I recently purchased a new car. It's my first with a lot of technological wizardry. Assorted bells and whistles that we know no one really needs to get from point A to B. Why then? I must admit, much of it is cumbersome and the old me likes simplicity, while the new me tries not to be left behind. Yes, my smart phone is smarter than me. But, if we progressively learn to grow with technology,
it can make life simpler and often even better. The key is holding onto the basics, while navigating through the process of evolution.
Art has experienced a technological evolution too. It is all around us, despite what many artists think. As pure as you may think you are to your creative process, you have progressed wildly from the olden days. In fact, many artists seem to be dragged kicking and screaming into a new world, leaving behind the so called "traditional" ways of the old masters. I get it.
I also understand that first there was darkness, then a candle and then a light bulb. A pretty straight-hand-drawn line, then a perfect one made with a ruler. Hand mixing paint with ground pigment, egg yokes and water, and today paint from a tube. Water came from a river and now a faucet. We all have accepted technology throughout history and my guess is that if the old masters had what we have today, they would have used it too.
That proof lies in a look at the past, with Dutch masters using "camera obscura" in the 17th century. A more modern master, Norman Rockwell, used both photography to shoot his models and a balopticon, or what we now know as an overhead projector, to trace a basic layout of his work to be painted. He was quick to mention that many revisions would then be made to his sketch and he said, "Painting from photographs can be a wholly creative performance if the artist himself is creative." I welcome anyone to tell me that Norman Rockwell wasn't a master painter and easily one of the most creative and narrative artists in history. He understood the advantages of technology and where he would draw the line. No pun intended!
Even if any of us tries, what we could never replicate in the old master's work is their life with mud streets, polio, no antibiotics or flu shots and most certainly not enjoying the abundant food supply we take for granted today. Old masters were often starving artists because food was much harder to come by. I'll take the modern world, thank you very much.
The creative key is not the purity of the old masters, it's the purity of creative basics and keeping mindful of where the boundary line is for you and your collectors. Andy Warhol seemed to use anything and everything in the creation of his artwork, including lifting other photographer's photographs! He is considered one of the greatest pop artists of all time. I personally think he overstepped the boundaries of originality, but there's little question of his creativity. Confusing isn't it?
Today, some of the best-known artists I know, even ones that lead the charge on painting en plein air, at times strongly depend on photography and even digital manipulation of their photos through Photoshop. I personally use the advancement of water soluble oil paint and there are many other examples of technological progression that could be named.
Recently though, I was exposed to a pet artist that I felt was really crossing all the boundaries. I will not mention his name here, but I knew looking at his paintings that they were nothing more than 100% photo manipulation or digital paintings. Using a stylus and software, he makes his photo of a pet sort of look as though it was painted. While he does call the final product an original, technically it is really nothing more than a print, as the original itself only lives in a digital world and can only be created as such.
Here's the kicker though. On his website, he is completely and descriptively honest about his process, thus making me feel there's no problem with it at all. He is using technology to its fullest and proud of it. His collectors can easily choose to embrace his process or not. This single act of being transparent itself validates a new creative boundary for him.
Don't think this is all simply about visual art either. Actors, dancers and singers use impressive lighting to bring drama and illusion, recording artists and producers are using voice auto-tuning, there are electric pianos instead of those heavy ones with all those strings inside. Hell, even a roll of paper towels is a painting advancement from the old days of a rag. Technology creeps slowly upon us.
In the end, all forms of creative expression are choices and how you as an artist chooses to use or not use technology is a personal one. Being realistic about the technology you already use is being honest with yourself, and being open-minded about the other technology at your disposal may expand your horizons. I feel understanding basics is a good and necessary foundation and doing what is comfortable for you from there is the key to your personal growth as an artist.