth be told, most people can’t even tell I work digitally, because I do so in a very painterly way. I’ve written an article defending digital art before, so, let’s just keep things simple and think about this last piece I made (and which I’m currently putting in color).
It is in approximately the same style I used to work in before I went to UCLA, where they beat it out of me. But here I must credit art school with forcing me to work way outside of my comfort zone or even my interests. If you are a painter and you are required to take up photography, sculpture, conceptual art, performance art, and installation art, you don’t see something like transitioning from drawing with a messy piece of charcoal to using a tablet and stylus as some great reach or hurdle.
Here are 5 of my new (digital) pieces and 5 of my early charcoal pieces in a similar style:
Charcoal is a fragile medium, and of course I needed to liberally douse the drawings with spray fixative. If you can’t tell which ones are analogue, it’s the lighter ones, because you can’t achieve the same level of lights and darks with charcoal as you can on the computer. The old drawings are 18×24″ each, and the new ones are 30×40″ each @300 dpi (but they can be printed twice that large).
I can actually get much more technical working on the computer, because it’s more flexible, and I can experiment on different layers, use layer masks, and so on. But the more interesting thing to me is that the result is almost more traditional. Not only can I get stronger lights and darks, I can get more texture. Try to do that with charcoal and it’s going to get muddied. The end result is that I can produce a superior image, both in terms of sophistication and surface beauty, which I can print out at least 3 times as large. And my hands are not black from the charcoal, which is what used to happen, not to mention needing to vacuum the rug and wash my clothes.
There is still one criticism my adversaries desperately cling to: “you don’t have a one-of-a-kind commodity to sell”. The solution – if one felt compelled to think in those terms – is to print out only one very high quality print, which will be more impressive than the physical drawing (which is also flat) anyway.
There are a lot more issues, such as “what about impasto painting” (if you are asking that you probably aren’t familiar with my work), but let’s keep it simple for now. In the case of these sorts of drawings, to work physically would be a critical disadvantage and shooting myself in the feet. Quite likely the instances where it is advantageous to work physically are narrowing.
If you don’t already know my art, you can watch a screen-show of some of my favorite pieces. They are all digital:
In short, people who give me shit for using the computer as an art-making tool are in reality cutting themselves off from what is probably the most promising and exciting visual-artist’s tool out there. If that’s what they want to do, I’m fine with that, but this is not MY limitation, it’s theirs.
On a related note, though, I still fantasize about taking a plein air landscape painting class, setting up an easel and trying to capture the nature or buildings I see before me. It’s kind of like how I love the synthesizer (and electronic, computer manipulation of sound and music) AND the acoustic guitar. I have nothing against traditional mediums, and love impasto oil painting, but also use the exciting new computer-based tools available to artists. And lastly, I don’t have to worry about storing my digital art other than electronically, which need not take up any space.
Be back soon with another baboon:
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