The mouse that roared: digital explosion

g3448-4802-dlilogo.jpgIs it possible, as alleged by New York Times writer Nicole Cotroneo, that “The next Salvador Dali is just as likely to wield a computer mouse as a paint brush”? And if so, what does this statement foretell about the future of painting? The Long Island Digital Arts Festival provides a venue for the exploration of digital art.


Digital artists use computers and technology to create images. According to Wikipedia, digital art is:

Art created on a computer in digital form. Digital art can be purely computer-generated, or taken from another source, such as a scanned photograph, or an image drawn using a mouse or graphics tablet.

The Digital Long Island arts festival, composed of juried, invitational, and student exhibitions, is the first of a potentially biennial event providing a platform to display art in all forms using technology as its basis. At first glance the exhibition at Mills Pond House appeared much like a conventional exhibition, offering framed canvases. The exhibition labels highlighted the difference: the framed objects included 3D computer generated images (CGI), digital prints, digital paintings, inkjet prints, digigraphs, ink on canvas, and even hand sewn digital prints.

Looking closely I found no evidence of brushstrokes, no sign of the artist’s touch. The image was glossy and sharp, but had Khadem merely achieved the mimesis of classical European academic painting, or was this something else entirely? And was something vital lost in the transition?

Upon entering the exhibition the viewer is faced with two artworks created by digital artist Alain K. Khadem. I was captured by the imagery in his paired artworks, “Abuse of Power” and “Retribution.” The pair was created using Adobe Printshop and Illustrator and is printed on canvas. I was reminded of the style of painting called trompe-l’oeil (literally, “fool the eye”) and the paintings of 19th century American artist William Harnett. If you enjoy realist still lifes as I do, as well as the contemporary revival of the neoclassical style, visit Khadem’s website:


 Abuse of Power and Retributionby  Alain K. Khadem (digital painting)

And while I was delighted with the retribution visited upon Khadem’s hammer, I was puzzled by the nature of his artwork, and its relationship to traditional painting. Looking closely I found no evidence of brushstrokes, no sign of the artist’s touch. The image was glossy and sharp, but had Khadem merely achieved the mimesis of classical European academic painting, or was this something else entirely? And was something vital lost in the transition?

Artist Renata Spiazzi states in her artist biography that digital art “…should not imitate other media [but] should reflect the new technology”.  Certainly Spiazzi’s “Bridge” is a powerful abstract statement but how does the image reflect this new technology? 


Bridgeby Renata Spiazzi (digital)

The sharpness of the image and its glossy finish certainly bear witness to its digital birth, but beyond that I am uncertain as to how technology impacts art.  

What value is there to the human touch handling brush or palette knife? Is digital art merely a new medium, like watercolors, pastels and acrylics? Is there something special about the physical impact of the artist on the painting that a machine cannot replicate?

Gallery owners, intimately attuned to the marketplace, may perceive the difference better than I. The website digital acceptance provides a telling quotation from Spiazzi concerning her experience in finding galleries willing to handle her digital art:

“One of my trips to a gallery really surprised me with the answer I got from the gallery attendant (I hope it wasn’t the owner). When I introduced myself and told her that my medium was digital, she said, ‘Oh, but we want the hand of the artist to touch the work!’ I was upset and answered, ‘What about the artist’s MIND?’ She looked at me like I was from Mars! Michelangelo says in his poetry much the same thing: ‘La man che obbedisce all’intelletto…’ (The hand that obeys the intellect.)”

An interesting statement concerning “the hand of the artist” but I’m not sure what it means. What value is there to the human touch handling brush or palette knife? Is digital art merely a new medium, like watercolors, pastels and acrylics? Is there something special about the physical impact of the artist on the painting that a machine cannot replicate? Alternately, what does the new technology add to the creative process? I’m not sure of the answers but I recommend you visit Spiazzi’s website:  Her digital artworks are lovely, even if touched in their creation by the artist’s mind and mouse alone, not hands and fingers.  

Perhaps Maurice Hutchinson’s digital prints can provide further insights. Hutchinson starts the creative process with a penciled sketch which he then digitizes. The digitized image serves as the bottom layer and foundation of the composition. Hutchinson then digitally paints and builds successive layers of elements upon it to create the final image. Once this step in the process is completed, the digitized final image is ready to be professionally printed.


Dream Weaver by Maurice Hutchinson (digital print)

Could it be that Hutchinson transforms his traditional pen and ink sketches into something more attuned to the aesthetic sense of his audience? When the impressionists first displayed their art the critics were dismayed with its wild and unfinished nature. A generation would pass before the public’s aesthetic sense adapted. The digital artist may well be responding to an audience raised within a visual environment densely populated with digital images from digital cameras, cell phones, and the Internet. Digital recordings have altered the music we hear. Is it possible that digital art will alter the art we see?  

I realize now I entered the Digital LI arts festival with a chip on my shoulder, and prejudice in my heart, being prepared to denigrate digital art. I departed with my aesthetic sense stimulated, my interest engaged, and a plethora of unanswered questions.   I’m eager to learn more about digital art.

Related links:
Mouse Almightyby Nicole Cotroneo (The New York Times, November 4, 2007)
A glitch on the road to digital art by Aileen Jacobson (Newsday, November 4, 2007)
Digital Art Museum
Renata Spiazzi, Digital Paintings (AAASD Allied Artists Association)


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9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. warner recabaren
    Feb 05, 2008 @ 09:33:59

    Well written! Thanks for bringing to the table the question of Digital Art as fine art!


  2. MadSilence
    Feb 05, 2008 @ 22:51:20

    Thanks for your comment Warren. Digital art is very much on “the table.” It remains to be seen whether it becomes one of modernism’s many experiments or a valid artistic medium in its own right. Either way, I enjoyed the exhibition and the questions it raised.


  3. craig
    Feb 06, 2008 @ 03:08:49

    I enjoyed this article very much. I particularly liked Spiazzi’s comment ‘What about the artist’s MIND?’ when someone put down digital art.


  4. madsilence
    Feb 06, 2008 @ 03:39:08

    Thanks Craig. Visit Spiazzi’s website: her artwork is a powerful argument in favor of digital art. The “human touch” is always there, whether using mouse or brush. In the early 20th century, Alfred Stieglitz struggled to make the art world accept photography as fine art. Even so, many photographers joined the pictorialism movement, making photos look as much like hand-crafted paintings as possible. Stieglitz argued for the technology as an artistic medium in its own right.


  5. ann
    Feb 06, 2008 @ 03:54:32

    Wasn’t it Marcel Duchamp who began the questioning of “what is art” back in the Dada days? I think that most art historians have now come to believe he was right in that it is the Mind (as Renata Spiazzi so aptly puts it!) of the Artist that is the defining factor.

    ergo: if a valid artist uses digital tools, then digital art is a “valid artistic medium in its own right.”

    and who could not say that Renata Spiazzi is one of the most marvelous artists?



  6. madsilence
    Feb 07, 2008 @ 12:08:06

    Ann, Duchamp must answer for a lot, especially his Fountain. He helped lay the groundwork for modernism by challenging artistic traditions rooted in European academic art, advocating for new forms of creativity. I’m certain he would be a supporter of digital art.


  7. Barbara
    Feb 22, 2008 @ 03:39:49

    I have one of Maurice Hutchinson’s pieces and it is amazing.

    He work has a ‘healing’ quality to it and no one that has come into my home has had anything but great comments on the piece.


  8. Trackback: MadSilence
  9. Aurora
    Feb 25, 2008 @ 00:49:28

    Lovely article! I always enjoy reading things of this sort, because my photography is digital…worked in Photoshop and/or Painter, and I find that digital photographers frequently find themselves the victims of the prejudice of film “purists”. (In fact, I wrote at length about this in my own journal, here: )

    It really all boils down to “what is most important in art–to YOU”. Is it process? Then yes, non-digital art will very likely have more value to you. If it’s content–then digital and traditional art have equal value. And if it’s a combination of the two, then it’s going to depend on the piece, isn’t it–and that’s a good thing, in my book–as having to *think* about why you like a piece of art more or less than another, makes you a better art appreciator. :)


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