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But is it "Art"?

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  • But is it "Art"?

    Not a real topic of information or controversy here, just some stuff that's been buzzing around my brain recently and I thought I'd jot it down to see if anyone has any thoughts on the matter.

    This business of inkjet companies listing 200 years as "archival" bugs me. The fact that we have original DaVinci paintings from 400 years ago, now that's archival.

    I think that's one of the things that detracts from the perceived value of digital printing. That and the relative ease of replication.

    Rarity drives value. Regardless of the pictorial value (notice this is in the business section, not technique or gallery or even salon) the real value of something is what someone is willing to pay. And they'll be willing to pay a lot more for something there's only one of than something that can be cranked out all afternoon.

    They'll also be willing to pay more for something their great-grandchildren can pass along to their grandchildren.

    This has been a long-standing hindrance to the acceptance of photography as "Art", and it's compounded by the digital age.
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  • #2
    I always agree that art is in the eye of the beholder. It's undifinable no matter how the critics think otherwise. Even in the traditional art world you have to wonder sometimes if it's art or an accident with a few spilled paint cans.

    Years ago when I lived in Illinois, in front of a near by college, there was a large 2 dimensional type sculpture all white in the form of a woman. It wasn't a particularly good sculpture in my mind but who was I to judge. Until I noticed the obvious black marks etching in all her female parts top and bottom. I turned to my friend at the time and said "Look at that. Someone takes the time to erect a sculpture only to have some idiots come and deface it!!" It looked like the worst kind of graffitti to me. Well, she looked at me as though I'd grown another head and responded " Are you kidding me? That's a Picasso!!" The moral of the story here is what is art to one may be trash to another.
    Even many of the greatest artists were destitute because they weren't recognized in their lifetime as worth anything. So who knows what will be art in the next century. Maybe technological advances will make this kind of digital art a thing of the past as modern photography has done to the earliest forms of capturing images. Back then who would have thought they would be the rare finds they are today.


    • #3

      I think you've hit the nail square on the head! Those are my exact thoughts.


      That's why I say I don't know much about art (or what's sometimes thought of as art)! For sure, it's over my head!



      • #4
        You don't need to know about art, just about what pleases your eyes. As you can tell from my story, I certainly didn't see the value in the work of art I saw. I still wouldn't give a dime for most Picasso's. Just isn't what pleases me in art I guess.


        • #5
          This thread has kind of petered out, so I think I'll re-purpose it just a tad.

          What can we do to help a digital file or inkjet print be received as salable "Art"? (capital "A")

          Does the lack of a theoretical limit to copies preclude this? If rarity does indeed drive value, how rare is a digital print? Does the secret lie in making it "rare"? (ie: signed prints, certified limited editions, etc.)

          Or is digital art forever relegated to the world of "Dogs Playing Cards" and "Elvis on Black Velvet"?
          Learn by teaching
          Take responsibility for learning


          • #6
            This thread has kind of petered out, so I think I'll re-purpose it just a tad. What can we do to help a digital file or inkjet print be received as salable "Art"? (capital "A")
            I was cruising through the archives and came across this thread and thought it was worthwhile for a resurrection attempt.

            I've been in the photo business all of my adult life and have made my living at it in one way or another since the early 1980"s. My first camera was a Brownie Hawkeye in about the 4th grade. I have been mostly a lab rat, which I got into by way of my love for photography. It was as a lab rat that I was introduced to retouching and restoration.

            I have always been wary of new photographic technology. I was skeptical of Auto Everything cameras when they were first introduced. I had customer after customer come into the lab and accuse us of screwing up their stuff because their Minolta Maxxum (or whatever auto they had), miracle of modern engineering that it was, could not POSSIBLY have done anything wrong... I only purchased my first Auto Everything camera last year (Elan 7e). I figured there had been enough time to get most of the bugs worked out, and I do love it! I am still leery of digital cameras, and will stick to good old FILM until it has been proven over and over that digital is on equal footing with them (I have yet to see an image from a digital camera that can compare to FILM in my mind). I was skeptical of digital photo manipulation when I first heard of Photoshop, preferring to work with traditional dyes, paints, bleaches, etc. up until just a few (about 8) years ago.

            And, I currently wouldn't give a rat's hiney for any print on anything less than good old chemically processed photographic paper. I have a photographer friend who is WONDERFUL at what he does. He has just switched to a complete digital system and prints all of his images up to 8x10 in house. The system he has is increadible. Going to his studio is like visiting the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. He uses a Nikon D1X. The prints look like CRAP and I just didn't have the heart to tell him... Sure, they're great for proofs, contacts, etc. But I'd cut off my right arm and poke out my own eyes before I'd try to pass off one of those to a client as a "REAL" print...

            At least not yet, anyway...
            Last edited by Jakaleena; 05-06-2002, 10:32 PM.


            • #7
              If digital prints are crap, why are you learning Photoshop, and how can you explain the ever increasing demand for them by the general public? Just because you have problems getting good results doesnot mean that digital photography is not serious. Digital prints are considered good enough to hang in Museums and Art galleries. I would point out that in Professional Astronomy all the photos are now digital, and the prints I've seen are definately not crap, and have better detail than a film counterpart. Digital does not suffer from reciptocity failure! New CCD sensors in the 4-5 megapixel range deliver images as detailed and as good as film. If they didnt, I doubt that the sale of those expensive units would be as high as it is, and if digital was as bad as you think, I seriously doubt the Public would be buying them or their consumer level brothers along with the computers and editing/printing tools to take full advantage of them. Tom


              • #8
                Excellent thread! Thanks for bringing this one back to the top.

                I can't really comment much from a photography point of view, but I can comment as an artist. My art education specialized in painting and printmaking, so I can address some of the issues of just what is considered "art" by galleries.

                Most galleries now accept certain types of digital prints as legitimate art. Giclee would be the most popular of these. Artists who produce digital work subscribe to the tradition of creating an edition of prints and then NEVER printing another, just like one would do for an edition of etchings or lithographs. Most fine art printmakers now consider digital printing to be just as legitimate as any other form of printmaking.

                As far as archival standards go...a lot of that is marketing hype. An oil painting from 400 years ago may still exist today, but I can almost guarantee you it looks very different, due to the build up of pollutants, darkening of the pigments, etc... Doug used Da Vinci's paintings as an example of something "truly" archival, but Da Vinci was rather notorious for paintings and murals that started to deteriorate almost from day one!! His painting of "The Last Supper" would be a prime example. Prior to it's restoration it was literally turning to dust and falling off the wall...and it started to do that within Da Vinci's lifetime.

                The point is, artists have to be willing to push a new medium and make a few mistakes along the way. Every significant image-making medium goes through an infancy period. Digital printing is no different. It will take some time to catch on and there are bumps along the discovering your Epson 2000p makes green tinged B&W prints! In 10-15 years I have no doubt that inkjet prints will be as archival as traditional Etchings.

                As far as the monetary value of digital prints goes, artists need to treat it like other forms of printing in order to assure they do not flood the market. In other words, if you produce an edition of 30 prints, it needs to stay that way! In my opinion, the proliferation of digital printing is a good thing. It will expose more people to more art; in much the same way Gutenberg’s invention of movable type exposed people to writing.

                Anyone interested in learning about a digital art studio should check out printing is already way beyond, to use Doug's expression, "Dogs Playing Cards" and "Elvis on Black Velvet".


                • #9
                  I just saw Tom's post and agree 100%. I would add that the public might perceive digital as being as simple as clicking a button, but that is about as far from the truth as you can get. Like any medium, it takes time. I know the first pieces of art I ever created on a computer were embarrassingly bad! Besides, you can have all the latest equipment and still produce crud if you do not understand how it works. Some of the best digital art I have ever seen, was created on less than ideal equipment. The key was, the artist knew how to pull the most out of their hardware and software. They "knew" their equipment the way a painter knows oil paint and canvas, or a potter knows a particular clay.


                  • #10
                    Whoa there Tom! Let's not get so defensive, ok?

                    I'm not new at all of this, and I'm not "learning" Photoshop. I make my living with it as a restoration & retouch artist (samples are HERE) , and have for some time. I come here because you can never know everything - there's always something to learn.

                    I have all of my prints made chemically. I've had my prints done in other ways besides traditional chemical processing and I don't care for them at all. My friend's prints WERE ugly, it wasn't just me being harsh. The paper was thin and flimsy and the images were flat and off color. Even though it was produced on expensive equipment, it had a cheap quality about it. I have yet to actually see a digital print that I like. And I do get good results, but I get them using traditional chemical prints. I've heard others here mention that they have a hard time getting good prints chemically. Maybe my own good fortune in getting good chemical prints is because I have actually been in the lab running digital processors and am used to calibrating computers to chemical printers. I've done a lot of work for a lot of photographers - some using digital and some using film - and IMHO the images shot on film still surpass the digital images in quality, depth and richness.

                    As far as the ever increasing demand - I can't explain it. Except maybe the immediacy and control of having a digital printer in your office as opposed to having to take the file to a lab and wait for it to be finished. The demand is something I don't have an answer for. But labs I have worked for have done comparison tests for archival quality, image quality, etc. and the digital prints I've seen just don't hold up to the test like chemical prints do. Maybe you've had the good fortune to see something I haven't, because you are obviously a fan of digital prints.

                    I am a fan of traditional prints, and when I do a job my feeling is that since it was a traditional photograph to begin with it should be a traditional photograph when I am finished with it or it is not truly a "restoration." I am really hoping to get a darkroom put in my house so that I can offer to make the older BW prints onto fiber paper (along with the option of traditional hand coloring) so that my final product will be even closer to its original state.
                    Last edited by Jakaleena; 05-06-2002, 10:46 PM.


                    • #11
                      Most galleries now accept certain types of digital prints as legitimate art. Giclee would be the most popular of these.
                      I'd have to agree that Giclee prints (if done well) are beautiful, but they are NOT your everyday, average, run of the mill, home-use digital prints either.


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Jakaleena

                        I'd have to agree that Giclee prints (if done well) are beautiful, but they are NOT your everyday, average, run of the mill, home-use digital prints either.
                        Well, I would agree with that, but the technology to create some of these high-end prints is finding it's way into desktop inkjet printers. Just read the press release for the upsoming Epson 2200!


                        • #13
                          Just read the press release for the upsoming Epson 2200!
                          It does look impressive, that's for sure. Maybe it will be the one that brings my thinking forward. I'll wait to pass judgement until (and if) I see how one interprets my work...

                          I just thought of something that might make my thought process on digital prints a little clearer.

                          To me, it's like the difference between a photograph and something like a Polaroid Transfer. Many people find Polaroid transfers beautiful, many don't. I've done them myself. If it's not done well it can be downright ugly. And, there are really not a lot of people who can do a Polaroid transfer well. I'd include myself in the "not done well" category.

                          But, the whole point (to me anyway), is that no matter how well someone does a Polaroid transfer, IMHO it will NEVER be a photograph. It will always be an interpretation of one... That's sort of how I feel about digital prints (at least for my usage anyway).


                          • #14
                            Thats for sure! However, properly profiled top end ink jets, which are designed for photoprinting can and do produce remarkable quality prints which are up to very high quality standards, but, the key is proper equipment, experienced operator and good data to send to the printer. This industry and Professsion is still in its infancy...when Kodak first introduced color prints their life expectancy before fading to practically unrecognizable was a mere 4-6 years and usually the technology advances ( much like albumin prints with all their problems gave way to developed out gelatin prints with much longer lifespans, improved tone etc.) the "photo" run off on typing paper using a $79.99 printer and the prints of today run off on high end ink jet dedicated machines, will evolve into processes and equipment which will not only match the traditional photo but in some ways exceed it. That is not to say that traditional processes are obsolete, far from it. Digital is simply a natural evolution in the Photographic field which complements rather than competes with emulsion technology. The key to getting good digital photos is operator experience and understanding of the way in which the CCD works and adopting the necessary changes in technique. Digital or photomechanical prints, if produced on the proper paper with pigment based inks have a longevity comparable with traditional photos. Testing has shown this. As to being defensive, statements such as " digital is crap" are unwarranted and unprofessional and are a sure way to get a flame war started, something I will not permit. An honest difference of opinion is good and always proves educational as each person explains their side using facts. If you dont like digital, listing the reasons why with examples and staying away from the cruder and less enlightening terms will probably prove more instructive and be more in keeping with the tone and demeanor of this wonderful site. Those type of comments belong on another board. Tom


                            • #15
                              Excellent resurrection job. This has always been one of my favorite threads (of course, they're all my darlings).

                              A recent article in PC Photo (not one of my favorite mags, but it has its moments) encouraged we all drop the use of "digital photo" from usage, but did admit we still need "digital print".

                              That was basically why I started this thread originally. Even if we're ever able to get digital output to last 400 years under constant viewing conditions, will anyone accept it as Art (remember the capital "A").

                              I've done a lot of reading and thinking since my original post, and I'd have to say that at this point (May, 2002) if I was trying to make my way as a fine artist, I'd go the output-to-negative-then-silver-print route.

                              Some digital prints are marvelous, and obviously I have no qualms about supplying them to my clients. But they do lack the cachet of traditional processes. Even silver prints are kind of the neglected step-children of the fine-art world.

                              Would you pay $20,000 for a giclee Ansel Adams print? $2000? $200?

                              Again, my own theory is the rarety factor. Coming from tradtional photography, I'm familiar with the techniques they use to drive value (limited signed editions, destroyed negatives, etc.). All to guarantee that thousands can't be cranked out by the same machine that made the one hanging on the wall of the gallery.
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