The Digital Media Dilemma


Armand Cabrera
Digital media allows a lot of things not possible or not practical with traditional media. Nowhere is this more apparent than animation. Animation has been completely revolutionized by  digital tools. Same with a number of other artistic endeavors, matte paintings, story boards and pre-visualization like concept and pitch art.
In publishing all the costs associated with printing have been lessened dramatically with digital tools. No more type setters or shipping and warehousing thousands of copies of an item that potentially won’t sell. Print on demand allows fast turnaround and low costs. There is no doubt that computers allow for a greater flexibility and fluidity when it comes to a finished product. At any stage of the production of a creative endeavor the work is easily changed; sometimes dramatically, and the work is always at the whim of the entity paying for it. This is not true of traditional media where expertise is not such democratic process.
All that ease of use and better cost benefit should be enough but it isn’t for some digital artists. I recently had a discussion on line where a digital artist was trying to make the case that digital prints were originals because with digital no original exists in the computer. Well that is only half right. No original exists in the computer or anywhere else either. A digital print is not unique by its very nature it can never be an original like a traditional painting can; that is why no one will pay the same prices for digital pieces compared to hand made things. If an artist doesn’t like this they can always learn to make art with traditional materials. I have a friend who is a very successful artist and he has always said your real level of  ability as an artist is your level of ability when you work from life.
You would think this is obvious. As obvious as dressing up like a bird and stepping off a building and trying to fly. Wanting to fly like a bird won’t make you a bird  any more than calling a machine made poster an original piece of art. People want hand made things. In most instances with quality craftsmanship,  the more hand made a thing is the more people are willing to pay for it. The more unique a thing is the more people are willing to pay for it.
Before people write and tell me I hate digital; I’ve been making my living as a digital artist since 1990 so not only do I use digital tools I think digital art can be just as good or better than traditional art. What it can never be is a physical original. So stop pretending it is.

10 thoughts on “The Digital Media Dilemma

  1. I agree with your blog. I also work both as a traditional artist and as a digital artist. I prefer to work with traditional materials but enjoy the convenience of working on my computer (not having to fuss with set up and clean up or having enough physical space to work). But I had this idea about thinking of digital work in the same way one would think of an etching or a lithographic print. The computer being about as much use as the stone or etched plate- what you have is the prints that you are able to offer the public for less than you would an oil or watercolor.

  2. grobles63,
    The problem with that idea is that etchings and silver point and mono-prints and mono-types and lithography are all made by hand. Drawn, painted scratched or carved into the surface that does the printing. It's more than a little disrespectful to the people that work in those disciplines to high jack their mediums for a machine made thing that only simulates what they do. I mean I've done most traditional printing except wood block and they are hard to control and hard to print after you get the image on the surface you want to print with.

    The closest comparison IMO for my digital work is digital photography, where I can manipulate my idea in the machine with no worry about loss because I have multiple levels of undo and save. something not possible with a stone litho or etching. The worth comes from the commitment the artist must make to the thing being made. You either get it right or start over very little possibility for correction.

    Which is why IMO, for now anyway, digital art is more of a service medium instead of a gallery medium. The images are just as good, the skills have to be as good, but there is no way to add the limitation of traditional media and the uniqueness of it into computer generated pictures.

  3. Armand
    When working with traditional mediums we do undo's of a sort – we erase, we paint over, If you've ever done watercolor on plate bristol you can wipe out areas and make corrections.I've scrubbed out areas working on traditional watercolor paper. when working digitally I don't do any photo manipulation. I have a cintiq so I draw or paint directly on the screen in the same way I would on paper or canvas- I don't trace over photos or alter them. The only difference is that I use the software (Sketchbook Pro) and its tools (pencil, brush, etc.) in the same way I would use their physical counterparts. It is hand made in that sense because my methods haven't changed only what I am using to create the image has. I've also done etchings and lithographs and I know the process. There are many ways to create an image using the computer, I do not and could not do the photo manipulation thing- that would take it too far away from what I am used to and kill the whole experience for me.

  4. Except you never lose the ability to go back to each change. In a traditional painting or any traditional media the change is the only version that exists you can't get around that fact and that's what everyone understands about digital. And that's why it is only has worth as an image not as an original and it never will in my lifetime. Every change alters the only original you have. That is not true with digital at all and that is a big difference.

    I'm not talking about photo manipulation, I'm talking about process. So even though you can have a drawing that you use for the basis of a painting what you can't have is the finished drawing and the finished painting exist as the same thing. Making marks with traditional media is not the same as using a digital tablet. Not even close.

    Digital tools remove the limitation of having to commit to a single course of action that alters the action under it.

  5. I'm not convinced by your argument. the ability to make corrections on ones work has been the very reason why some artist choose the materials they use. Burt Silverman prefers to work on plate bristol because he can make changes that could not ordinarily be made with traditional watercolor paper- and traditionalist have a problem with that, making very nearly the same arguments you are making here. Even the idea that there is a difference in the marks that are made- That is the same of any media you use. Ink marks don't look like charcoal or pastel, watercolor looks different that oils, etc. When people look at the end product they are not going to be so concerned with how the image was developed- the first thing they are going to consider is does the image hold their attention, does it leave some sort of powerful impression. the talk about process is just for discussions sake. I make this argument not at all preferring digital over traditional, rather the reverse is true, but that's because I enjoy the process not because I feel one is more valid than the other.

  6. You didn't read my argument or misunderstood it because that is not what I said at all. My argument is something hand made is an object and that object exists as a single thing. Any change is made to the object itself, not only the idea of it.

    A digital image does not exist as an object. This is why a digital image, however you make it is closer to digital photography than it is to traditional art. If what you said was even remotely true people would pay as much for a print of a compelling image as they would for an original hand made object of equal quality by the same person, but they don't, because your arguments aren't true. No one believes digital prints are hand made objects, period.

  7. People don't want it because it's hand made they want it because it is unique. Make your digital print unique, people will want it (cf signed prints).

  8. Anonymous, that simply isn't true. Supply and demand, by principle, requires both low supply and high demand to create value. You can have as low a supply as you want, but if nobody buys, the value is established as near zero.

    So value is coming from somewhere else in original works of art.

    The thing about original works of art is that they have a peculiar kind of presence to them caused by the evidence of handmade-ness coupled with the aesthetic effect of the piece, which evidences authority. This handmade-ness gives a sculptural quality to art which is physical evidence of every single thought and decision the artist has made with the pigment on the canvas. That this recording of process of making the art is also the art, is a very unique aspect of painting. For instance, with recording live music, nobody thinks the recording is actually the experience of making the recording. Everybody understands it as a weak facsimile of the live experience. Art retains the experience of its making in its end state. When viewing virtuosic art, the sympathetic experience of its making evidenced on the canvas can floor you.

  9. I understand your argument and I can definitely agree that an oil painting or watercolor or even a hand pulled print has more value than a digital image. If you want to place a monetary value on the work I have no problem with putting digital work on the bottom, from the beginning I stated how I preferred to work- traditionally. I do believe the work has some value though and some might find it worth collecting as well.

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