I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of “fine art”. It seems mythic. I imagine dedicated artists, undistracted by earthbound trivialities like earning a living, who experiment with new ideas and techniques in a quest for one thing alone – a level of quality previously unknown. They have no deadlines. They follow no notes. When they want solitude, they get it. When they need companionship, friends instantly appear, bearing gifts of wine, French bread and cheese to fuel conversations about individual expression and freedom. In the way that “pure research” is the soul of science, “fine art” is the soul of visual expression. That’s the mythology in my head anyway.
Whenever art is representational, there seems to be an argument over whether it is “fine” (applause) or simply an “illustration” (boos, raspberries and yawns). Whenever art is abstract, there seems to be no argument – it is “fine”.
Since my mythic fantasies of the “fine art” process were utterly silly, and I was distracted by earthbound trivialities like earning a living, I devised a fallback process.
Yes, all of these abstracts were actually phone doodles. I had a hands-free phone, and as soon as I got a call I’d open my digital canvas and start painting. When the call was over, I’d stop. I had no expectations as to what I was going to create, and relied on the distraction of conversation to free my mind and hand of old habits. I loved it. As the pieces evolved they each found their own character, arising mostly from the design principles so passionately espoused by my one-of-a-kind Cal Arts instructor Bill Moore.
Typically I’d start in Painter, using a Wacom drawing tablet. Then I’d move to Photoshop to access different brushes and filters. Next came Strata, a 3-D software in which I’d build dimensional objects to impale through the painting. I’d light it like a theatrical set and render it out again. Each painting cycled through these stages over and over and over again. Once in a while I’d scan a texture to throw into the mix, such as the stain that a coffee cup left on a sheet of paper (the circle in the upper right of “blue fracture”). Eventually, one by one, I’d pronounce them finished.
So the plan worked as far as it went. Many people liked the pieces, and were surprised to discover that they were entirely digital. But my goal of releasing limited edition lithographs fell by the wayside.
It’s awesome to see how far we’ve come since my days as a “Computer Graphics Choreographer” on TRON. My current obsession is Next Generation Virtual Reality. I’m not sure that phone doodles will help the cause, but I’m thinkin’…
It’ll be interesting to see where the whole issue of “original” art lands in the era of digital files. While my own heroes of art, like John Singer Sargent, Rodin and Freddie Moore made their statements in analog space, their works are increasingly migrating into digital space. I’ve walked through foundry rooms stacked high with identical sculptures – prototyping tools carving them out. I’ve found Freddie’s charming sketches on the web and printed them out with archival inks on archival paper. They sure look like originals. So even physical works are no longer commanding the old notion of originality.
And consider digital painters such as Linda Bergkvist, who has built a classical skill set completely inside of the digital realm. And painters who’ve moved from paint to pixels, such as Steven Stahlberg and Andy Gaskill. They’re filling galleries with amazing art, and not a wall or canvas in sight.
Ultimately digital works will earn their own ranking and worth without the need to declare a singular “original” that you can hold in your hands. It’s only natural, since both creation and experience are increasingly virtual. For the artist, authorship is the essential element to maintain as we move forward. There is one thing that can always be considered original – an idea.
For me, storytelling remains the most compelling application of old, new and emerging technologies. Even my abstracts were meant to tell the story of a fine artist who is secretly betraying old-school sensibilities.
That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it. So is my avatar.