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Postmodern Modernist Generator

In Art, Commentary, News on September 21, 2010 at 3:10 pm

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Postmodern Modernist Generator

by Don Relyea

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The Postmodern Modernist Generator [PMG] is a creative programming tool I originally created in 2006. It explores automating an artistic design process in a lighthearted manner. The art generator was designed to systematically break down and simplify the design process for automation, with each resulting piece being uniquely different.

 

Although automating an artistic process through computer programming is actually pretty easy, it is, however, nearly an impossible task to replicate the human factor.  As artists are typically inspired by an array of indeterminate things–thinking organically and acting out of intuition, more than out of set parameters or processes.  Differences in how artists perceive their subject matter and the choices they make, while rendering their works, create endless controlled variations in output. Hence the best one can hope to do with an computer emulated artist process, is going to be an approximation of a set of potential artist creative paths that lead to a graphic result.

 

As I add logic to the decision algorithms, add chaos to the system and increase the set of systemic processes available to the emulated artist, the possible set of paths and subsequent results essentially reach infinite variations.  The PMG is not meant to replace the human touch, and by no means consistently generates better looking designs than a human can.  However it does generate good output fairly often; much faster than a real human artist can on their own.

For the purposes of this project I have simplified the process to a set style of abstract modernist forms and designs, for now, focusing on automating color choices, subject matter, layout, image manipulation and the abstraction process in the digital environment ,using mostly processes that a digital artist would most likely employ.

 

While the program generates abstract modernist looking output, the overall concept of creating an automated artist process is somewhat of a postmodern concept, hence the title “Postmodern Modernist Generator”.

 

PMG contains a limited artificial intelligence, which automates the color choices, layout, image manipulation, as well as the balance of abstraction vs. detail and titling.  It’s a process that takes about a second to complete.

 

Color choices are automated by arbitrarily referencing a color lookup table for color relationships that work. The color relationships are derived from sampling the most prominent colors, from a variety of sources. Historically significant artists works are sampled, like Calder, De Kooning and Matisse, with a good many samplings derived from Bauhaus Master and noted color theorist, Josef Albers.  Nature is also a good source for color relationships that work, and samples are taken from random images on the web.

 

Here’s the technical rundown.

 

The PMG algorithms generates malleable color schemes much the same way Adobe Kuler works;  plotting relationships on an internal color wheel.  This is applied to a rotational offset, which extracts a new set of rgb values with the same relationships. In this way color options are endless, but generally work well together.

After a color scheme has been chosen, the applet creates shaders from chosen colors. It then creates a 3d world of primitives and assigns them the shaders. This creates an arbitrary volumetric space to be abstracted and expands the color depth of the source image.

 

A 2d image is then extracted and run through a variety of systemic and procedural process for abstraction. Virtual layers are created, assigned a stacking order, and various levels of opacity are applied.  Then all layers are merged.

 

Lastly when the graphic processes are complete, the program assigns the work a title by combining a noun, an adjective and a random number attempting in futility to assign meaning to the work. While this is a trivial task to program, it is an important final step in the process of creating a modernist work.  Since in my view, modernism seeks to make sense out of the senseless; imposing meaning through art where otherwise there is none.

 

When AD MAG inquired about PMG, I found it an odd, serendipitous timing, because I had recently received several emails about the work from internet viewers asking a variety of questions; mostly around how it works and where the images are coming from. Some people were in disbelief that the images are generated on demand. The questions and interest in the project reminded me of what I had always wanted to do with the program; to make it completely autonomous.

 

Now, I’m setting the PMG free.

 

This project has had several incarnations over its life as an executable, a shockwave application, a Google gadget and a screensaver, and until being asked to write this essay, PMG was an application controlled by a user. The user was the decider. But now that is not the case. I have set it free from users. I have given the program the capacity to run autonomously and and through some nice advances in social networking integration, PMG can post its own output via email to its own blog, Facebook Tumblr , Twitter et all.

Adding self promotion to the process of creating a work makes sense. Artists are perpetual promoters. In order to make an autonomous artist simulation, it must be able to promote itself and trumpet its creations. .

 

The ability to connect a generative artwork to an array of social networks, give PMG a profile, allowing it to post on its own while I sleep, work, play with the kids or do whatever opens up a new world of possibilities and questions.

 

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Don Relyea is an artist, programmer, sound designer and inventor specializing in print making and information systems. Relyea experience extends through the video and interactive CD production, as well as multi-media content for traditional and digital.  He is particularly focused in the area of computational art; writing his own custom art software in C++ and Open GL. And he often uses his creative skills to weave cultural, social and political dimensions into his work.  Nature and mathematical forms are also common subjects.  Relyea’s artwork has been in exhibited internationally. In 2008, his politically charged “hair particle drawing” portrait of George Bush was simultaneously exhibited in Los Angeles and New York. Recently, Relyea’s video art series Generative Flowers has been installed outdoors in Downtown Dallas, in the Digital Grafitti Festival at Alys beach Florida, the W hotel in Seoul Korea and the International Free Exchange Zone in Incheon Korea.  Relyea is also an avid inventor with many patents pending. Relyea lives and works in Dallas Texas USA with his wife and three kids.

Homage: Contemporary Art in Digital Media

In Art, Commentary, News on August 28, 2010 at 7:48 pm

“Oak Tree” by Kerry Mitchell

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H O M A G E

Contemporary Art in Digital Media

by Joe Nalven and Jim Respress
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“The Sanction of the Cloth” by Liz Lopes

Homage is a good beginning for connecting traditions in art as well as pointing the way to contemporary understandings about picturing the world around us.  Based in San Diego, California, the Digital Art Guild [DAG] is an international organization currently presenting a touring group exhibition of digital art prints, which opened July 9th at the Partnership for the Arts Municipal Gallery in Escondido, California, and will travel on September 11th to the Art Institute of California – San Diego.  The show bears the title Homage.

For the exhibition, which showcases what is a longstanding tradition in the history of art, artists were asked to create pieces that represent a celebration of persons or ideas that have influenced their lives; using computer software, the most recent of artistic media.

“Homage in art is useful for looking back to those upon whose shoulders we stand, connecting us to a diversity of visions about the human condition”

A large portion of art throughout history has paid homage to earlier artists and their work.  Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez, painted in 1656, has often been the subject of homage.  Pablo Picasso painted 58 variations of Las Meninas more than 300 years after the original, using it to explore color, movement, form and rhythm.  Another of Velázquez’s paintings, “Portrait of Pope Innocent X”, became the source of many variations for Francis Bacon.  His well-known “Study after Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X” is often referred to as the Screaming Pope.

The styles and art context for Velázquez were quite different than for Picasso and Bacon. Velázquez lived in 17th century Spain and became the court painter to King Philip IV, a despotic ruler and sometimes thought to be the cause of Spain’s decline. For Picasso and Bacon and their respective homage, in an outpouring of variations, occurred in a time where various art movements had sprung up. But for both artists, their interpretations were part of an emerging European expressionism, or perhaps neo-expressionism, following World War II.

Homage in art is useful for looking back to those upon whose shoulders we stand, connecting us to a diversity of visions about the human condition. But what makes an artistic homage interesting and not a mere copy?  What makes each an anecdote or a poor rendition of a cultural icon?

“In art as well as in science, almost everything we create is homage to those who have created before us”

Members of DAG prefer to be in the first category not in the latter, delivering meaningful works of art, not mere copies. That was the challenge that the Homage show presented. Having been formed in 2003, and having members with experience in digital media for a much longer period of time, DAG wanted to exceed its previous exhibits with a STATEMENT.

Creatives constantly need to build from something in order to synthesize new ideas. The stimulus for new ideas rarely comes from a single source but rather many; sometimes often seemingly unrelated sources. In the area of digital art, for example, we owe as much to computer science as we do to traditional forms of art.

In art as well as in science, almost everything we create is homage to those who have created before us.  Although, we may not always be aware of the nod.  We might even need to have it pointed out to us by another observer.  When, on the other hand, one sets out intentionally to create a work of art that pays homage to someone or something, the task is quite different.

“No ideological cliché need apply, but rather a muscular engagement of intellect and spirit, in the continuing adventure of art”

The starting point is the object of homage, be it a person or perhaps an idea.  The challenge then is to create something that hopefully does not copy the object, but utilizes some attribute or element, as such, that the viewer can recognize. And the end result should be a piece of artwork that stands on its own, while at the same time bows graciously to the honored idea or person.

In this exhibition we present forty-nine new pieces of art created in digital media that express homage in their own way, acknowledging a single source of inspiration.  Though collectively, the combined works also serve to acknowledge the arts and humanities contribution from the ever-developing field of digital media.  This is a gentle way of making a statement that the tools of the imagination can be paint and paintbrushes, Brillo pads, thrown paint, mixed media objects embedded in the surface or art created with a computer. And in that regard, this digital-aged homage informs that we are no different than Velázquez, Picasso or Bacon.

It requires the viewer to pay attention to the image–its vision, composition and impact, not the tools of the trade. No ideological cliché need apply, but rather a muscular engagement of intellect and spirit, in the continuing adventure of art.

Is Your Museum Too White?

In Commentary, Feature, Interview, News on August 24, 2010 at 2:36 pm

(Image credit: kconnors / morguefile)

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Is Your Museum Too White?

by Max Eternity

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For some years now, behind the scenes and in galleries and museums, artists and curators have been discussing the transformative effects electronic and digital technologies are having in the arts. As a curatorial adviser on digital art – the founder of Art Digital Magazine, which has the largest online archive in the world of feature-length interviews with new media artists, writers and educators – I’ve participated in quite a few of these debates.

With some expected delay, works of art made with digital tools are becoming more accepted in the mainstream, as the intersection between the arts and sciences becomes intractably intertwined. This has led some to wonder: Is the word “artist” becoming outdated? We now have nomenclature for new mediums and genres, so what about the people creating those works? Who’s a “technologist” versus who’s an “artist”? Or does it make better sense to just call a person on the cutting-edge of art and technology, a “creative”? In addition, there is a growing need to understand and incorporate new social constructs, such that the institutions of art and culture can reach their audiences and, thus, remain relevant.

Just like the industrial revolution, which started out as a technological leap forward in agriculture and manufacturing 200 years ago and 100 years later entered a second wave that ended up being a catalyst for great change all around – literally transforming interactions between race and class – the digital revolution is not just about online entertainment, easy chat and techno-gadgets. No, its causation reverberates much deeper than that.

Here’s a quick for instance. Through mass production, as Europe moved from Gutenberg’s hand press, invented in 1440, to the 19th Century, printing went from a luxury to something ubiquitous and quite affordable. This in turn saw the rise of public libraries and literacy rates went up dramatically. It may seem hard to believe now, but once upon a time, books were essentially to be found only in well-funded religious institutions and in the homes of the rich. There was no such thing as the local community college, the public library or the neighborhood Barnes & Noble. And as far as fine art printing went – as in, lithographs of artists’ works – until the industrial age, there was no such thing as editioning off 300 prints for prospective clients.

Today, commerce and culture are happening in a virtual realm, resulting in real, quantifiable, socio-economic change. And while oil paintings and industrial age print types continue to dominate in galleries and museums, art facilitated by digital tools is popping up everywhere.

As humankind takes another leap forward, whether or not it likes it, this past century’s art hierarchy will not escape certain changes in what they show and to whom and how they show. And who better to talk to about these new shifts than Nina Simon, editor of the blogazine Museum 2.0. She’s a successful, well-educated white woman, who says, quite frankly, “museums are too white.”

Nina Simon (Image credit: Nina Simon)

Max Eternity: On your web site, it says Museum 2.0 explores ways that web 2.0 philosophies can be applied in museum design. Could you give a explanation of what that means?

Nina Simon: There are so many examples of expectations around authority on who produces cultural content. I’m interested in how that impacts what happens in traditional cultural intuitions.

Tim O’Reilly defines Web 2.0 as software that gets better the more people use it. I’m interested in that question. How does a museum get better as people walk through the door, not worrying about how someone is dressed or if they will break something, instead seeing people as individuals who can share their expertise and stories to improve everybody’s experience?

ME: So, in addition to what they show, the question must also be asked: who are they showing to and how?

NS: Right and how is a visitor not just a consumer but a participant with that concept.

ME: In an article you wrote last year entitled “Deliberately Unsustainable Business Models,” you say museums are made to plod along, not to shoot to the moon. What’s that about?

NS: I think it’s not specific to museums, a lot of non-profits work this way. A for-profit is made to make a lot of money – to fill your place and make money. There is an understanding that many of those business are going to fail. When you create a museum and you are going to protect these artifacts, or feed the hungry or whatever it is, there’s an expectation that you’re going to be around for a while to provide that program or service. So non-profits are fundamentally not built to achieve a business objective, they are built to provide services, which leads to a mentality of self preservation, not innovation.

ME: So how should museums go about choosing to survive or be “awesome,” as you say? Can they do both?

NS: Well yes, they definitely can. However, survival can’t be your first goal. There are some that need to focus on being awesome, but some not. For instance, if you have the Venus de Milo, that is a conservation ethic and goal about being safe. However, if you are the Bloomington Art Center or the Arizona Science Center, why not try to do whatever you can to really fulfill you mission in a way that’s gong to be exciting? You have to make choices in what you do. It’s about taking some risks.

A lot of work I do with museums is to help them get comfortable taking some risks. I create experiences that allow museums new ways to connect with audiences.

ME: Another article you wrote this year, asks: “What Does it Really Mean to Serve ‘Underserved’ Audiences?” In the piece you state, “Most large American museums are reflections of white culture.” They are “comfortable for whites, while feeling alien for people who don’t grow up in a white culture.” That’s a bold statement to make and being that you are white, that makes it even more surprising. Explain further, if you will.

NS: Well, I can’t speak for all museums. I have been in many museums where that’s not the case. But, I think it’s certainly known historically that most American museums were created in collaboration with some white person who had a collection or created an endowment, which caused that museum to be. So, this has resulted in museums having had goals about educating the lower class and the masses. Maybe white culture isn’t the best to describe it, but a particularly type of upper class or culture, that may or may not be white.

This article was particularly about the science center that I talked about in the piece and in this case the teens were predominately black. But it’s more than just about race. Museums are a reflection of a particular kind of elitism that tends to be white. The majority of visitors are white and there is a real need in museums is to find out how they can invite non-whites to come in. It’s about saying: Hey we’re here for you too.

Who feels comfortable here – what are we subconsciously saying the right and wrong ways to experience this place are and who feels comfortable with those different ways?

When you really talk to people about “why don’t you come,” the answers are complex but it’s always about who feels comfortable inside versus who’s being shut out.

ME: I think, too, it probably has to do with the broader ramifications of new technology, but what else specifically would you say is at the root of recent cultural and living anthropological shifts?

NS: Anthropologically, I think that in history and anthropology museums there has been a rise in the value of viewpoints on particular events – on the use of oral history to captures a story. There’s not just one story, there are many stories here. So, how can we invite many voices to be a part of this story – this object?

ME: Tell me about you book “The Participatory Museum.” What’s it about; why did you write it?

NS: There are a lot of arguments about loosening up authority, opening up the co-creation of the content inside. I feel great about that. Running the blog for the last year, I had a pulse on the concerns. What’s the story – what’s the utility of this?

Then people were asking about the how, with their boards asking: What should we do? How can we get comfortable with this? So, I wrote the book not just to argue why, but to give people tools and resources around how; case studies and design techniques around particular aspects in participations.

Let’s look at what’s possible to do. Explaining how with examples of how, is what I felt was really needed to get people to the next level.

ME: So, Nina, with all that you’ve said, how would you summate this dilemma, while also speaking to a new modality for building and sustaining a successful museum?

NS: Again and again, I’ve found that the only way to make museums comfortable, exciting places for diverse audiences is to spend time with people who are not like you; to listen and understand what they like, what they need, what they respond to. We all have internalized biases about how we want people around us to behave and I frequently see those biases butt up against aspirational statements about diversity. A museum will say they want to attract teens but then the guards growl at kids who travel in packs or are too loud. A museum will say it wants to attract working people but it closes every night at 5. This is why I love working with people who are not traditional museum visitors. I learn so much from them; things that are hard for me to see as an insider.

There is a museum culture and it does affect who does and doesn’t feel comfortable visiting the institution. If we ever want to really make these institutions as accessible, open and diverse as possible, we have to confront the biases inherent in the culture, and question them.

Value the people over the traditions. Show some respect and love for someone who is different from you.

The Participatory Museum, cover illustration by Jennifer Rae Atkins (Image credit: Nina Simon)

Techno Meditations

In Art, Commentary on July 18, 2010 at 9:38 pm

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Techno Meditations

b y   A n d r e w R e a c h

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“Art making leaves tangible results, imprinted in the mind, heart and soul…continuing in the tradition of the earliest shaman healers”

– Kathleen Kern-Pilch, Art Therapist


"Beginnings and Endings"
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The Digital Age certainly seems to provide a path to higher learning, but can technology serve as a gateway, fusing spirituality with artistic enlightenment?

I volunteer myself as a case study, demonstrating how spiritual engagement can merge with digital technology, to create a vibrant, conceptual platform for art.

Having had a long career as an architect with one of America’s most notable firms, HOK in Miami, I started using digital tools for visual art after a spine disease forced me to stop practicing in the field.

As a creative person, having no other outlet at that time, I found myself restless and frustrated.

The pain from my spine took control of me both emotionally and physically. Then, at the urging of Bruce Baumwoll, my life companion, I began to learn Adobe Photoshop; using the software program to make greeting cards, employing images from Bruce’s collection of vintage ephemera.

I quickly took to Photoshop, having a built in advantage because of my experience using computers in architecture. The creation of these cards were a transition to what would become—making original digital art from scratch.

From the basic knowledge of Photoshop that I had learned, I was surprised with the results of my first venture into creating something visual; not from cutouts of a magazine but from the ingredients of my imagination. The need to create was so strong. My mind went into overdrive.

Prior to my disability, I considered myself an architect; practicing a visual art form separate from the sphere of the other visual arts. My artistic abilities were always in service to the making of buildings. Now I found myself creating art on a computer program as if the works of art had been inside me all along, waiting for the day that technology would come around to realize them.

“De Rerum Natura”

Thinking back, I remember being exposed to modern art as a child, and during my college years I studied both architecture and art history. While at Pratt Institute, I also took a course on Islamic art, which began to open my mind to cultural aesthetics beyond what was familiar in my Western existence.

Probing further, I began to learn more about how other civilizations, both Eastern and Western, integrated art into their societies. And this gave me a new, more inclusive, dynamic outlook when thinking about grand creative constructs.

Unsurprisingly, the “total art” manifesto and practices of the Bauhaus school ended up becoming the greatest influence on me as a designer. For it was through studying the Bauhaus, how I came to fully realize that architecture and visual art could be married as one.

I was fortunate to have had such a myriad of educational experiences, because even though my Photoshop skills were rudimentary in the early days, part of me felt fully prepared to paint, with my resulting first piece being a color intense abstraction closely resembling a vertebra.

“Vertebrae Works”

Like each of early works that followed revealed a hidden physical and psychological drama playing out in my body.

The richness of the imagery that sprang forth with a limited Photoshop repertoire taught me that more important than whatever tool, it is the imagination which is foremost—being the source of all creativity. However tools do matter, and transitioning from a place of crushing defeat as a result of my limited physical abilities, with Photoshop I began to feel like an explorer ready to take on the unknown. In the spirit of discovery I began to investigate aspects in my art that would give me a way out of my physical self—my pain.

Yet to charter new territory, every explorer needs tools and/or a vessel. Photoshop would be mine.

With conventional desktop printing the maximum size is 8 ½ x 11. This worked for a short while. However Bruce made the observation that I could benefit from having the artwork rendered at a larger size, and we subsequently invested in a large-format digital printer. It didn’t take long before my growing portfolio was printed and pinned up around the house, and finally I could experience the results of my imagination for the first time as I had envisioned the work from conception.

Imagination and technology were beginning to reach a critical mass for me, and revisiting earlier studies I recalled how the whirling dervishes in Islam dance themselves into a trance, seeking spiritual bliss. I also remembered how Tibetan monks make intricate sand Mandalas, only to destroy them shortly thereafter, emphasizing humanity’s transitory nature.

“Getting Up”

And so I began making spinning works and Mandalas in my own digital way.

Using imagination and technology, I cleared a space within my consciousness to channel in a spirituality that became mesmerizing. In finding myself creating virtual circles, I realized that my own life had come full circle. Like the whirling Dervishes and Tibetan monks, I was using imagination and design to connect the ethereal to the real—the physical to the spiritual.

The mechanical part of making the art–clicking on buttons, inputting values, moving the mouse–often goes into the periphery of my consciousness while working, allowing me to feel like a child again; curious, vibrant and full of life.  In art-making, the pain that is always with me temporarily recedes to the background, and for moments I am lifted from physical restraint to unlimited spiritual potentiality.

My body of work requires multiple aspects—technology, intellect and imagination. When all of these elements come together in just the right way, I feel an indescribable sense of well being.

I’m grateful to be living in the digital age with technology facilitating my artistic reinvention, helping me cope with my disability and allowing my imagination to see the light of day; giving me a gateway to learn, grow and inspire.

Incorporating the archetypal circle form, today I’m continuing my techno meditation; an artistic odyssey that began 5 years ago. For I’ve discovered that with passion, vision and intelligence, digital technology can provide a potent platform to spiritual liberation and enlightenment.

“Navigator of the Never Never”

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About Andrew Reach:

Andrew Reach, architect-artist (b.1961), spent his formative years in Miami. From an early age he had an appreciation of art, graphic design and architecture and enjoyed drawing and sketching as well.  Decades later, Andrew’s work has been exhibited in solo and international juried exhibitions in Miami, New York, Cleveland, San Francisco, New Orleans, Chicago, Washington DC and Baltimore .

On his way to becoming an architect, Reach studied at New York’s Pratt Institute of Art & Design.  And at various points in his architectural career, he worked with such notables as Yann Weymouth and Harold Zellman.

Reach was part of a small team of HOK architects responsible for building the Frost Art Museum in Miami, also having been deeply involved in the restoration with Harold Zellman of a couple of houses by Lloyd Wright; son to Frank Lloyd Wright.  Andrew and life companion, Bruce, now reside in Cleveland Ohio.

Digital Art: Medium or Metaphor?

In Art, Commentary, News on March 11, 2010 at 2:56 pm

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Digital Art: Medium or Metaphor
by Scott Ligon

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Digital Art has traditionally been categorized as a tool and as a medium. The software program, Adobe Photoshop, for example, is one of my favorite image making tools because of its unparalleled ability to manipulate and synthesize elements from different sources, allowing one to create something unique and cohesive. Digital art is also considered to be a medium, when the digital platform is used from start to finish. This is often applied to creative endeavors, which are time based, interactive and/or virtual.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot and I keep coming back to the conclusion that digital art is not a medium.  Notwithstanding, at any given time in any given circumstance, digital art may essentially function as a medium

Ultimately, I’m not overly concerned whether people want to consider digital art to be a medium or not.  Yet I do believe that it is true, that digital art does function beyond the constraints of a medium.  But even more important than that being true, it is irrelevant. Even the asking of this question implies an outmoded way of thinking.

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“Fully realizing the enabling potential of digital technology requires fluidity of thinking. It requires the ability to consider the potential relationships between elements rather than subdivide them into increasingly arbitrary categories”
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Digital technology is blurring the boundaries between mediums, to extent that already many former, long-standing boundaries have completely lost their meaning. Whether something is a still image, moves, interacts with the viewer, has sound, or is only sound, comes down to the various choices in one’s digital toolbox, rather than examples of different mediums. This blurring of boundaries changes the approach to creative endeavors.

Why?  Because, a medium as traditionally defined has certain specific characteristics. In many respects, mediums are also defined by their limitations.

Imagine this.  Oil paint has a slow drying time and acrylic paint has a quick drying time. A painter who uses either of these mediums had better understand these qualities if he or she is to create a successful painting. An artist who creates a metal sculpture had better understand the limits of his materials before he or she installs a forty foot structure in a public area! Digital art (or digital technology applied to creative pursuits) functions beyond the constraints of a medium.

And yet, digital art is made up of the placement of programmed ones and zeros. It has no inherent characteristics. If it appears to have characteristics at all, it’s because of current technological limitations.

When we think of digital 3D animation, for instance, we might think of smooth geometricized figures–a kind of simplified realism with sophisticated lighting. If 3D animation seems defined by these characteristics, it’s because, given the technological limitations of recent year, this style of 3D animation could do well. Hence, due to such temporary technological limitations, this particular application of digital art has the appearance of a medium.

We see this, recognize these qualities, and can then identify this work as digital 3D animation.

Every day, software designers are developing better and better interfaces, working to eliminate or minimize barriers, and aesthetic imperfections. And every year processing power and file storage increase exponentially. Which suffices to say, that technical limitation in the digital art realm is always temporary…not an inherent characteristic.

Without absolute limitations, I would suggest, digital art cannot have any characteristics. For, through evolution, it can look like anything. Consequentially, without any characteristics, I feel hard pressed to define digital technology as a medium.

I considered (and many smart friends have suggested) that the ones and zeros–the digital information itself– could be the defining characteristic of a medium. Ultimately, I don’t feel like this is a satisfying conclusion.

This digital information is the underlying structure defining any digital creation, but it is not perceptible in any practical way. We can only perceive the result of this invisible structure. As even when an artist is working directly in code, that person still utilizes digital information indirectly. Code and concept define the work, not the specific arrangement of billions of ones and zeros.

This structure functions in the same way that atoms function in the physical world. Atoms are the underlying building blocks of the physical universe. They define everything but are imperceptible under normal circumstances. They make everything physical, including us, but we have no direct relationship with atoms. Instead, we have a direct relationship with materials, and when we apply one of these materials to art-making, we might consider it to be a medium.

Ones and zeros to the digital world = atoms to the physical world. I believe this is a pretty self-evident analogy.  If we accept this analogy and we also consider digital art to be a medium, then it would follow that atoms are the medium of the physical world.

Clearly this does not define a creative medium in any helpful way. Although I find this a satisfying poetic notion with some truth in it, such an equation demonstrates a flaw in logic.

Youtube: Scott Ligon talks about the Digital Art Revolution

We would consider oil paint to be a medium if we were to try to say that oil paint is a sub-category of the “atom” medium.  However, we would have gotten pretty far away from any useful definition of a creative medium.  And so it is with ones and zeros in the digital realm.

There are non-material mediums. Television as traditionally defined is a medium, for example. Television is not materially based, but it still has specific and defining characteristics.   Though, these characteristics may soon change to the degree that we either redefine the medium of television, or give the medium a different name.

An important thinker in digital technology is Pranav Misry.  In watching this linked video from 2009, where he presents at a Technology Entertainment Design (TED) forum, one can grasp a vivid illustration of the potential (and future application) of digital technology. Misry’s TED lecture offers an opportunity to see the seamless and intuitive way that the digital and physical worlds will be integrated in the near future, when the boundaries between atoms and ones and zeros continues to blur, until they become irrelevant, substantiating my belief that it will become increasingly useful and obvious to recognize that digital technology functions beyond the constraints of a medium.

Fully realizing the enabling potential of digital technology requires fluidity of thinking. It requires the ability to consider the potential relationships between elements rather than subdivide them into increasingly arbitrary categories. This, of course, echoes the creative process itself.

Interestingly, in spite of all this change, there are no new visual elements. We continue to work with line, shape, color, etc. Digital technology simply provides new and unprecedented ways to combine and synthesize these elements into something unique and personal.

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SCOTT LIGON, the author of “Digital Art Revolution, Creating Fine Art with Photoshop” (Watson-Guptill/Random House) is an award-winning digital artist who frequently lectures on the subjects of creativity, filmmaking, and digital art.  Ligon is the coordinator for the digital foundation curriculum at the Cleveland Institute of Art. And he is also the author/director of the short film Escape Velocity, winner of “Best Experimental Film” at the USA Film Festival in Dallas, which has played in theaters and festivals worldwide.

Electronic Apartheid

In Art, Commentary on January 11, 2010 at 5:08 pm

“Mec de Mystery: Lynched” by Max Eternity

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Electronic Apartheid

by Max Eternity

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Is a new form of apartheid creeping in?  And in this new decade—this new millennium–where lies the intersection of social justice, art and technology?

January 1st 2010 marked the start of a new year.  And just after the New Year’s festivities came to a close, the first major holiday celebrated is the birthday of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., born January 15, 1929.  The late Dr. King, who is remembered for his leadership role during the 1960’s civil rights movement and his overall, exalted contribution to the expansion of Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings of non-violent social change, is undoubtedly the most respected black figure in modern times.

“Mec de Mystery: LEGENDS – Martin” by Max Eternity

For King, a deity of social equality, espoused a universal message that civil rights are human rights, making his birthday of utmost importance, not just to African-Americans, but to people of all colors and cultures throughout the world.

As the King celebrations wind down, another annual celebration of African-American achievement gets ushered in, with a month-long observation of February, noted nationally as Black History Month. This, when put into context that just one year ago the US seeing itself achieve a most notable milestones in its entire history, indeed in all of world history, as America elected Senator Barak Obama as the States’ 44th President, in turning that epic page in the long, painful sojourn trekked by generations of Blacks before, it supposes one to wonder, are African-Americans fully enfranchised now?

In the age of Obama, should black history be wholly embraced as bonafide American history?  And if so, with the majority of Blacks in America still being working class or poor, and the majority of Africa’s black inhabitants being poor or essentially starving, how can humanity bridge the economic divide, without first confronting the 2010 digital divide?  For in looking at the existing economics structures, what one tends to see is an unofficial worldwide policy of digital literacy for Whites and digital illiteracy for Blacks.

It is a social construct, however unintentional, effectively serving as the latest, most sophisticated, Jim Crow-type segregation for Black Americans and Africans, in some ways playing out as a de facto form of high-tech lynching, leaving no corpse, yet all the while resulting in intellectual and civic decay.

“Mec de Mystery: En Suite” by Max Eternity

Robert Fairlie, Associate Professor of Economics at the University of California Santa Cruz found in a 2005 study that while 85% of Whites have computer access at home, with 77% having broadband Internet access, comparatively 51% of Blacks have computer access at home, with 40% having broadband Internet access.

Fairlie’s paper was appropriately titled “Are We Really a Nation Online? Ethnic and Racial Disparities in Access to Technology and Their Consequences”, and sadly since written, not much has changed.  As in December 2009, the Internet Innovation Alliance, which describes itself as a broad-based coalition of business and non-profits that aim to ensure every American access to the critical tool of broadband Internet, presented data from a national survey showing that less than half (42%) of African-Americans use the internet regularly.  And yet in that same survey, conducted by Brilliant Corners Research, three in five (61%) strongly felt that households with Internet access have greater access to commerce, education, health care, entertainment and communication.

“Mec de Mystery: Hierarchy” by Max Eternity

These studies represent what’s happening in the US.  So one can only imagine how exponentially worse it is in Africa.  Of this conundrum, the world’s most venerated elder statesman, Nelson Mandela, said the following about this trend of digital discrimination:

“In the twenty-first century, the capacity to communicate will almost certainly be a key human right. Eliminating the distinction between the information-rich and information-poor is also critical to eliminating economic and other inequalities between North and South, and to improve the life of all humanity.”Nelson Mandela

So how can the landscape of enfranchisement be transformed, so as to make way for digital liberty and justice for all, and what role might the arts play in creating equanimity?

“Mec de Mystery: Looking In” by Max Eternity

First Lady, Michelle Obama, is doing her part by sometimes using her speaking engagements to advocate for the greater funding of art programs in public schools.  And since her husband, President Obama, is known for comparing himself to President Lincoln, and many of his admirers compare him to President Roosevelt, might the first and most logical step to electronic equality be for our digitally-savvy, Nobel Laureate President to take it upon himself to institute a digital interpretation of Roosevelt’s Works Projects Administration? Using his lofty, Lincolnesque oration, the President could rally digital and new media artisans to paint, sculpt and dance the nation into a new era of prosperity–paving the way for a broad expansion of digital equality.

Is this wishful thinking…perhaps?

And yet there is no denying that art and design have always been the premiere tools for communicating complex ideas simply, effectively uniting a group toward a single aim.

In this century, the same can be said of Flash, HTML and the Internet.  Adding to the mix, blogging and online social networking, the dynamics of all foretold illustrates that as the earth’s populations continues to grow, the intersection of each localized narrative becomes increasingly intertwined, with digital technology being at the heart of it all.

The way people relate has certainly changed over time, and yet civic engagement remains at the core of every thriving society.  In today’s digital surround, a sense of electronic enfranchisement translates to urban health and communal wealth. Thus however effectively a municipality addresses the issue of digital literacy truly makes the difference between who thrives–who survives–who dies.  Hence in a broader more inclusive sense of democracy, putting Blacks and Whites on the same footing while also addressing the obvious brick and mortar concerns, a sensible approach to building social capital–elevating the overall health of the cosmopolitan experience–should include abundant access to digital opportunities; particularly as it might relate to those underserved.

But Ipods are not falling from the sky, and Mimaki printers, Wacom tablets and Blackberries are not magically blooming around our feet.  These things cost money, requiring capital and human investment to teach and practice the ins an outs effective use, which brings to mind a line from one of one of America’s most exalted Negro spirituals, “We Shall Overcome.”  For if we are to remain a nation without a committed, institutional policy for digital equality, how much will it matter that an African-American is in the White House, if Blacks are still singing “We Shall Overcome”, instead of proudly proclaiming “Yes We Overcame!”

Close the digital divide now.

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“Mec de Mystery: I, You, Thee” by Max Eternity

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Max Eternity, Editor and Publisher to Art Digital Magazine and contributing writer to Artworks Magazine, is a polymath who creates innovative print types reflecting the Bauhaus and Mid-Century Modernism.  Via a network of informational web portals, Eternity advocates for artistic and social concerns ranging from architectural preservation and digital literacy to government transparency and the Afro-Euro fine art construct.  An avid inventor, he currently has over a twenty utilities in various stages of development.