Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Digital art: the legitimacy of a contemporary art medium - Gloria Kim

A moment of truth: most of my art skills weren’t developed traditionally. I was just shy of eight years old and had been drawing only for a year when I received my first Wacom Bamboo drawing tablet. I remember being puzzled when my dad asked me if I wanted one, having never heard of such a thing, and asking him, “How many pages of paper does it have?” My brother laughed and said, “Infinite.”

Days later, I came from school to see it set up in front of my computer: a smooth, flat square pad with a control pad at the top, paired with a complementary pen. My dad had already installed Corel Painter 8, and he left me as I became fascinated with how the glide of pen against the tablet surface contrasted with the feel of pencil against paper I was familiar with. From then all the way up until freshman year of high school, my daily ritual after homework involved making a beeline for my computer, opening Paint Tool SAI, and drawing until my mom finished work.

“Digital art isn’t real art.”

This sentiment is one I’ve heard throughout my time doing digital art, and it’s still fervently debated in the artist community. Digital art, which involves using a computer and a drawing tablet, has emerged as a contemporary art medium, brought about with our world becoming increasingly computer-reliant within this century. Drawing programs such as Photoshop, Paint Tool SAI, and Krita and the Wacom tablets have become the household names as the medium revolutionized how we draw.

It’s understandable why people would have this perspective. You don’t have to physically mix colors, you just drag your cursor along the color picker. No need to clean brushes or buy different types and sizes, you have brush packs and shortcut keys. Your proportions look off? Use the transform tool. Made a mistake? Ctrl + Z. Many of the tedious frustrations we experience when making traditional art become trivial through the digital medium.

Some call it cheating - that the computer does the all the work. In reality, the computer and tablet are nothing more than a different medium; everything still lies in the skills of the hands. As artists who work in both traditional and digital can attest to, the two mediums aren’t the same. Digital is more of an indirect medium, compared to traditional where your tool directly touches the piece you're making; it’s common to become frustrated because your digital art turns out “worse” than as your traditional. It’s less intuitive since its simulated on the computer, and your colors work in CMYK/RGB rather than RYB. There’s a learning curve involved, just as there is if you were to start watercolor or oil paints.

Once having overcome the learning curve, the digital medium revolutionizes the distribution and execution of contemporary art. The art market, which used to be monopolized by auction house customers, has become more accessible and autonomous for any artist to gain traction with platforms such as Society6 and Redbubble. Making prints of an original work is simple, as the originals are all digital files. In execution, digital art greatly expanded our artist toolboxes by transcending past the traditional, physical materials into a realm where we can paint with light, sound, and pixels to push imaginative boundaries. It’s a contemporary medium not easier or less authentic than traditional art - only different. 

"Dream" by WLOP


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