With technology becoming ever more developed, those devices that were previously reserved for communications – such as computers, mobile smartphones and tablets – are becoming an essential element of the creative process of art. Digital art is the umbrella term for any artistic works or practices that use digital technology as a key part of the creative/presentation process, so what is exactly does this new fangled method of creativity entail?
A Brief History of Digital Art
Also known as computer art or multimedia art, digital art has been around since the 1970s and is considered a method of new media art. Previously favoured artistic methods, such as painting, drawing, sculpture and audible arts have been transformed and repositioned in a digital environment – something that sparked mass resistance from the more traditional of creative beings.
Once the resistance subsided, artists across the globe started to embrace digital art, with some even pioneering new practices such as net art, digital installation art and virtual reality. In the modern day, the term digital art is applied to works that use some method of digitisation within their creation or, alternatively, art that uses methods of digital mass production when it comes to presentation.
What are the techniques?
There are hundreds of ways to produce digital art, but one of the most used methods is computer-generated art – also known as fractal or algorithmic art. Developed in the 1980s, computer-generated art is created by calculating fractal objects and representing the calculation results as still images, to produce a larger often abstract work of art.
Some artists however use materials from other sources to produce their work. Often images are scanned into a computer and used as an element within the final work (similar to a mash-up piece), whilst other artists work with vector graphics that are produced using a mouse or graphics tablet.
Digital paintings are also prominent in new media art. Produced in a similar way to traditional paintings, digi-paintings are created with the aid of computer software that produces pixelated brush strokes on screen or in the final print. Digital paintings are often printed as an image on canvas, just like their oil/acrylic/watercolour predecessors, or displayed on an electronic screen.
Prominent pop artist Andy Warhol was one of the first famous artists to incorporate digital art into his portfolio. Using a Commodore Amiga, he manipulated an image of Blondie front woman Debbie Harry, that was originally captured in monochrome using a video camera. He edited the image by adding colour through the method of flood fills, using an early graphics program called ProPaint. This article of Debbie Harry is widely considered one of the earliest and most notable works of digital art.
Andy Warhol’s Debbie Harry Digi-art (1985)
What can I produce on a computer?
Computer-generated visual media
Visual media generated on a computer can be divided in two categories. The first is the creation of 2D visual information that can be displayed on an electronic monitor, whilst the second is information that is mathematically translated into 3D information. The latter is usually viewed through a perspective projection on an electronic monitor.
Graphics in their simplest 2D form are created via methods that reflect how artists draw using a traditional pen and paper setup. However, digital 2D graphics are drawn electronically, using a graphics tablet with a stylus or a mouse, but the final images still appear as a realistic painting or pencil drawing whilst on display on screen.
Meanwhile 3D imagery is created by using using geometric shapes in the production of three-dimensional objects and other scenes that can be ultimately used in sister media, such as film, game design or print, amongst others.
Computer-generated animated imagery
Animated digital imagery is usually produced using models that are created by specialist 3D artists. Computer-generated animated imagery is known in the film industry as CGI, and is often used in the production of special effects for the likes of the movies in the Harry Potter franchise and in Marvel films such as Iron Man and Avengers Assemble, amongst others. Computer images have been in used in movies since the 1970s, although it wasn’t until the late 90s/early 2000s that CGI became advanced enough to create animated images that looked impressively realistic.
Digital installation art
Digital installation art is often interactive, in that viewers can manipulate the art to put their own personal stamp on the installation. Most digital installations involve the use of projections or live video capture, but there are also many other techniques utilised in the production of installation art. Digital installations are a particularly good method for those artist-imagined pieces that wish to play on the viewer’s senses. Fruin’s (2003) installation at the University of Illinois in Chicago, US – entitled The Cave Automatic Virtual Environment – is a prime example of digital installation art.
With many subtypes beneath the umbrella of digital art – such as motion graphics, music visualisation, pixel art and others – this field will continue to grow alongside the further development of technology. As an already interesting field, creatives and fans of art can only become even more intrigued by the notion of digital art; it will be interesting to see which technology becomes the next virtual canvas.
Vicky works alonside Stuart Morris, a design and print studio. She is a keen illustrator and craft enthusiast who writes a range of art and design history articles as well as how-to tutorials.