Digital Vs. Traditional Art- the debate

Ask An Artist-Blog series- The Digital Age

Todays Question comes from Chris in Paris, France (Bon Jour!:)

Question: Your view on digital vs. traditional media. Photoshop Vs. the good old canvas. Who’s got the power? Should an artist specialize, or be skilled with both of them??

Wow, now that is a loaded question! I purposely waited a couple days to answer this question because I wanted time to think about  it, as it’s a very complex subject.

One of my first attempts at using Photoshop to color a hand done sketch. Pretty rough, but I saw it’s potential

I’ve heard this debate, and have been part of the debate since digital art was introduced to the world. I have a very unique point of view on this subject because digital art work began to boom when I was first going into College back in 1992. It was around that time that more people could afford home PCs so naturally more artists had access to programs like Photoshop. I remember there was a lot of controversy surrounding digital art. There was an overwhelming feeling, by the established art community, that Digital tools  were nothing more than shortcuts to making art with out learning the fundamentals. Digital Artists argued that it was not a short cut, rather just another tool for making art, like a new kind of brush or paint. Both sides made compelling arguments, and both arguments rang true with me when I was an 18 year old college freshman. Twenty years later, digital art is now considered a legitimate art form, but there are still strong opinions concerning Digital Art vs Traditional Tangible art.

It’s interesting for me to look back and see how public opinion has changed, and how Digital tools have completely integrated themselves into the arts community.

So what do I think about it now after 20 years of digital art in the arts community?

I like to end on a positive note, so I will start with the cons.
I think the prediction that digital tools would encourage young artists to skip learning the fundamentals of art has proven to be very true, unfortunately. There is A LOT of digital art work being produced these days. Some good… a lot, not so good. Artists are painting on the computer more than ever, so there is plenty of digital paintings to compare who has good fundamentals or not. In my experience, I have seen very few “digital artists” that show good solid fundamentals in the skills of drawing, painting, concept  and composition. The Exceptional Digital Artists that I know, have all studied art and have learned how to use REAL art supplies before they ventured to the computer. Their understanding of form and color translates digitally because of they can use the computer as a tool or extension of themselves, unlike those who are dependent on digital filters and effects.

I meet so many “digital artists” that literally don’t know or never learned how to draw or how to mix paint because they had never done any art work OFF the computer. And that is tragic to me. I mean,  on the one hand, I think t is great that they are finding a way to make art , but on the other hand it’s tragic because without learning the fundamentals of drawing and painting they will never know their full potential as an artist. What is even more tragic than that is many artists seem to be fine with just learning enough so they can jump on a computer with no interest in exploring their artistic talents. It’s like if Luke Skywalker had quit his journey to being a Jedi right after he waved his new lightsaber around a couple times.  I mean, how can you not want to learn how to be a better artist? I don’t get that.

So in terms of artistic skill, I suppose one could say the digital era has set things back a little as artists have become more and more dependent on computers. But, I would argue that it’s not the computer that is the problem, it’s the mentality of some artists that use them.

Sketch for my GIANT Avengers Painting. Each hero is drawn seperately, scanned, then arranged in photoshop.

With all of that said, I think there has been an overwhelming amount of positives the digital era has brought to the art world. Digital tools have proven to be an unlimited source of creativity with endless

possibilities for artists of all kinds. A computer in the hands of a skilled artist can potentially be like Mozart in front a piano. Digital tools have worked their way into almost every artists creative process in some way, even if it’s something as simple as posting their paintings on a webpage. Many artists, like myself, have learned how to use both hand made art work and digital tools. I use photoshop to import my sketches and tinker with sketch compositions. It saves me countless hours from having to redraw and resize, and it put an end to physically cutting and pasting xerox copies of my sketches. I use digital color sometimes, and have even created whole paintings on Adobe Illustrator. So the computer is a very important tool in my creative process, just as it is with millions of other artists. From animation, to sculpture and fine art paintings, the Digital era has definitely been a positive addition to the artists process, and it’s here to stay.

There is no one art that is better than the another, it’s all art. Choosing one side or another in the Digital verses traditional media debate is being short sighted and an artist would be closing themselves off to artistic possabilities. I think artists should explore ALL forms of art, even if you try it only once you have enriched your artistic knowledge and experience, thus making you a better artist. I like to think of being an artist like being a professional basketball player. Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and all the greats were not the best because they did ONE thing great. They were great because they did everything great, and they became great at everything because they practiced and worked hard at mastering all aspects of the game. Like the great basketball players, I have worked hard at my skills in all aspects of creating art. That is how I am able to create a painting, a drawing, a sculpture or a digital image without missing beat. So I would say you should specialize in being an artist. Learn it all and you will be able to create anything your mind can imagine.

Taken from Randy Martinez’s Blog 

Now that you have read up on this topic, please answer the question: How should the 21st Century artist become skilled? What is more important, traditional drawing and painting skills or the ability to use programs like Photoshop? Give me an answer below on the threaded discussion.

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8 Responses to Digital Vs. Traditional Art- the debate

  1. Mary Beth Scheerer says:

    When an artist creates art they step into art history. To move forward in an authentic way we need to know what has come before. Our predecessors had to physically interact with their materials in a 360 degree world and successfully, visually communicate ideas with those materials. Something happens in the brain when we draw. The connection of eye, mind and hand creates a “shift” in seeing. Can’t really explain it …has to be experienced. I believe that our tradition demands that the artist experience that shift. Invest the time…it will be worth it!

    As far as the computer being a great tool …absolutely.

  2. alepap1995 says:

    In answer to: ”please answer the question: How should the 21st Century artist become skilled? What is more important, traditional drawing and painting skills or the ability to use programs like Photoshop? Give me an answer below on the threaded discussion.”
    I say that there is no such thing as one or the other. In order to be able to draw and paint you need to know the fundamentals, and then choose the medium that best suits you, be it watercolors, acrylics, oils or photoshop.

  3. At first I decided digital art was cheating, what was the point of having a skill if everybody else could just get software and off they could go and produce a pretty good piece of art and at that time I could not afford software unless it was a demo. I am an amateur in any case but have since been able to afford a tablet and having a lot of fun trying out some amazing art apps and consequently have changed my mind to me it’s just a different set of skills but I agree future generations will not know how to sketch and paint unless they are taught – I spent 4 yrs studying Fine art and 3D design

  4. Jackie D. says:

    I learned to draw at a very early age, with paper and pencils, and still love it to this day. I also love oil painting on canvas, and now love my iPad with Procreate. Nothing will ever replace the intimacy of a pencil dragging across paper or the experience of painting in oils, so I look at my iPad as another tool in my arsenal- a different one. Digital is great, but it’s not a replacement of anything.

    • Simon Poyser says:

      So true…….Nothing will ever replace the intimacy of a pencil dragging across paper or the experience of painting in oils

  5. Alexis Yang says:

    I love your ideas expressed on this page, and I hope you don’t mind, but I cited you in my college Composition II essay!

  6. Pingback: Blog #2: Digital Painting. | Xee Lor

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