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on computers and art

There seems to be a reluctance to accept the computer as a valid tool for creating fine art. This I suppose is based partly on the fact that their use is so wide spread among the general population, and that available software allows just about anyone to scan in a photo, manipulate it by simple pointing and clicking, and print it out. It appears at first to be a tool that requires no particular talent or skill, as opposed to say a brush and oil paints.

Certainly, computers can be used to emulate traditional media, and with some serious training and practice, one can become quite adept at digital painting that can be difficult to distinguish from more traditional methods. The computer's ability to do this is truly amazing and is widely applied in commercial illustration. The computer is only the tool, the artist must develop the talent and skills in using this tool.

Some artists use computers to create montages of scanned-in images, often using the work of other artists. This too probably lends to the computers lack of high standing in the art world. Copyright violation has become rampant, drawing and design abilities are often lacking, and overall craftsmanship disregarded in many of these efforts. But can't this also be said of art using more traditional media?

Another factor that contributes to this lack of credibility may stem from the physical appearance of the printed images created on a computer. They often look somewhat flat and lacking in clarity and contrast, or perhaps suffer from poor reproduction because of an artist's limited knowledge of the unique characteristics and technical requirements. This can be true of other more traditional printing processes as well.This is a new technology and the tools of reproduction are just now getting to the level that can produce truly wonderful and archival prints. The recent introduction of the 8-color digital printer now allows for even higher quality reproduction. The ongoing development in ink and paper combinations is creating possibilities for archival quality that go beyond some traditional media.

Photography is another media that has taken awhile to be accepted as a valid medium for fine art, and is still struggling to acheive parity with drawing, painting and sculpture. Perhaps, as with computers, its the still strong focus on the tool, rather than the content, that causes acceptanc to develop so slowly. I wonder if the development of earlier tools didn't encounter the same phenomenon.

my approach

I'd like to draw an anology between the use of concrete in architecture and the use of computers in art. Early uses of concrete in building tended to be either hidden from view or, if exposed, treated in such a way as to emulate more traditional materials such as stone or wood.

So too with computers. They are seen as a tool that makes things easier and therefore are often used to emulate either the use of brushes and pencils, or a photographic darkroom. They have proven quite useful at these tasks. However good the computer is at doing this, it is not the entireity of its intrinsic capabilities. Where the computer differs from other media is in the area of using color and form, created and applied by algorithyms, combining art and science differently than brushes and paint or light, film and chemicals.

My first use of the computer to produce fine art was with what now would be considered basic and crude (the first Apple Macintosh in 1984). The work consisted of enlarged pixels printed photographically. I used the computer mostly in my work as a graphic designer, where its abllities to emulate paste-up for offset printing were a godsend, though not without unique challenges. I was not truly inspired nor impressed with the computers abulities in producing fine art. My love for the tactile subtlties of working with the lucious medium of oil paint left me unattracted to working on something as sterile as a computer.

In the early 1990's I became involved in some pre-world-wide-web internet digital art projects with artists and organizations in europe, and became hooked on the possibilities. Research showed me that Iris giclée, a widely accepted process for digital printing, produced prints that would start to fade and display color shifts after only a few years hanging on a wall. They also lacked dynamic range, they appeared sort of weak in contrast. I was dissappointed. A recent request from Robert Allen (Robert Allen Fine Art, SanFrancisco) for some works on paper, prompted me to begin creating on the computer again. With the advances in both hardware and software and the advent of the Roland HiFiJet digital printer, truly fine quality prints are finally, a reality.

The first prints produced followed the style I have developed in my work with oil and canvas, emulating some of the surfaces of paintings, showing the evidence of my hand in the strokes of digital paint. As I continued to re-explore the medium, I incorporated my photography into some pieces. This sometimes results in pieces that have adifferent character than my other works. While I fully appreciate the importance of developing and sustaining a style in one's work, I can't resist exploring the possibilities presented by this medium. My current work is moving beyond emulating traditional media, beyond photo-montage, into using the computer for its intrinsic capabilities, to create works that are totally done digitally.

Seeking out these inherently unique possibilities of any medium is, in my mind, an exciting part of the creative process. I like my work to get beyond that often 'too smooth' look of computer art and have a little grittiness in it. I could easily use software tools that emulate brush strokes, chalk and other traditonal media, or scan in some externally created work, and some of my earlier digital prints do just that. But, I want to push the computer and software to the point where they contribute there own roughness. Its been my experience that one needs to push any tool beyond its intended purposes to create art with some soul in it. This is true with jazz and blues music, its true with painting and drawing, brushes, paints and pencils, and also with computers and software. I enjoy creating on my computer as much as working with oil paints, and find the computers tactile element just as lucious. Its like working with liquid light and color.

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