Art; it can make people laugh, stare in awe or even turn away in disgust. It evokes emotions and provokes conversations. While one person may revel in Picasso’s paintings, another might favour the more traditional approach of Michelangelo’s masterpieces. So, what is it that defines art as art? And where does digital art fit into all of this?

There seems to be a common misconception about digital art. That, somehow, this new form of art isn’t real art. After all, doesn’t the computer and technology just do all the work? That’s pretty much cheating, isn’t it?! Real artists toil away for hours, days, months – years even! And don’t get me started on all the preparation and clean-up. Real art is messy.

Hang on. If we’re going to get into this, let’s start from the basics. Art basics.

Victor Lunn-Rockliffe portrays it perfectly

What is art all about anyway?

Art is about expression; it’s about portraying inner musings and interpreting the surrounding environment through creativity. From moulding clay into sculptures to throwing ink on paper, an abundance of tools and mediums are used to produce art.

Like everything else in the world, art is in a constant state of evolution. Just as email came from snail mail and books can now be read on Kindle readers, so too has digital transformation enabled another medium: digital art.

Although art tools and mediums may have evolved over the years, this hasn’t made the previous renditions redundant. There is a place for oils as much as there is for acrylics – and digital art as well.

How does one go about creating art?

Is it about having the best tools and equipment? Will a set of the softest squirrel hair brushes from the depths of the Siberian pine forests produce a better watercolour than a beginner’s pack of nylon brushes? It might – if the person wielding them has a high degree of artistic skill and knowledge. If they had never picked up a brush in their life? Well, then the quality of their equipment probably wouldn’t make much of a difference to the final work.

Before you can create art, you need to know how to create.

You need to know how different colours and pigments react together, how to create shadows, understand anatomy, perspective and proportions… It takes an abundance of skill, knowledge – and a sprinkle of talent. Digital art is no different.

Just as a collection of quality paint and some silk paint brushes does not an artist make, the same applies to digital art. Programs such as Photoshop and graphics tablets are simply the tools of a digital artist.

You can’t just tell Siri to draw a lorikeet (trust me, I’ve tried). Until Microsoft, Adobe or some other tech whizz comes up with an algorithm that can relay thoughts and emotions into artistic form, we are left to create art using our bare hands. And that requires skill.

Tony Foti's digital work in progress 

Is digital art easier than traditional art?

Well that depends on what you define as ‘easy’. Sure, there’s no clean-up involved with digital art. However, the convenience of not having to wash brushes does not make the art-making process itself any easier.

It’s true that a computer provides a clean canvas, one where mistakes can often be made and erased with a lot more ease than traditional methods. Some may see this as an unfair advantage over traditional methods. But this isn’t cheating. After all, artists have been undoing since the beginning of time, just using a different medium – painting over, rubbing out, cutting, pasting and manipulating. I mean, they say there are three different portraits hidden under the Mona Lisa!

Computers have expanded the artistic horizon, providing artists with an extra tool to create and experiment. They may have streamlined certain artistic processes, but at the same time have added entirely new elements: hardware and software – elements that need to be studied and understood.

Is digital creation better than its traditional counterpart?

The time it takes to complete an artwork does not directly correlate with the quality of it. Whether an artwork is completed in two hours or two hundred hours is irrelevant when determining which is ‘better’. Acrylics may dry faster than oils and enable more flexibility when it comes to using glazes and impasto – does this mean a piece finished in acrylics is any less ‘authentic’ than one done in oils? I don’t think so.

All media have their pros and cons.

Just as books still have their place in the digital world, so too can these mediums co-exist and be used to create art. Without any proficient knowledge of the fundamentals of art, digital art won’t necessarily look any better than traditional art. The digital medium is an art form that takes years of practice and comes with its own unique set of challenges.

At the end of the day, it’s not the medium (or the equipment) that makes the art, it’s the artist. There’s no magic pill – or technology in this case – that will transform a person into an artist overnight. Art doesn't exist in the brush, the canvas, or the molecules of the pigment. It's not physical – it may have a physical carrier, but the art is created by the artist. How the audience perceives the end result is a matter of personal taste.

January 21, 2019 — Milena Tsitovitch