#6: DIGITAL ART NOW--A Talk with Don Archer

The State of Digital Art (March 2007)
DON ARCHER is himself a digital artist, and he is the co-founder and director of MOCA, the famous digital art site. This guy has been at the epicenter of the digital scene for the past decade. Who else, I thought, knows more about digital art than Don Archer? So I was quite pleased when he agreed to a little chat on Where Digital Is Today:
Bruce Deitrick Price: What's the most surprising aspect of today's digital art scene, the aspect you didn't see coming 5 years ago???

Don Archer: The discovery that digital artists are desperate for validity and are willing to pay for representation on high-quality, respected sites.

BDP: I had to laugh. I meant the biggest surprise inside the art, within the frame. In the digital sensibility or approach. Or within the digital community. Please comment on that.

Don: No great surprises but wonderment:
-- That 3D rendered art has failed to achieve its promise
-- That algorithmic (mathematical art) is alive and flourishing
-- That manipulated photography retains its potency
-- That computer-mediated hand-drawn art remains a viable alternative to conventional painted or drawn art.

BDP: "No great surprises" means you are seeing what you expected, more or less...Okay. Let's talk about 3D. I believe I expected more from that also. Why hasn't it happened? "Its promise," you say. What was its promise? Who made that promise?

Don: 3D graphics has gone to commercial animation, to Hollywood, to TV and games. What artist in his right mind would want to compete? Can you even breathe as the next news, talk or sports event is introduced on your TV screen by the imbecilic cascading of text and image? It takes the air out of the room.
I'm going back to real art, like paper-cutting--or maybe fractals.

BDP: When I speak of 3D, I mean, for example, the piece that won your October ‘06 contest ("The Fiction Dependent Upon All Fictions" by Peter Ciccariello). Here we see strong forms, aggressive shadows and realistic depths. In my mind, this is a digital artist beating traditional artists at their own game. I've always suspected that this sort of 3D, harnessed to make fine art, would be digital's future. Your feelings?

Don: I agree! But this artist attended graphic/design school seriously, has worked in commercial art for years, is talented, experienced and sophisticated in his art. His 2D art is very accomplished too. There are very few who can bring his skill set to this sort of thing. (Werner Hornung, who shared First Prize with him, is similarly endowed.) Most 3D work that I see are models drawn in Poser or are conventional sea, sky, mountainous, and/or medieval landscapes drawn in popular 3D programs.

It would seem that these programs would unleash the artist's potential, as the effects are breath-taking, but it seems ultimately they put a block to creativity, possibly because they do too much of the artist's work. For interesting 3D abstract art or sculpture, see Chaim Asch, an Israeli artist whose work appears in both recent contests and in a featured exhibit via our index page. He uses 3D MAX, largely a 3D architectural rendering program (Asch is an architect). But Asch's work is "difficult", almost deliberately so, and lacks dramatic scale, a self-imposed, limiting constraint that does him no good, in my view. Other artists may work this vein to more powerful effect.

BDP: Good! I think we've got the future of 3D settled. Let's skip to your wonderment that "manipulated photography retains its potency." Does it? Has it evolved? Or is it new ways of doing same-old, same-old?

Don: I would have to talk about particular artists to explore this question in depth (Hornung, Scheuhammer, Rouse and many, many others, all of whom are leading digital artists). But generally speaking in reviewing the many images submitted here over the last year or two, fully one-third incorporate photographic elements to a greater or lesser degree. It is not so much that "manipulated photography has retained its potency" (although that is true) but that the photographic image is the linqua franca of so many artists, who feel free to appropriate it and put it to use in their art, either grandly or minimally. Overlay and collage are the primary techniques. Images are often leavened by darkness. Call it Surrealism, but I think artists may be lightening up. Of course the universality of the digital camera has put the option of photography into every artist's bag of tricks and treats. It's almost as if it's Halloween time on the digital art front.

BDP: By lightening up, do you mean they’re wittier? They have more fun? Why is this?

Don: More fun! Sinister is easy. Like smog it cripples the view. Lightside requires more genius.

BDP: Okay, let me like Joyce in Finnegans Wake return “by commodius vicus of recirculation” to where we started: what in the last several years surprised you most, digitally speaking? One thing.

Don: Gays have come out of the closet. Not digital art! It's still a secret vice we practice.

BDP: And what will be the big surprise of the next several years?

Don: When digital art hits it big at Christie's and Sotheby's.

BDP: Excellent. Thanks very much.

Don Archer's site is: MOCA.virtual.museum.

P.S: MOCA (Museum of Computer Art) just completed its annual digital art contest, which they call THE DONNIE. I was asked to be a judge in this contest. It was difficult to pick the winners. I urge you to take a few minutes to view at least the eight WINNERS (click here). These will give you a good sense of some of the major directions in digital art today.