Digital Art, Where Art Thou?
An email discussion
JD Jarvis and John Antoine Labadie
MOCA director Don Archer (DA) raised a series of digital issues with MOCA's two (virtually) resident art critics, JD Jarvis (JD) and John Antoine Labadie (JAL). Jarvis is a professional digital artist/printmaker and essayist, and is a television production manager on the campus of New Mexico State University at Las Cruces. He won first prize (and $10,000.00) in the prestigious Toray (Japan) 2001 digital art contest. Labadie is a widely exhibited digital artist who heads the digital art studio at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke and directs its Media Integration Project. Archer raised such issues as to whether digital art is properly a screen art or a print art, whether or to what degree art created with paint-and-draw techniques could reasonably be included in the provenance of computer art, and what of the relationship between photography and computer art. What we are really trying to understand is whether computer art, in its various forms and guises, tied as it is to high technology, is now (or ever will be) recognized as one of the high arts, or will it metamorphise into something more or less or different. Jarvis asks, "Digital art, where art thou?" What follows is excerpts from a rather lengthy, convoluted and free-wheeling email correspondance, which probably in no way resolves the issues but which certainly provides gems of insight into them.
Is digital art largely a screen art or a print art? Digital art seems to flourish mostly as a screen art, in no small part because of the ease with which graphics is trafficked and exhibited on the Web. But with the advent of the inexpensive high-resolution inkjet printer in the last few years, it would seem that digital art has made a broad impact as print art.
It depends on what you want from your artwork. The web is a nice place to show work and an easy-to-reference highly portable portfolio. But in the context of a live art exhibit, screens are boring and out of place, in my opinion. People still like to own "things", so one would think that digital print art would flourish. Maybe I am out of it, but I don't see this happening due in part to a great deal of hesitancy and lack of knowledge by traditonal galleries and art critics. In some cases digital prints are being suspiciously held up to standards that more traditional prints are not. When was the last time you were asked whether a lithograph or traditional watercolor was "waterproof"? But this question continually comes up for digital prints.
The screen does not recapitulate the print, and the print does not recapitulate the screen. They are different animals. The CRT glows with the internal light of the "additive" color mixing system. The primary colors of which are red, green, and blue. When you mix each one of these primaries equally on top of one another you get white light, in other words the primaries "add" up to white light. When you supersaturate an RGB color it simply gets richer and richer. Outside of some technical limits this is the way our digital art looks when originally produced on the screen or distributed on the net: the way the gods intended it, rich, brilliant and glowing. One might think this is the best way to "consume" digital art, but alas there are some significant drawbacks. Size and resolution, for example, force one to choose to view either the overall composition (zoomed out) or relish the fine detail (zoomed in) but never adequately both, simultaneously. Color and contrast consistency is almost totally out of the artist's hands, since set-up of one's monitor and the environment in which the monitor is placed is a wildly democratic venture. And, finally the mystery: "exactly where is the art?" or "whose got the original?" or "art, where art thou?" In short, the object-hood, the thing-ness, of the artwork is very remote, as opposed to, say, a print.
When we put ink (or any other pigment) on a substrate (like, paper) we cross over into the world of the "subtractive" color mixing system. The primary colors of which are cyan, magenta and yellow. Pigments work by absorbing or subtracting certain wavelengths of light and reflecting back, for our eye to see, other colors. So that, when you mix these primaries together in equal amounts, theoretically, all wavelengths are absorbed and we see reflected back to our eye "black". In reality we get a muddy brown, so for better accuracy, actual black pigment is added to arrive at the familiar formula "CMYK". Prints answer a lot of the problems left dangling by presentations on the CRT. Size and resolution are sufficient enough to be able to take in both composition and detail in one viewing. The artist has approval rights on the color and contrast. And, there is a marketable "thing" present in the paper and ink representation of the digital original. Too bad that, due to the subtractive nature of pigments, it just doesn't look as good. The saturated colors that glow on the RGB screen can only be achieved in the CMYK realm by piling on the ink: more ink, less reflected light; rich glowing colors become soggy or shifted in hue by the attempt to mimic the CRT's electric glow.
Between screen and print there is another factor which greatly shapes our perceptions; that is, "context". Context is what makes a wisecrack either an insult or a bit of entertaining satire. It is why a panhandler is invisible on the street, but a glaring nuisance at the dinner party. We understand that images on a screen (both film and CRT) are pictures of things not the things themselves. We also expect our screens to perform, to entertain and inform us, to present "things" to us as images and sounds. For this reason, screens arranged in a museum, as if they were framed pieces of art, seem out of context and digital art exhibits, which feature this presentation mode, seem more like technology expos than art presentations. People see the screens as the objects on display and the art shining there in all its RGB glory is mixed into the psychic space shared with "I Love Lucy" and the latest newsflash. People still like to possess things. In terms of art to be viewed or purchased the physicality of the digital print will always win out over digital art on a screen by virtue of this contextual affect on perception.
But then the original digital file also goes through a similar metamorphosis in the process of making a print. Walter Benjamin first called attention to "a loss of presence" by the "original" art as it was reproduced by mechanical or technological means. Having never seen digital art, his observations were based on the process of photographing original art and distributing prints of the work and the questions that are raised about authenticity and the "watered down" experience of viewing "pictures of" rather than the work itself. This is a bit different for digital art. I'd love to hear what Benjamin would say about an art that actually depends on reproducibility for its very existence. Since we never experience the binary original directly, all digital art is a reproduction, a decoding of this "original" onto some other surface. Digital art is the quintessential "reproducible art", unseen and unable to be appreciated until "called to light" by some independent technological means.
We are made aware of this curious perceptual metamorphosis most noticeably in work employing "natural media" software tools to draw or paint. On the monitor, we see the very realistic presentation of impasto oils, the texture of burlap, the grittiness of charcoal. When printed, we hold what looks/feels more like a reproduction or photo: something that is at least one step removed from, what must have been, the original. This is, of course, due to the lack of real texture and the frozen shading and highlights that remain in the same place no matter how the print is oriented to the light source. I know what I hold in my hand to be the "original print", and yet, there it is; proof that what I see on the screen and is understood to be "a picture of real"; still it looks more real to my eye than the print. This is most evident when using digital tools that mimic traditional media with high tactile value. This effect is diminished for images painted with the digital airbrush and some watercolor effects. This is due to the fact that, indeed, inkjet printing is a water based, micro airbrush rendering. These virtual tools are in effect equivalent to the physical tools and materials used to make a print and therefore the imagery created "sits on the surface" and "reads" more like an original executed with those particular traditional tools.
My initial reaction is to say that digital art is neither screen nor print art as my experience with both suggests that each is a form of "new media" and is only analogically tethered to analog counterparts. This is not to suggest that digital "screen" art is so OTHER that it cannot be compared with, say, video or TV. But are such comparisons valid, or invalid, and on what basis?
In fact, there are so many forms of screen-based digital imaging that such a global category as "screen art" may not even be useful without some further assiduous attempts at classification. For example, by screen art do we mean web-based imagery, or sequenced arts, or perhaps time-based arts such as Flash or Quicktime, or simply the static display of files crafted to be all they can be in RGB? Are screen-savers an art form ... can they be? What of "ASCI art" made from the alpha-numeric possibilities I access in writing this piece? And how does projected art, via LCD, work into this equation? What of hybrid forms of imaging such as 35mm slides that began as original "scratch-built" abstractions built on my "Power Computing Power Tower Pro 250" (Mac 9500 clone) that are realized via film writer, which are then projected onto 3D surfaces, then photographed digitally, then uploaded to Photoshop (again), and then remade as either prints or (currently) are the basis for Quicktime animation files with sound tracks?
Speaking of prints ... are digitally printed images (whatever the form) even prints at all? In the technical sense digital "prints" (made via electronic printers of any type) simply do not conform to the traditional and conservative definition of printmaking in that there are no physical objects manipulated by the actual hand of the artist so that pigment (material) is transferred from one source to a substrate through pressure and direct contact with the materials by the printmaker. (Please see the "Steeds" piece on the MOCA website for a deeper discussion of this distinction.) Is this something of a twisted definition or some kind of misnomer? Perhaps what we have here (ala "Cool Hand Luke") is a "failure to communicate." By this I mean that digital imaging has inherited the term "print" and may, someday soon, move away from this more traditionally-focused specification toward something that is more descriptive of newer processes.
For example, the term "giclee" (in French loosely meaning "to spray") is accurate enough for inkjet prints (all the many forms of) but does not cover the range of imaging made available through other, equally sophisticated methods of outputting digital images: dye sublimation, thermal wax transfer, laser and more ? I've output my own and my students images through all of these imaging technologies and there are others I have yet to investigate -- but experiments are ongoing. As many others, we have also discovered that outputting the same file/image in more than one form of print output can be an interesting, and very informative, experience. I can still recall the stunned silence when a gallery director asked me the "dimensions" and also the "media" of the image in the 35mm slide (film writer output) he held in his hand and I cheerfully replied "Variable!" to both queries.
To more directly address the question of the impact of digital on print art ... well, obviously the impact has been huge. If one wishes to locate the proverbial "edge" in the arts these days, whether it be conceptual or in terms of work, my sense is that digital will be involved somewhere in the process or as the product.
Let me provide an example from the academic scene. In March 2002 I will be headed to New Orleans for a professional art conference. This particular conference is focused on printmaking, it is hosted by the "Southern Graphics Council" (SGC) and has the flavorful name of "PRINT GUMBO." The SGC is one of a number of "councils" within the "American Print Alliance" (APA) which is the largest print oriented artists' group in the United States. The newest council in the APA is the "International Association of Fine Arts Digital Printmakers." There will be a significant amount of energy focused on digital "printmaking" in New Orleans and it will be exhilarating to be there to absorb, and contribute to, the energy directed toward the making of prints - no matter what technique(s) an artist might have employed.
How is art created on the computer in paint-and-draw programs different from traditional hand-drawn art? If there is little or no difference and if the skills required are largely the same, why should paint-and-draw art be given homage in the house of digital art? Isn't this an art that looks backward instead of forward? (Yet it seems to me that paint-and-draw art is the most prevalent and perhaps the most interesting of current art created on the computer.)
I disagree that paint-and-draw is the most prevalent art created with the computer. I see much more manipulated photography and photocollage techniques being used. But, the point is well taken, why use a computer to make a chalk-like drawing when chalk and paper are still working fine? I would have to say that while the same skills apply the digital tools have changed the techniques. Particularly if you are really trying to make something that will "pass" for another media. You have to consciously work at effects and accidents that happen naturally with "real" media. Such as the effects of gravity. And, in the end, no matter how skillful you are at creating an impasto oil-like look to your piece on the screen, when you move that image to a print on canvas or paper, the "presence" of the piece is altered. I am very interested in this effect, whereby digital work on print often looks somehow "removed," as if it were a reproduction and not an original. It goes back to what I wrote about Walter Benjamin and his observations of art in the age of reproducablity. We now have an art that can not even be percieved unless it is being "reproduced" by one means or another. The binary original is not able to be appreciated unless it is decoded for us onto some other surface.
So, why use a computer to paint and draw, at all? Since we still have paper, pens, ink and oil paints, why use a computer to mimic these materials when the traditional materials still work fine? Is this "digital art" or something regressive? If art was simply about materials and tools these would be strong arguments to shun such work in favor of more machine-driven visual statements. But, here on the proving ground, digital artists are working on much more than materials. The techniques for digital paint are much different from tradition techniques and practices. Digital artists work hard to mimic the affects of gravity, absorption or resistance and interaction with grain and texture that happen naturally (or by chance) with physical materials. And, since these "accidents" shape the nature of such material-based work, digital tools force us into devising new virtual techniques. At the same time, digital tools offer production techniques that even the purest of the pure would be foolhardy to deny, such as multiple undos and the ability to save and combine previous renditions of a single project. The ability to save work instantly releases the digital artist from the accumulated preciousness of physical materials. And, thereby, allows us to risk pushing a composition in a direction that while it may have destroyed a physical work on traditional materials, only brings a digital composition greater depth and more polish. If nothing else, we are allowed to know that flash of inspiration wasn't really a good way to go after all and can return to the previous undamaged state. For this reason alone, digital compositions should be the strongest, most polished and thoroughly explored compositions in art and, at the same time, the most spontaneous. We can no more turn our backs on this "paint and draw" work than we can on digital photographic techniques, which still produce images closely akin to traditional photography, but which no one seems to discount as digitally regressive.
Perhaps this is a minor distinction, but I do not see any art being made "on" a computer. IMHO, the making of art is a singularly human affair and the hardware, firmware, and software which "is" a computer, functions, in one way or other, due to the action of the user. Or at least I am supposing that art making is a conscious act; one which implies intentionality - the making of art. In this way we make art "with" or "through" the intercession of digital technologies just as we do with oils, litho stones, clay, or graphite. With electronic means now available to us some "intentional" electrons can replace (or become adjunct to) manipulated atoms of traditional studio work. Even so, a human using a means of making an artistic statement just does so regardless of medium or media. Computing is entirely a human enterprise and the art produced though its employment seems, to me at least, no more distant from the artist than photography, film making, large-scale sculpture that is industrially fabricated from a model, and many other examples from art history and the contemporary art world that can be described. Definitions of art vary widely but all seem to imply that someone makes something for a reason and that that thing (whether physical or virtual) is imbued with the intention to be expressive of something of value or interest to humans. Artists make art and use tools to do so and, again IMHO, it is part of the role of the artist to blur categories and create other realities in both art and understandings about art.
Let me first allude to the types of programs. As to “paint-and-draw” programs, at this point in time I do not see these as the pre-eminent means of making art through the use of computers. Let me qualify this a bit: certainly, if we were talking strictly about digital printmaking or graphic design then the pixel (paint) and vector (draw), or pixel-versus-vector discussion would be quite relevant. Again, let me allude to my personal experience in making a case for what I see as the truly “new” media frontier accessible only through computing. Two recent experiences with computer arts tell an interesting story. Last month I was asked to come to the University of North Carolina, Greensboro campus, as “visiting artist” to lecture about digital art, to present the range of my digital art work, and to meet digital colleagues. Also in October, I participated on a panel on “digital aesthetics” at the annual Southeastern Colleges Art Conference (SECAC) and here as well my work was included, this time as prints in an exhibition at the State Museum of South Carolina. In the first case, UNCG, although there was a significant component of “paint-and-draw” digital arts in evidence the preponderance of digital art taught and made there was focused on works intended for the web, multimedia, integrated media, or sequenced media projects. Artworks where both traditional and digital media are combined and/or merged into category-defying pieces were not difficult to locate. Also, works made as virtual 3D models, virtual worlds, or as interactive CDROMs or DVDs were displayed or discussed. In the second case, SECAC, all of the categories and types of digital work mentioned above were discussed as well as the sense that collaborative art, works made of components derived from multiple disciplines, was not only of interest, but in the process of becoming curricula at numerous institutions. The University of South Carolina, Pratt Institute, Troy State University, the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, among others. Many of the digital professors made, or had made prints or mixed media “flat” works. But here too, the majority of the artists working in digital were making some effort to move their art over into web-based and in some cases to sequenced work. As to the juried “members” exhibition, all work on display was either 2D or 3D and, so I was informed, even the “call for works” had excluded film, online, or environmental submissions. All computer generated works were “flat” pieces that were indeed a result of paint or draw programs of one type or another. What is one to make of these experiences?
Time for a metaphor: describing a taxonomy encompassing the myriad creatures that swim in the creative ocean of possibilities that is digital art is not something easily done. Experiencing the denizens of this new media realm through observing and recording, rather than dissecting, what is encountered may well prove valuable. Critics will certainly have their say. It is their nature to do so and they would be untrue to their profession to do otherwise. Even so, it has been suggested that “critics are to artists what ornithologists are to birds.” Artists will carry on regardless.
But what is growing and evolving now in digital art schools on the campuses of colleges and universities does indeed deal with, and take great advantage of, the now traditional “paint-and-draw” programs and technologies for outputting such art. Such work is alive and well and not about to leave us. Digital has a history, however brief, and many practitioners remain true to their chosen means of imaging whether it be for print or projection.
On the other hand, there is a significant amount of energy being put into the development and exploration of “new media” and this work is something that has captured the imagination of many artists and collaborative groups looking for the proverbial “edge.” As to the term “new media” let me share the definition of this terms used at my institution. This is our current state of the definition and it is used to describe the range of work encompassed in the “Media Integration Project” course co-offered by the Art, Music and Mass Communication Departments: "New media is a multi-dimensional representation of knowledge involving graphics, text, video, motion and sound. It can be presented through a variety of digital technologies, such as but not limited exclusively to DVD, streaming video, wireless transmission and Internet. New media can also be described as novel and creative uses of existing technologies, such as digital libraries and interactive communication. This definition will continue to evolve. Stay tuned to these channels. Some very intersting programming is yet to come.
Is art made with computing technologies inherently different from that made in traditional studios? Yes, it CAN be entirely “other” and/or simply different in nature. I think that this may in many cases be so. But is this ALWAYS the case? Here I would also suggest that being absolutist will get us nowhere useful. Although computers are binary our answers here cannot be. We must be very sensitive to the construction of definitions and the operational uses of terms as such issues are examined.
Here is another real world example from the academic realm. In my university digital studios, all students who wish to pursue digital arts must first take Design 101 (graphite, colored pencil, marker assignments focused on the elements of design) and Drawing 132 (working both from objects and imagination using a variety of media and substrates) before they take their first computer art course. Why?
This course structure is tangible evidence of my belief that art of any sort deals with certain issues that are observable and employable across all forms of art-making. I would further suggest that the lingua franca of art-making and visual thinking, at least for me, is drawing. Further, based on my experience, high skill in perceptual drawing (drawing from the object) is not only transferrable to, but is positively correlated with, high level ability to utilize virtual tools in the computer arts.
As to how, and in what ways, digital and traditional arts are both similar and different ... well, now this is really intriguing terrain. Are the skills needed to make digital art the same as those needed traditional studio art: painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture, ceramics, weaving ... the list is long? Or are we actually trying to compare digital Apples with painted oranges? Perhaps asking this question in other ways will tease out some useful information. Are the skills that make a wonderful potter those that will allow that same artist to work with CAD (computer aided design) or 3D modeling software? My guess is “no.” Will a painter of great facility move more easily into “Painter 7" software? Again, I think that this may not be necessarily a direction transferal of analog (physical) facilities to a virtual (digital) set of facilities. There is much research ongoing in such areas but the results are not so easily understood as yet. The proverbial “jury” is still out. Consequently, if one take the time to examine and compare college-level digital arts curricula, it is difficult to locate much in the way of widespread standards or norms in the training of digital artists. The digital art school of the 21st century is evolving as we speak.
What of the relationship of digital art to photography?
It is a curious relationship. Digital tools found their first home in commercial art, primarily in photo and typographic manipulation for magazine layouts and such. Digital art seems to be suffering the same battle for acceptance that photography went through in order to become a "Fine Art". I wonder...digital art seems to suffer from the misconception that "the machine did it", but do photographers who use the computer get the same feedback? I spoke to a photographer recently at a local arts and crafts fair. His work was unmistakenably enhanced by computer colorization effects, but he would not admit it. He did say he was working on a line of new pieces that employed the computer for collage effects, but was not ready to admit that the color enhancements and soft focus effects I saw in his current work were also done with digital tools. I did not push it because he was very defensive. So, does photography also suffer from its association with digital. It is strange, because, I do not see "digital" benefiting much from its similarities to photography. That is, I do not see galleries who show photos jumping to show original digital works simply because they can relate to the mechanized processes that created the work. Very interesting. These walls can not possibly stand much longer. Can they?
Clearly, digital art shares a lot of its experience with photography. However, the long hard battle for a technology-based art won by photography (and later by video art) has, mysteriously, not been seamlessly applied to support the digital quest for presence in that lofty realm. Why is that? Well, for one thing, time. Photography's battle began over 100 years ago and video, which first surfaced in the early 70's, is just now beginning to win "obligatory" status in biennial exhibits and trendy galleries. So, if the acceptance time for new techno-based art-making has gone from 100 to 30 years, since the early seventies, then digital art-making should see its watershed years within 10 years. I'll leave it to others to argue when digital got its start, but obviously the time is anywhere from soon to now.
Beyond time lag there exists another curious dichotomy between digital and photographic art. I have noticed that photographers, who have "gone digital" do not seem to suffer the same hesitancy and suspicions that follow around other digital artists. If you are a digital artist you are no doubt familiar with the "so-the-computer-did-this" query or the more direct "how do I know how much of this was done by you, and how much was done by the machine?" Has any other art-making tool aroused such a degree of suspicion? Perhaps we have ourselves to blame a bit when we revel in the "that may look real, but I did it on the computer" brag. Or, can we blame it on the software salesmen who employ the "art is just a point and click away" sales pitch? Forget that these concerns overlook the fact that musicians and writers have used computers for years. Mathematicians abandoned pencil and paper long ago for calculations ala computer. Do we hear, because of the tools used, such statements as "is that real math or did the computer do it?"
Photographic art, as well as video and animation, does not suffer questions of authenticity by virtue of the digital tools now used extensively to create this sort of work. Why is that? Because, as soon as the work moves away from the appearance of traditional photography, even into say a close cousin, "photo collage", the eyebrows begin to rise. "So, you did this with a computer, eh?" Maybe the answer lies less in our suspicious nature and runaway sales pitches and has something to do with the image itself.
As one who came to digital imagining through photography I have given such a question a good bit of consideration from a number of different vantage points. My first conclusion is that there are many ways in which a response to this query could be framed. But for me the most significant influence of photography on the digital arts has to do with my review of the history of photography compared to the history of painting and that there is much to learn about the history of photography from a deeper understanding of painting accomplished in Western art.
What I mean to suggest is this, since its birth in the 1820's on through the introduction of the first "movies" (a period of about seventy years ending before the birth of film making), photography has evolved very much in the way that painting did in the previous five centuries, from the early Renaissance to about 1975 (just before the birth of the "postmodern" aesthetic and the introduction of the personal computer).
Let us peer a little deeper into this relationship. The first photographs captured only what they could given relatively limited photosensitive capabilities: a landscape, a building, a still life. If it moved the photographer could not capture it. Small revolutions in chemistry allowed the photographer to capture the images of animate beings, activities and natural phenomena such as waves and birds in flight. Once the camera became a tool with relatively wide ranging capabilities photography began to follow the path of painting and various genres and schools of photographic works begin to appear, evolve, become elaborated and then either subsumed, transcended, treasured or exploited for various purposes that moved out away from pure experimentation and pursuit of artistic goals. In this way photography has never been "true" and has always been manipulated by those who set the stage, moved the body, added pigment to the print, or changed the chemistry of the solutions to alter the product derived from the captured light source.
Looking around the next historical corner we find that perhaps the most important contribution of photography to digital imaging and new media, and I mean to the entire range of the digital arts, is that of a historical model for development. Here I am not in any way suggesting that the way one once "new" media (photography) developed will be the same for things digital, only that what has once served as a model for artistic output may well be quite influential both now and in the future. For example, when someone asks me "So where will this digital thing go anyway?" I often ask them what they know of the history of painting and how the development of linear perspective, oils, landscape as a subject, the academy, genre painting, portraiture, architectural rendering and scientific illustration (among other forms of painting) influenced photographers, from the earliest to the most contemporary. "Photography?" they say. "Yes," I reply. It seems to me that we might look more at the history of painting to make sense of some of the possible conceptual paths that have been investigate before our time. As another sage once said, "Those unfamiliar with history are often doomed to repeat it." Photography clearly followed painting in much of the way it developed. Were photographers trapped by painting and where painters had gone or was this merely a safe guide to be followed with the "new media" of the 19th century. Upon such thoughts art historical careers are built. Conclusions focused in either direction will not be difficult to locate.
I am suggesting that the historical path of photography has and will continue to influence the path of digital. And at an even deeper level, the history of painting and of the many of the other traditional studio arts is actually the wellspring of influence and criteria by which many of the digital arts are both inspired and judged. Furthermore, such historical influences will not lose their power any time soon.
We find ourselves on a proving ground. New tools, new techniques should yield fresh art and new ideas; but before we arrive there, digital artmakers have had to prove to themselves and others that traditional paradigms can be supported. So, as some push the envelope, others work with what is known and expected. All digital artists are in some way a part of this laboratory of simultaneous innovating and preserving. But, we've been at this long enough now to picture the future and make some predictions about the course of digital art. Since nobody asked, here goes. Digital art, where art though?
Digital art is about evolution of forms, as well as techniques. We are constantly presented with opportunities to re-think nearly every aspect of art-making, art marketing and the role of art in a global gallery. Where is digital art headed? Here are some predictions based on topics presented in this discussion.
Digital art will continue to follow the heritage laid before it by photographic art. That is, unlike "Abstract Expressionism" for example, which caught the attention of trendy galleries and inspired a small but dedicated legion of critics and academics who, more or less, spoon fed the work to the American people until it was forced into the mainstream of fine art. Digital art, like photography will be a "ground up" phenomenon. Only after a critical mass of the public understand and accept digital image-making tools, with the same confidence and familiarity that they possess for making photos, will we see the world of "Fine Arts" ready and willing to seriously promote and present digital art. In that this involves an extended and pervasive educational effort, digital artists still have a lot of explaining to do.
The print will remain the primary object for the display and commerce of two-dimensional digital art. While the web will serve as highly portable portfolio and a global presentation mode for digital art it will not surpass printed images as "final" marketable output. Digital animations and other performance-based art will have to depend on the established modes of distribution and marketing that exist for the entertainment industry. CRT screens in museums will continue to display performance, installation and animation art, but two-dimensional "still" art will be on the wall in more or less traditional displays.
As to how this art will look and what form these displays will take, it is clear that digital art is leading a re-dawning of an age of Surrealism. In the 1950's, spurred by the popularization of psychoanalysis and the discovery by advertising agencies that "surrealistic images sell", such visual statements became engrained into our American society. Digital art, which itself gained acceptance first in the commercial world of magazine and advertising layout, is a perfect tool for the production of Surrealism. And, never before has the heady mix of cultural pressures, sex, dreams and self-image been so prevalent as in digital artwork. In terms of "context", as discussed here, the vibration between "real original" and the digital print naturally sets up a sort of surreal experience. It is not actual impasto paint, but "it looks like impasto paint". This "trompe l' oeil" (trick the eye) experience is very engaging to people and speaks to our society weaned on the ultimate importance of exterior appearance. All of which bodes well, in fact, for digital art, which must be "reproduced" in order to exist in the first place.
We must not forget fractal art and the imagery of filters and automated paint algorithms. This is truly new imagery that springs from the computer itself and, by virtue of the source, presents the edgiest and most challenging work. "Edgy" because such imagery can easily fall into "psychedelic triteness" and challenging because the artist must remove their ego from the process and allow the machine to lead occasionally. But, none-the-less, the imagery remains powerful and poignant, as it expresses the mathematics of the eternal. People are fascinated and enchanted by fractals because we sense in them the underlying geometry of nature. So, I predict a period of popularity for fractal imagery, which will be very important in terms of introducing the public to digitally created art. Soon to be followed by work that more strongly integrates all the digital tools available to the artist. Digital art that acknowledges and exploits the contextual dance between art and artifact will indeed provide truly unique work that could be done with no other set of tools or materials. When people ask, "what is it, is it a photography, a painting, or a print?" you will have arrived at what is truly new and unique about digital art. Also, as a direct result of the process of making digital art we will see an increased interest in the "series". As we become accustomed to how one image feeds off of and inspires the next, a presentation of not one image but of "image in process" will take hold as a high profile exhibition mode for digital art. A move toward adopting new substrate materials developed especially for inkjet printing will help popularize art that can be made to serve individual needs and taste. An emphasis on digital artist as "designer" rather than "fine artist" will have digital imagery imprinted on fabrics, self-adhesive wall displays/murals, counter top and floor covering laminates and super large format displays; all of which will add to the critical mass required to move digital art into the realm of fine arts. Thus digital fine arts, with powerful new imagery and a revised sense of surface and presentation, will be in position to enrich and enliven the "fine arts" world.