An art lover commented on a digital painting that I had posted on Facebook; she wrote, “It’s beautiful. I would like someone to explain to me why there is any question regarding the validity of digital painting as art.” It is no secret that there are still those who denounce the value and snub the beauty of digital art and paintings. For me to be one who responds to this question is truly ironic.
As an artist who once disliked digital art, I may be able to offer some insight to this peculiar phenomenon. I began my training in oils at an early age. I visited the museums in New York City and was awed at the beauty of the masterpieces that were on exhibition. Over the years, I learned, practiced, exhibited, and sold some of my paintings. And, then came the computer. The first images that were generated by comparatively primitive programs did not look that great. Of course, I concluded that this was no alternative to “real” art. But, as the software became more advanced and Photoshop entered the scene, the images became more and more impressive. And while this software made amazing advances, digital cameras made fantastic leaps in producing easily processed imagery. I did regard photography as an art and respected the field. But, I was stubborn and narrow-minded in regards to digital art. If there was no physical brush and pigment, according to me, it was not art.
As a traditional artist, I believed computer art was counterfeit. I thought all of it was cold and lifeless. It had no soul, no history, and no tradition; worst of all, it was created by geeks who knew nothing or little about “real” painting. However, the better these images became the more I resented them. I believed the computer did the artwork and the operator was more like a train engineer. All my preconceptions were merely excuses to avoid my fears. I was a snob, who feared that the value of traditional artwork (which I still love) would eventually be replaced by computer software that was operated by untalented wannabe artists – something that anyone could do. Life often has a way of mocking and poking holes in my ill-constructed dogmas; and that was exactly what happened.
Following a massive heart attack, I developed serious health issues that depleted me of the energy and strength that I needed to paint on canvas. Reluctantly, I began playing around with Photoshop. I started to learn that I could transfer my knowledge of composition and color into images that reflected the themes that I sought to create on canvas. I started using a digital camera to capture images that I could alter according to my personal vision. I began to catalogue various brush strokes that I scanned from digital photos of real watercolor and oils. I began to learn to use software to embellish and modify elements from digital photos. With practice and continued effort, I developed digital techniques that have made it possible for me to choose my aesthetic interpretation of nature and humanity. Like any meaningful visual art form, digital art also requires talent, practice, and skill.
In recent years, many artists like myself have developed their own techniques employing their talents and skills in creation of digital art that is beautiful and unique. Sometimes a series of photographs are layered into an image to create a digital composite with the deletion of unwanted elements. The remaining composition can be digitally hand-painted with computer software. The final outcome is a unique image entirely. These digital pictures never existed in real life as a photograph captured by the lens of a camera, nor did they require pigment, real brushes, or canvas. (I guess those who sell art supplies are not big fans of digital art either.) For me, my disability forced me to reconsider digital art. My misconceptions and prejudices about art created with the computer have surely evaporated.
I love and respect the art of photography and traditional art forms. However, the creation of digital composites and paintings exist beyond what the camera can capture. It is an alternative dimension of visual art that falls outside photography and outside the scope of oils, charcoal, pastels, acrylics, or watercolor. I have enjoyed watching this vital and distinct form of art gain wider acceptance and respect among art enthusiasts and fellow artists. And for those remaining stragglers, who continue to disparage digital art, forgiveness and tolerance is my best recommendation.