“Digital painting isn’t painting.” ~ Charles Thomson, co-founder of Stuckism.
“I can appreciate digital art, I just don’t want it on my wall.” ~ Bill Schafer, gallery owner of the Hyaena Gallery in LA.
“I just don’t like digital, computer generated art. All of it I’ve seen comes across as kitschy and more for a teenage crowd…I stand by what I said. The camera or computer (machine) makes the image.” ~ James Celano (traditional oil painter of nudes and still lifes).
Notice that my critics above — and they said these words to me personally — disqualify my art as even qualifying as art proper. The image above is not worthy of being called a painting, of hanging on a wall, it is necessarily kitsch, and it was made by the computer.
None of their above are really directed at me, though they were said to me. They apply to ALL artists working with computers, and I am merely no exception. They are preconceived notions and foregone conclusions these people held before they saw any of my work, and they refuse to budge. They are not the only ones, friends and artists have given me the unsolicited helpful advice to give up the computer.
If I try to get them to waver, they just get more dogmatic. I hesitate to give their views attention they don’t deserve, and I’m sick of the combativeness and adversarial nature of their stances, but periodically I feel compelled to dispel some of the widespread, mindless prejudice against any and all art created using a computer. I thought of not using their names, and quotes, but if I don’t than people may not believe how strident the anti-digital art paradigm is.
The art world, and artists are too damned competitive. Frequently, when looking at the art of other artists, or other styles or mediums, artists look for some, any excuse for invalidating the art in question. I think this competitive cancer has its roots in the rhetoric surrounding contemporary art, conceptual art in particular, and has its genesis in Duchamp’s “Fountain”. The fountain is credited with rendering traditional art practices, and painting in general redundant. The blow back from traditional artists is that conceptual art is not art at all, and utter bullshit. Each camp has its rhetoric by which it categorically invalidates whole genres of art, sight unseen.
Wait, there’s a third camp, which is socially progressive activist art. According to their paradigm only politically motivated art, which espouses the correct views, and from the correct standpoint is valid or relevant. For them, the goal of art is social change, and this typically means challenging or undermining patriarchy, racism, sexism, white supremacy, capitalism, colonialism, etc. They dismiss other art with the rubric that if your art isn’t part of the solution, than your art is part of the problem. They will weigh your art heavily in terms of your race, gender, sexual orientation, sexual identification, and your perceived disadvantages. If you are a straight white male, your art is assumed pernicious unless you overtly address social issues from a radical left standpoint, and deconstruct your own power and privilege. Obviously art that reflects conservative views is worse than irrelevant: it’s enemy propaganda.
All three camps categorically dismiss my art. The painters reject it because I work digitally, even if I have an extensive drawing and painting background. The conceptualists disregard it because it is based on the image, and art should not be a window one looks into, but a thing in quotidian reality which sparks ideas. The social activist artists deny my work because of my biology at birth.
Recently, however, I am most assailed by conservative, traditional, oil painters. It’s worth mentioning that I never come after them, and am generally quite supportive of their artistic efforts and achievements. They, however, have an issue with using the computer as an arena in which to create visual imagery, and are insultingly dismissive, even taking umbrage that I reject their criticisms.
When they say that “the machine” makes my art, I’ll point out examples where I worked exclusively from my imagination, where the image was done entirely through drawing with a stylus and tablet (see the image at the top of the post, and note that was done simply with one brush in Photoshop.). Don’t feel like scrolling up, here’s another digital painting created with just one brush and a stylus and tablet.
And preliminary sketch.
There’s a series of 47 images produced this way. The only way the computer could do the work is if it had a mechanical arm that moved my hand over the tablet. Here’s the series (some incorporate additional impasto and 3D techniques I’ve developed using multiple programs):
They will ignore this, dig their heels in the ground, and then just make a blanket pronouncement that is even more dismissive. I’ve recently heard this from Charles Thomson, who is the co-founder of the Stuckists; Bill Schafter of the Hyaena Gallery in LA; and two fellow artists who comment on my blog.
I’ve been meaning to write a long piece defending digital art against asinine arguments which dismiss it sight unseen, but realized I’ve been putting it off because I don’t find their arguments challenging; I’ve already written a good defense 4 years ago (it saddens me that people still haven’t caught up); and I don’t feel like having to be in a combative and defensive mode, which one is forced to when countering blanket attacks and dismissals of ones own art.
I’d rather counter their arguments with new art, though I’ll probably get around to quite thoroughly demolishing their arguments when I feel like I have a bit more free time.
My latest series seems to rub traditional painters (of still lifes, nudes, and flowers) the wrong way. If you haven’t seen it, it’s 24 images so far which I base on versions of myself I used Faceapp to generate (and this includes tweaking out the app to the max in innovative ways).
Never mind the creativity of some of the juxtapositions, painterly brush strokes, smeared paint on top, inclusion of movie backgrounds, 20th century painting references, scenarios, conceptual and performance elements…. the “machine” did it all at the push of a button. The reason it can take a dozen or so hours to complete one is because I’m just that slow at pushing a button.
The latest criticism was the belief that if “the machine” made a mistake, or didn’t do something adequately, than I couldn’t myself correct it or improve upon it. Therefore the “machine’s” limitations are my limitations, and as compared to oil painting, where you can obviously make any age and gender versions of yourself in any background without limitation (but you prefer to just paint still lifes, etc.).
That’s a very odd conclusion to come to, especially as I shared in a recent piece how I didn’t like the way an ear was interpreted, went in the bathroom and sketched mine, and then painted it in seamlessly. Rather than see the skill of doing that, my critics just ignore it and make some other argument.
If I point out that if I can draw a human fly in its laboratory from my imagination, I can probably draw a nose, than all digital art necessarily has an inferior aesthetic just BECAUSE!
“I don’t like digital art because it all strikes me as kitschy and aesthetically immature.” ~ James Celano (again).
And what if we gave James a computer, tasked him with learning Photoshp and Painter, and then put him in a cell and told him he needed to produce a meaningful image for the despotic Emperor within a year, or off with his head? Well, I guess his head would roll, because it would be impossible for HIM to do anything other than a kitschy and aesthetically immature production. You see, it is the medium and not the artist that determines whether the artist has vision, creativity, skill, talent…
If I point out the difficulty in learning digital sculpting, well, it’s just the “machine” doing it, again, even if they couldn’t do it with the help of a machine and years to accomplish the task. Here, critics, replicate this from scratch.
You are going to have to learn to sculpt with Blender to make the robots, or similar.
Don’t forget to design the robot’s brains!
You’ll need to learn how to digitally paint impasto (sorry, I invented the technique, and you are going to need to re-invent it through trial and error).
But that can all be done by “the machine”. You have one, so, let’s see ya’ do it.
If I point out I’ve done sculpture, it doesn’t matter.
Sure, I’ve worked in charcoal. Doesn’t matter.
I’ve done oil pastel, it doesn’t matter.
I did a series of a dozen 3X4′ acrylic paintings from my imagination decades ago. It doesn’t matter.
Oh, sure you can work from your imagination, but you are not a REAL artist because you can’t draw a model in front of you.
OK, well, fine, you had a life drawing class or two or three or five, and you can draw a model in 5 minutes, but you can’t paint REALISTICALLY!
Because “the machine” makes my art, I have no conventional drawing or painting skills, no imagination, no soul, and my art is completely impersonal. Whatever skills I had before I taught myself how to make art on the computer, which came AFTER I got my MFA, disappeared.
Self-portraits are impersonal.
The problem I’m addressing is the idea that it is impossible for any artist, under any circumstances, to produce anything with the computer other than kitsch. Thus, if my art proves him wrong, his idea nevertheless, in his mind, proves me wrong. He has a sentence to regurgitate, and THAT he assumes successfully repudiates all the work I’ve produced in the last 5 years. Meanwhile, does his work have a more sophisticated aesthetic? Well, I won’t descend to the level of viciously attacking other people’s art just because they do so to me (though I will share a few choice examples for you to make up your own mind about).
“So, I don’t like your art. Boohoo. If you’re that insecure, stay out of the game.” ~ James Celano.
[Note to readers. This is the sort of asshole comment that will get you blocked. However, in 5 years I’ve only blocked 3 people.] He will compare his art to Van Gogh, and mine to photography, which he insists requires no more than clicking the shutter. Never mind the tribute I made to Van Gogh:
You see, if you dab oil paint on canvas, there’s NOTHING I can do to compete with you in terms of working in a way that is influenced by Van Gogh.
Charles Thomson says that “digital painting isn’t painting”. Well, I’ll leave off dismantling the utter bullshit born of a need to disqualify the competition for now, and let’s just focus on that mentality itself.
Why is visual art a war of rhetoric lodged in linguistic structures? It should be an obvious problem when artists themselves are essentially saying that a word is worth a thousand pictures. Rather than looking at my art for ideas, inspiration, enjoyment, and so on, they look for an excuse to destroy it. Most of us who enjoy eating don’t do this with food. We want to enjoy all kinds of food. There’s no, “Fried food isn’t food!”.
I often compare visual art to music, and lament that music is much less vindictive, stupid, competitive, and narrow-minded than visual art. I may very well be wrong about this, and overestimating music. If that’s the case, it just reflects my own attitude towards music, and the places where I get my music. I consider music much like my food example above, or travel. Different styles and approaches expand my auditory imagination and conception of the universe. I don’t hate styles of music, at least not since I was 12 and hated country and disco in favor of rock.
Even though my music library is extensive and eclectic, I recently decided to – for a while — only listen to music I’ve never heard before. I grab music from all regions, styles, and periods, and I find things I like in most all of it, assuming it is quality examples of the genre. Coincidentally, my last batch of downloads included a lot of disco (OK, LSD disco) and old country songs. And here you can see why the idea of this or that musical genre invalidating another one, rendering it obsolete, and so on is anathema to me. It’s also, well, not just ignorant and stupid, but shooting oneself in both ears and taking out the brain in the middle.
When it comes to using the computer in music, it’s got a leg or two or three up on visual art, because musicians like Morton Subotnick have been composing with the computer since the early 70’s, and sophisticated music audiences do not discriminate against it, but rather appreciate that the composer was exploring previously unknown terrain.
I was wrong, Subotnick has been composing with the computer since 1967. Goddamnit! That’s 51 years ago that Silver Apples on the Moon was pressed. It’s safe to say he was probably working on it when I was born 52 years ago. A half century later, and visual art audiences haven’t caught up to where music was when I was born. And, yes, by the way, I am a big fan of Morton Subotnick, and have been for more than a quarter century. I bought two of his albums when I was in my early 20’s.
My views on music appreciation apply to visual art. If you are not looking for the good in the art, and just looking for some excuse, or pithy sentence to dismiss it, than you are stabbing yourself in the eyeballs and lobotomizing your mind. It’s time to evolve your visual intelligence.
I’ve said this a lot, but here it is again. If you want to test out a theory of art, just apply it to music and see if it still holds water. Usually it will be utterly ridiculous. And here we see the problem with Bill Schafer’s seemingly innocuous statement that while he appreciates digital art (as if it’s one thing!), he wouldn’t hang it on his wall. This is akin to saying, “While I appreciate electronic music, I wouldn’t even put it on my turntable”. That means you don’t appreciate it, quite obviously.
[Note: Though he is a gallery owner, don’t get the impression I submitted work to him. Far from it. He shows “outsider” and “low brow” art, and I have an MFA and use a computer. We were introduced through a mutual freind on FB, and Bill is fond of my articles, but not my stance that my art is not automatically disqualified and an art career is so hopeless it is not even an option. I guess I’m supposed to agree with that?]
In my debate with him, his position was that as a gallery owner he can’t sell digital art, or photography for that matter [perhaps if one wouldn’t hang it on ones own wall on principle, that might have something to do with not being able to sell it]. He is more upset about not being able to sell photography, which is telling. Lots of people see photography as a lower level of art than painting (depends on the painter AND the photographer!), but even in the generalized context, digital art is even lower than photography. This is odd because the usual argument against photography is that it requires too little effort (ignoring the effort of being in the right place at the right time, understanding lighting, depth of field, etc…). In that context clearly digital art takes more time than the fraction of a second it takes to snap a photo. Nevertheless digital art is a lower art form than photography.
So, for example, if I were to take a picture of a statue and then spend days making it into a digital painting, I would actually devalue it.
If I were to travel to Laos, take a bunch of pictures, and assemble them into a collage on the computer, the result would be less valuable than any one of the pictures used.
Same applies to Burma, of course.
Consider that millions of people visit these countries every year (nearly 30 million in Thailand alone), and thus there are easily a billion travel photos taken in SE Asia in a year. Imagine that of the billions of travel photos taken, my collages and digital paintings made from my own are inferior to virtually all of them.
Bill Schafer would probably hang a music poster on his wall, or has at some point (I know he likes music). If a music poster is worth hanging on the wall, and a photograph, why not digital art?
Why do people insist that digital art doesn’t even qualify as art? They will say they don’t fear technology, and of course they more than understand any and all art done with computers. I guess it can be summed up in two words: stupid prejudice.
“You could make your images with the finest oil paints on the finest Belgian linen and I would still find them Kitschy and immature. Some of the issues I have with cgi work in general and my dislike of your work in particular are two separate issues. Anyway I’m done with you. Paint what you want, write what you want. The truth is, I don’t give a shit.” ~ James Celano
Backed into a corner, James tries for a desperate, double-or-nothing, lower blow, and just comes off as a bigger ___________.
Yes, my critics do get a little nasty. It almost seems cruel to quote this individual, except that the specific nature of the cruelty is showcasing his cruelty. Celano’s still lives and nudes are decent enough, by the way, but indistinguishable from those of hundreds or thousands of other people (tens of thousands if you include China) who use the same traditional techniques, approach, subject matter, content, and everything else. Let me back that with visual evidence. All images are by different artists, and ONE of the oranges below was painted by my esteemed critic, James Celano:
His is the one above the bottom right, and below one of my paintings, which you probably didn’t even notice. Mine’s the one that isn’t an orange. If they don’t show up in that order on your screen, his is the one that most looks like an egg on a plate from above, and mine is rather nightmarish.
To be fair, Celano doesn’t just paint oranges, he does things like figure drawings:
Oh, wait a sec. That’s the first figure drawing I ever did in my Drawing 101 class in community college when I was 19 years old. I’d already been drawing most my life. Here’s his stuff:
Well, honestly, I think his mature drawings are more competent than my community college first attempt. His art is pretty good for what it is, and what it is is OK-ish if you like paintings of fruit, flowers, and nudes. As for still lifes, I like the ones people do of broken egg shells and yolks a little better. Here’s one I copied. Mine’s on the left.
When I do this kind of thing I consider it an “exercise” or “practice” to hone certain conventional skills which I would hopefully use when working from my imagination, or some other more interesting and challenging application. Personally, I don’t consider these sorts of classroom assignments to be serious artworks, and threw out 90% of mine. Others feel they are the real thing, and my current art is not even worth looking at.
Wanna know what art by Charles Thomson looks like? Here you are:
Just kidding. Those are by me. Here’s his stuff:
Wow-wee! This is the art of the guy that say’s “digital painting isn’t painting”. He also says, “If it doesn’t have paint in it, it isn’t a painting”. OK, I wasn’t going to tackle his arguments here, but, I suppose I can dispatch them easily enough. The first is merely an assertion and not an argument, in which case “digital painting is painting” is a perfectly suitable counter-assertion. The second notion is just playing with words and falls apart when you try to apply it to digital drawing, “It’s not a drawing if it doesn’t have draw in it.” Art and painting are about the visual experience, and when people speak of “digital painting” they mean that someone made an image using strokes of color.
And, how about a sculpture by Bill Schafer? Hold on to your seat:
I think his part was coming up with what to put on the label. This is the guy who wouldn’t hang any of my art on his wall. But should anyone say that they wouldn’t put this on their mantelpiece, qualitatively speaking, he’d probably get a wee bit upset.
Moral of the story: The less you know about art, the more you think you know about art; and the less you can compete at art, the more competitive you are about art.
If you are going to shit on someone else’s art, make sure your shit doesn’t stink.
By me, we’d all be better off enjoying each other’s creations, dumping the stupid competitiveness, and abandoning our stupid prejudices against this or that medium.
You can read my full debate with Charles Thomson in the comments section of my article: Get Politics the F Out of Art!
You can also read John Celano’s arguments and my responses in the comments section of my post about #20 in my most recent series. [His final comment is in my “trash” folder because I blocked his ass. I can take criticism, but I’m not going to tolerate full-on insults, or telling me to go to hell (Hi C. L.).
Feel free to comment, but realize that if you get nasty and insulting I may quote you in a future article. On the other hand, if you say something brilliant and insightful, I may quote you as well.
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