An All-Or-Nothing Proposition?

One of the best conversations I’ve had about art wasn’t with an artist. It wasn’t with an art historian, curator, or gallery owner, either. It was with a mechanical engineer. We went from discussing his latest design project to the artfulness of historical blueprints to Leonardo’s notebooks—and I think we may have even touched on Umberto Boccioni and Futurism.

The City Rises by Umberto Boccioni, oil painting, 1910.
The City Rises by Umberto Boccioni, oil painting, 1910.

Looking back on it, I’m not too surprised that someone with a scientific mind would be so knowledgeable about art. It’s become quite clear that art and technology share quite a few commonalities. Both are driven by innovation, experimentation, and observation. Trial-and-error is a cornerstone in both fields. Neither stands still for long; they are both ever-changing frontiers. So it seems natural that technology can lead artists in interesting directions, whether by making what they already do a little easier or by introducing new tools that help transform their process. 

Artist Jove Wang uses a source photo to transfer his composition to canvas.
Artist Jove Wang uses a source photo
to transfer his composition to canvas.

For example, digital photography means no more lugging around film, having the ability to see photos as they are shot, and being able to make adjustments in the moment. Computer programs of 3-D human poses allow artists to practice the fundamentals of rendering even if they don’t have a mannequin or aren’t yet ready to work from a live model. Software such as Photoshop allows one to manipulate photos, make color corrections, and play around with compositions.

It seems that technology, from the first metal oil painting tubes to climate-controlled studios, has a useful place in the art world, regardless of your medium or style. Allowing technology to play a part in your process is not an all-or-nothing proposition.  Regardless of the source, artistic innovation always comes back to the artist—after all, a tool is only as useful as the hand that wields it. Taking advantage of technological innovations doesn’t elevate or delegitimize an artist, or make his or her execution more or less skillful. It is just another example of how an artist chooses how to paint or draw, and that choice is a deeply individual and creative right.

Building on solid technique allows artists to take their work in any direction they choose. Capturing the gesture and form of the human body is one such essential technique and if you are looking for resources in acrylic painting, drawing and sketching, or colored pencil, Lee Hammond's DVDs can help you, whether you are just starting out or want to enhance your skills.

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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

3 thoughts on “An All-Or-Nothing Proposition?

  1. Hmmm…. Now this could be a can of worms.

    Personally, I agree with most of what you said here. Although my own viewpoint would be that there should be some kind of distinction between photography and Photoshop. That isnt to say that Photoshop art isnt art. I just dont think it’s the same as photography. It uses a different skill set. As long as one can get a high resolution image, Photoshop makes traditional skills fairly unimportant.

    I’ve mentioned before that I like to project a photo onto the wall in my studio and work as if I’m on site. I also love that I have the ability to adjust brightness and contrast to reveal different aspects of the scene. Sometimes I even switch to gray scale.

    I also like to take digital pictures of my work in progress and display it on the computer screen. A smaller image can reveal a lot about composition and color use. Once again, switching to gray scale can show value problems and allow corrections.

    Of course, the purists might say this is cheating, like when people accuse Vermeer and others of projecting onto the canvas. As for me, I’m not really convinced that that’s cheating. Does copying a photo onto canvas really diminish the artistic merit of the finished product? Personally, I dont do it because cameras add so much distortion and it’s pretty obvious most of the time.

    So there’s my 2 cents. Thanks for this article, Courtney, and welcome aboard.

  2. Courtney:
    About 25 years ago an artist friend rushed up to me all enthused. “I just bought a Macintosh computer,” she said. I was stunned. “You are using a computer?” She looked over the top of her glasses and said, “It’s just another tool.” I’ll always remember that and realize how, viewed from an artist’s perspective, just about anything can be useful.


  3. I agree completely with your premise that technology is just a tool, and neither elevates or delegitimizes the work. However, one thought occurs to me is that tools and how they are used can expand possibilities but also invoke limitations. A 1″ wide brush has an altogether different set of capabilities and limitations from a #00 round. When we select a tool, we need to be aware of all that we are selecting a set of limitations as well. Consider the feather quill pen, supplanted by steel nibs. Cutting a quill was a tedious and exacting process. With the invention of the steel nib, suddenly everyone could practice good penmanship much more easily. However, a feather quill has a unique recognizable quality, that was lost to the innovation driven by expedience.
    Knowing Photoshop capabilities and limitations implies knowing how digital photography works, which further implies knowing how film photography works, and the limitations and compromises made at each stage. Color gamut is just one limitation that is a factor in the use of any of the image capture and manipulation tools in that. We still need to know the basics.