moca museum

December 27, 2014
Blog 05


On the Immateriality of Digital Art

Essay and Art by JD Jarvis

Oral History by JD Jarvis

Digital art is made inside a place that serves as our best metaphor yet for the human mind. The "painted" or "printed" object that digital artists fabricate for the purposes of show-and-tell and/or marketing conveys creative work which is composed and stored in an encoded and largely dematerialized form on electromagnetic storage units. Like poetry that must wait to be read or music that must be played or performed in order to exist at an experiential level; this is "art in potentia." The composition must be decoded and transformer by some physical means in order for it to be seen or touched. Without a system of conveyance from the non-physical state into the physical world Art barely exists.

I often imagine Art as thoughts pretending to be objects. While these objects undeniably exist in physical space the inception and power that brings them forth is immaterial electromagnetic and chemical processes inside the human brain?thoughts. In this respect all Art starts off as art-in-potentia. But then even our perception of that art object becomes a matter of dematerializing the object into impressions of light, sound and touch that get perceived by our brain and then mixed with the history, personality and creativity of the viewer's own thought processes. The art, itself, then goes from pure thought to pure thought with the physical object being a bridge or form of conveyance between minds.

So that, while it all hinges on physical tools, objects or actions as mechanisms for conveying thoughts, the degree to which physicality is required can be brought into question, especially with the introduction of new tools and materials. We digital artists must produce a thing to be owned, but the art I describe cannot be owned only conveyed. We buy and sell the object but not the art. At both ends of the process it is a form of art-in-potentia that we experience.

This is the challenge presented by digital to traditional art markets. These markets are all about ownership of an object. As this object moves further away from physicality toward flatness and the conveyance of thought over materiality the more these markets resist. We have seen this drama play out several times.

Abstract Expressionist paintings remained very much a physical object, but by favoring abstraction and gesture over the replication or presentation of subject matter forced the appreciation of the art into a more cerebral and internalized arena. With the help of a massive promotional effort the art-marketing world, however, overcame this shock.

Minimalism affected several forms of art and design but overall continued to focus on striping things down to its essentials. Ad Reinhardt, whose work spanned both Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism said, "Art begins with getting rid of nature." Minimalism took literally Clement Greenburg's claims of Modernist painting's reduction to surface and materials and later critics began to speak in terms of metaphysics to explain the experience found in this increasingly dematerialized art. It is interesting to note that while Minimalist paintings seemed to reduce materialism the paintings themselves grew in physical size. In hindsight, one might say that in order to add value to what was perceived as a materially reduced work of art the canvases grew bigger and bigger. It is ironic that the term "minimal" is applied to some of the largest paintings I have seen.

Photography, of course, forced the issue of flatness (lack of texture), new tools and reduced materialism even further and required even more time and education on the part of the viewing public in order to finally gain acceptance. But, this was not until photographers adopted such "value adding" practices as manufactured scarcity and adopting arcane processes and obscure materials into the production of a photographic image. If nothing else, Photography shows the importance of demonstrating hard work and special knowledge in order for a technologically based imaging technique to overcome the issues associated with reduced materialism. Artful images are, of course, the greatest aid to acceptance.

Digital Art is not without its arcane procedures or special knowledge and can readily adopt the models for manufacturing scarcity, but I believe what Digital Art has to overcome more than other creative imaging techniques is this notion of art-in-potentia and a wholly new level of dematerialized art making. In the case of Photography the image, for the most part, is captured from the natural world lending at least a shadowed connection to materiality. When digital artwork comes from an artist's association with the hidden world of digital processes, involving few actual materials, cybernetic tools and virtual workspaces the reasons for a market based on materialism and ownership of objects to increase its resistance multiply exponentially.

Without splitting too many hairs we can say that we have seen digital imagery produced for a Fine Art market for about a generation. Many inroads have been made in that time and acceptance continues to increase. Yet, at the level inhabited by most artists there remains a challenge in getting local, regional and even national competitions or galleries to even consider including digital art. Often digital art finds itself ghettoized into its own separate-but-equal category and we still have to field questions in front of our art as to whether or not it is "real" art. "My granddaughter loves to play with the computer," remains one of my favorites. In which case I can only imagine sharing that comment across time with all the original Abstract Expressionists and reminding myself that time heals all wounds.

As our culture continues to digitize more and more of its experience, the mind-to-mind sharing of aesthetic experience becomes less and less focused on the need for an original material object. We can see now the importance that a good quality illusion often holds over actuality. Ownership is shifting its focus from individual objects to a central digital device used for acquiring, storing and presenting dematerialized experience. This cat is out of the bag, never to return. We cannot know exactly where it is heading but the path it will follow is increasingly digital.

While we continue to make objects for the sake of conveyance and search out new forms of presentation, the notion that art is and always has been rooted in pure immaterial thought is important. As digital artists we honor and embrace this. The art object only alludes to the "real" art. The object is an illusion, which leads us back to the real place where everything first resides--in our human mind. And, in the case of digital art, this path runs through our best tool yet for representing this limitless creative space.

Dunking Bird Productions


A Response to JD Jarvis's Art in Potentia

Essay by Randy Morris

JD Jarvis in his recent editorial, "Art In Potentia" covered a broad range of issues as he discussed the immateriality of electronic media. In this article I address some of those issues in more detail, and refer repeatedly to Mr. Jarvis' editorial.

To summarize points about immateriality, our perception of art resides in the neural firing patterns of our brains, short and long term memories, the cascade of emotional associations stored within them. Perception of art is triggered by light stimulating our retinas. Though this has not changed over human history, it could within the next fifty years given the current pace of technological development. But speculation of the forms of such evolution must wait for a future article. This article addresses our current transitional state, in which we are not ready for the Vulcan mind meld.

For most of our history, the roughly flat images of visual art have been durably recorded by paint or stains on rock, wood, bone, clay, stucco, animal hides, cloth, paper, metal, plastic etc. The full range of meanings associated with the images are highly dependent on culture, though underlying aesthetic elements are remarkably universal. We still take pleasure in the artistry of cave paintings for instance. (For a thorough discussion of the universality of aesthetic elements I recommend Philip S. Rawson's book "Drawing".)

What is new within the last hundred years or so, is the ability to project high quality images onto screens, first with film onto movie screens, then through analog electronics onto television screens, and now digitally onto plasma and semiconductor screens. With the computer and digital storage, the physical (analog) film has been replaced with digital records and machine instructions. Screen images are not durable, and the digital recordings (the durable part) are not comprehensible as images without decoding and reproduction mechanisms. Traditional prints of high quality can be made from electronic storage, even though the ink jet printer with machine instruction lacks the material image of a woodblock or etching plate.

Electronic production of art presents some technical challenges to artists. Ink jet prints give no imprint texture. Technical means can be found to provide such texture or the illusion of it, as artists find it necessary. Moreover much art may never see print or film, but remain in digital form for screen projection. (The best preservation method for old movie film is now digitalization, and modern projectors do not require film.) Also with the advent of readily accessible 3D, true 3D art ("Avatar" for example) does not reside even on the screen as a fully visualizable object. The 3D effect from the displacement of the images between our right and left eyes, occurs only in our neural firing patterns. This is as close as it gets to Mr. Jarvis' "dematerialization".

The technical challenges and opportunities to the artist from advancing technology are not new, and not in themselves the main difficulty to marketing art. The primary difficulty for marketing electronically produced (and viewed) art is reproducibility, an old issue over the history of print making. Demand and production cost set price. When demand exceeds supply, the price goes up. However, the production of relatively inexpensive prints or screen images from electronic media can fairly quickly satisfy any level of demand. Demand for unique, or one of a kind, art objects is greater, since almost any demand will exceed supply. Collectors of cubism, abstract expressionism, and minimalism bank on this.

The "massive promotional effort" of the "art-marketing world" described by Mr. Jarvis for the acceptance of these artistic movements, was more the reassurance from prominent critics that the revolutionary style would become unique and sought after. This is not "conveyance of thought over materiality", but the conveyance of thought to support materiality. Appreciation of any art requires education, and art critics supplied education in a very traditional sense to "explain" modern art, that is, they clearly promoted a dogma to market the art. The purpose of the dogma was to convince the buying public of the unique value of the paintings. The hard sell for modern art has always been that it lacks intuitive appeal to many people, and the dogma used to justify it runs from obscure to nonsensical. Mr. Jarvis' quote of Ad Reinhardt, "Art begins with getting rid of nature", is a good example.

Even most artist's first reaction to the Reinhardt quote is "bullshit", followed by, "what is he talking about?". As I discussed in a previous editorial, the goal of the "minimalist" (or cubist or abstract expressionist) approach according to Greenberg is the creation of a pure, unmolested and uncorrupted (by nature and culture), non materialistic (in the sense of monetary value), aesthetic visual language of hopefully universal elements by which the artist expresses or creates an "experience" ("found in dematerialized art") which causes "(later) critics to speak in terms of metaphysics to explain". So at least in part the hard sell results from the fact that by intent, the visual language that the minimalist artist creates must be removed from ordinary experience (i.e. "stripped down to essentials" for "getting rid of nature"). By reducing to a visual language with no direct referents to nature, the minimalist artist's ability to communicate anything specific is also reduced, and the intended results harder for anyone to understand. So at best the minimalist approach is difficult by design, and to the more cynical, a way to obscure intellectual poverty. For me, the goal of art is to communicate aesthetically at every level possible. Abstract works sometimes manage to do this despite the backwardness of the minimalistic approach.

The dematerialization or "reduction to surface and materials" that characterize abstract expressionism and minimalism is very different from the dematerialization of electronic media. The former refers to specific visual content of the image, be it on a screen or on canvas, where as the latter refers to the durability of the image, that is a permanent object which reflects light to create an image verses a screen controlled by machines to create one of many possible images. Dematerialized electronic media may store the Mona Lisa or a Rauschenberg, but only the Rauschenberg is dematerialized in the minimalist sense. I think that Mr. Jarvis confuses the distinction between these two different uses of dematerialization, for instance with his discussion of "dematerialized experience" manipulated by our "central digital device". This dematerialized experience is not dematerialized in any of the senses of minimalism. The distinction is also confused in the discussion of photography. Photographers, especially photographers such as Ansel Adams, did not force "the issue of flatness (lack of texture), new tools and reduced materialism" in any of the senses of the minimalist approach. Most photographers use illusion of depth like traditional, representational painting. The flatness of texture of a photograph is a much subtler and completely different issue than the deliberate avoidance or manipulation of the depth illusion practiced by cubism or abstract expressionism. Also, many photographers take pride in creating their images with as little adulteration as possible. It is very misleading to describe this approach as a "shadowed connection to materiality". The objects in their photographs are emphatically intended to be recognized as material. Moreover, I believe that photography as an art form is an easier sell than minimalist art of any variety for public acceptance, but not for gallery marketing because of its reproducibility. Photographic marketing practices for "manufactured scarcity" have not been much different than those practiced over the history of print making.

If the modern art movements really hinge on metaphysical content, then electronic media should be as adequate as the painted surface. I believe that uniqueness is still the operating factor in price, and acceptance for gallery marketing. So if you want to make a killing with reproducible electronic art, strategies for the "mind-to-mind sharing of aesthetic experience" must focus on selling a lot of copies, just like with films, books, and music.


Art vs. art

by Nicholas McCumber

Obviously art requires a mind to exist however it does. One must follow the processes first. Not so obvious is the existence of Art alongside art.

A soul growth, of any kind, betrays and proves the existence of Art. It can occur in virtually any medium, from plumping to pharmacy.

Art extends the heart and is not as accessible as art because Art demands something from its recipient; namely a willingness to learn and change. Unlike Art, art is a process. It may be learned and done by almost anyone. Most of the time art is boring because it is not challenging.

Digital Art, when well done, can be very challenging. The viewers may find themselves learning, whether they expect to or not. (They usually want to learn so they will change.)

Process and language are necessary to have art. These items, while making art, come from static decisions and do not cause heartfelt soul growths that Art does. A perfect picture, while meeting all the requirements of an instructor, will probably not move the viewers? heart like Mona?s smile; a work painted by a pauper.

The willingness to change and grow among two (or more) people is the primary requisite for Art. The provider creates ? whatever - using any medium ? including an ice cream cone - and the taker reacts in a manner betraying her/his heart. Since there is no limit to this growth, the effect of Art ? by either from Digital Artist or plumber - is infinite.

Art, then, is anything that infinitely challenges the soul. However, art does not do this.


Digital Art Gallery Online
Digital gallery of best pictures and photos from portfolios of digital artists.

Digital Art Served
Top work in categories such as computer graphics, matte painting, digital painting and photo manipulation.

Soho Arthouse (Soho Gallery For Digital Art)
Event space, gallery, tech, film screening room, product launches, pop-up, fashion week, charity art shows in NYC.

DAM - Digital Art Museum
Museum and gallery

Los Angeles Center for Digital Art
The Los Angeles Center for Digital Art is a contemporary gallery in downtown LA dedicated to the propagation of all forms of digital art, new media, digital video.

Community of artists and those devoted to art. Digital art, skin art, themes, wallpaper art, traditional art, photography, poetry / prose. Art prints.

Almost entirely 3D rendered art from such programs as 3DS Max, Maya, Lightwave and others.

Museum of Computer Art
Nonprofit US educational corporation chartered by the NYS Department of Education.

Digital Art Online
Online digital art exhibition space. Includes thematic exhibitions.

Museum of Digital Fine Arts
Spotlighting the most brilliant new artists of the modern age.


Sailor's Gala by Helga Schmitt

Portabella by Rick Spix (Rykk)

Noorvaarden Beach at Terschelling
by Pauline van de Ven

Faberge Factory by Paul Griffitts

Urban Laundry by Rod Whyte

The Three Nymphs by Erika Kiechle-Klemt

Reflections by Renata Spiazzi

End of the Road or Top of the Mountain
by Gina Topping


From the Contamination Among the Arts series at MOCA




Let's hear it for the blog


To assure credit to you as artist, include your name in the image title


Art by Rob Reynolds

Untitled 172

Untitled 226

Untitled 250

Untitled 505

Untitled 548

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