Friday, June 18, 2010

I've had my coffee now, and I feel great!

I was working on my morning coffee when I noticed a comment from reader K. Gill on my last post. My response kept ballooning, so I thought that maybe I should share it with you. Here's what Ms. Gill said, followed by my response:

I've enjoyed all kinds of weird stuff online for years (probably since you were a kid, since you're 21, right?). How do digital artists feel that their practice will overtake traditional media like painting? It's not like ebooks taking over paper books (which I don't think will happen either). How are artists supposed to make a living with digital art? It's even less stable than video art.

My personal interest in art lies not just in what I find visually pleasing, but what I find to be aesthetically pleasing. I like visual art that surprises my brain when I contemplate it as well as when I look at it. That said, I find that digital art has a potency about it that painting can never attain. This is because digital art can be copied infinitely, remixed, networked, multiplayer, self-modifying, and a host of other reasons. It's kind of like the difference between frescoes and paintings on canvases. Canvases changed commodification and thus subject matter; they also drove down the cost of materials, so more people could afford to paint. (I'm using the Marxist definition of a commodity, BTW. Oh, art rhetoric.) Digital art is the next step, where the cost of making a work is effectively zero, the work takes up an infinitesimally small space, and lots of people already have the tools in their home. It's democratic.

One aspect of digital art that makes it very distinct from the physical arts is the near impossibility of commodification. You can't (really) sell a GIF, because once someone's made a copy, it's out of your hands and spread across the network. This quandary is just like what the music industry is facing with MP3s right now, only artists selling images for 99 cents probably wouldn't work. Artists DO make money off of digital art through performative work (like visualizations at concerts, for instance) and converting the work to an analog form (printed photos, etc.). This is still in its exploration phase; as you said, it is less stable than video art! I find that exciting.

The most interesting quality of digital art that I fell in love with is its referrential abilities, or lack thereof. Digital art is free (when it wants to be) from the burden of the Art Historical Narrative from which paintings cannot exist separately. What I mean by that is when you make a painting, you are choosing that way of expressing yourself. Painting is a old thing to do, as image-making has been superseded in quality, depth and ease by photography, film, digital art, etc. This does not mean it is a worthless excercise, but it does mean that when you paint, you're going out of your way to take part in a historical practice, and thus your painting enters the Art Historical Narrative of Painting - your work must be compared to other painters from other times, your work is considered "postmodern," your work is evaluated within the context of the status quo. Because digital art is new, and lives and thrives off of the network and its ambiguities, there is no master narrative, and there probably won't ever be in the same sense. It's too dense and too experiential to narrate.

A lot of people are really turned off by this - they need that structure! But some of us, and I'm going to vainly include myself here, are obsessed with the new and the ubiquity of the digital and its incedentals that we can't help but work in this medium, because it has so many new things to say about humans and the experiences we find interesting and appealing.

EDIT: Post 150!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for this detailed response! I've been wanting to hear from a digital artist for a long time. I just see a lot of defensiveness and proclamations that "painting is dead" from many other digital artists. Your explanations are very balanced and reasonable. Some of the things you said look like the logical next step for the things I learned in art school. (I graduated in 2004.) At that time, postmodernism was being discussed a little bit still, and we were in some kind of gray area beyond that. I knew *of* digital art from all the hours I'd spent online, but we didn't talk about it in my courses. (Perhaps the graphic design students dealt with it more, since they worked more directly with computers?)

    My frustration right now is that I *know* about digital art and other contemporary art forms, but I can't think of how to address a lot of it in my own work. Sometimes I don't want to. For a long time after graduating I didn't feel confident about making anything, because I didn't think it was strong enough conceptually. Now I'm painting and drawing again at least, and it's very traditional. I don't want to just be another boring, crappy traditional artist, though... So that's my struggle... Anyway, thanks again.