Don Archer Takes On Brooklyn

Nov. 9, 2011: I asked Don Archer,  one of digital art's main impresarios, to tell me how his Brooklyn gallery was going. This is his report on : MOCA: Museum of Computer Art / Brooklyn:

"MOCA was a virtual museum since its founding in 1993. As director, I craved a physical space. Money being tight in the digital realm, I scoured the New York real estate market for a suitably inexpensive location to house the museum. Manhattan was prohibitively priced, so I turned to the next best option,  the borough of Brooklyn, where indeed art communities had sprouted and prospered. Finally, I located a new space on the edge of Park Slope, a gentrifying area, reasonable in size and space. I installed handsome track lighting,  modern furniture, and two large output monitors for slideshows and videos.

Over three years I sponsored some 18 shows, solicited art from around the world, printed it at a local shop, framed and mounted it against the fresh white walls. It was all very proper and elegant. We held opening parties for each show. We were showing art from some of the world's most distinguished digital artists. I managed almost everything myself, with the help of one or two volunteers. Everybody loved the space, including myself.

Alas, sales were slim. The rent escalated.  Expenses multiplied. After three years, I gave up the ghost, fearful that I was endangering the virtual art site, which was the germ after all of the physical idea. Hubris? Perhaps. If I had the time and money, I would try it again. Digital art deserves it. As of now, we're entirely virtual, and thriving. We're very much alive at: http://moca.virtual.museum "




*****just added--10: BE FREE, SMART & CREATIVE
9: "A Passion for Pixels"--Show on Long Island
8: Software, Hard Heads
7: Low Tech Meets High Tech
6: The State of Digital Art 2007--DON ARCHER Speaks
5: Big Shots Ignore Columnist (Yo, what's up with digital?)
4: What About Algorithms, Fractals And Programmed Art??
3: Death To Photoshop????? What!!!!!
2: Already Twelve Kinds Of Digital Art
(earliest) 1: What’s All This Talk About Digital Art?


I put a short piece on Creativity-Portal.com that explores the link between freedom, creativity and education...

I'm sure you could be a great musician without knowing how to read. You could probably be a great painter without much schooling. But I want to push the thesis that, for most people most of the time, education is primal. The more education the better, no matter whether you are creating art or appreciating art. Facts, wild and crazy, are often the best inspiration of all.

Furthermore, we can’t have a free society if we have a dumb society.

Here are the two most astonishing things to me: our public schools specialize in dumbing people down. Our myopic media specialize in pretending not to notice!

Both of these things are dangerous to the future of our country. I urge everyone to take a greater interest in education, to learn more about the issues and jargon. Here’s a good place to start: “41: Educators, O. J. Simpson, and Guilt” on Improve-Education.org.

Job One: let’s liberate the public schools from the anti-intellectuals who control the Education Establishment.

Labels: , , ,


9: A PASSION FOR PIXELS--Islip Art Museum, N.Y.

I was invited to curate a digital art show at the Islip Art Museum in Sayville, New York (Long Island). I named the show "A Passion for Pixels." Fifty-two artists are on display June 18 to September 7th (2008).

The main thing that has struck me about digital over the last 10 years is that most people understand nothing about it. Sadly, the local media do a dreadful job of explaining. So, one of my concerns about this show is that it be educational.

Instead of Realism, Abstract and such, I tried to group the works according to how much digital they contained and the methods used. For example, the biggest room is titled “The Altered Image” and contains, as a note explains, only works that started with a digital photograph which was then altered in a program such as Photoshop. I’m betting that even a simple device like this pulls visitors into the digital process. I like to imagine they go home talking like connoisseurs.

The main thing to report about the show is that digital has moved quickly from being an exotic new medium to being another option that adventurous artists toss into the mix. A big percentage of the work was digital IN SOME SENSE. I and the two people helping me would often stare at a piece asking, “Wait, is that part digital??” Boundaries have become a blur.

Also interesting, a number of pieces referenced pixels but were done in traditional media. Didn’t expect that!!

Mary Lou Cohalan, the Director of the Islip Art Museum, commented: "This show is a crash course in digital art. Bruce Price, our insightful curator, is also a noted educator. He has put together a wonderful exhibition that is strong on aesthetics and long on digital education. There have already been tours and people respond well."
Reception, Sunday, July 27, 1-4 pm. IslipArtMuseum.org

Labels: , ,


8: Software, Hard Heads

Say you want to plunge (deeper) into digital. You might start by visiting digitalart.org to look at all the sci-fi, goth, fantasy and commercial stuff being done. No matter what your goals, it’s inspiring to see what some of these “pixel pushers” can do. (Digital drawing by Mazhar Sadiq.)

If you register to put art on that site, there's a pull-down menu to indicate your software. It lists more than 135 programs! With names like Blender, Chaos Pro, Maya, Curvey 3D, Satori. I’m always amazed there are so many. Each has its own personality and bag of tricks. (I’ve played with only a fraction but I’ll nominate ZBrush from Pixologic as the program that most gives you the sensation that you are dealing with genius.)

Remember, you can get a trial version of anything on the planet. I’d say download several and play, play, play. You can make something interesting with even the minor programs. Check this out: I somehow built a whole career on two programs so minor they are NOT on that pull-down menu. How’s it even possible?

The beginning, about 1996, was PhotoMaker, now called Color It!, from Microfrontier. A wonderful small program; I could have spent a lifetime with this thing. But at that time it didn’t have layers, which I thought I needed. (The developers kept saying they would build a new site with a gallery of my early work. Not yet.)

The weird luck continued. I’m a Gemini, I like schizoid things, so I fell in love with the early ads for Canvas: IT DOES EVERYTHING. I finally bought Canvas 7, 8, 9 and 10. All the art I placed in 35 shows was done on Canvas, with seasoning from ZBrush and Eye Candy. It seems I was the only artist in the world using Canvas for fine art. The owners, in Miami, said, “Great. We’ll show your work on our site.” But at that moment they sold to a company in Vancouver. People who decided to market the world’s most versatile program as a one-trick pony: technical illustration. To me they said: “Art???” These Canadians decided that technical illustrators wouldn’t care to know what the program can do around the edges. Hey, Canvas, you broke my heart, but I still love your program.

Here’s my second, even bigger digital disappointment. You’d never guess. Timex. I had many a Timex analog, the best cheap business watch made. Back around 1990, I started salivating: “Boy, it’ll be SO great to see what Timex does with the digital watch. I can’t wait!” I’m still waiting. Timex, Casio and the rest evidently decided that digital was synonymous with 1) ugly and 2) hard to use. (I bought a bunch.) Timex, you great American company, what are you thinking? I wish l had been your design strategist all these years; help keep you ahead of the competition. I do consult. (I just redesigned my art site ArtNorfolk.com, trying to make it aggressively elegant and easy to use--which is what your watches should be.)

BTW: ArtNorfolk.com now shows three kinds of art, not just digital.


7: Low Tech Meets High Tech

An unexpected thing happened on the way to 8,000 hours of making digital art. My left hand demanded to be placed on the disabled list.

I thought: why not draw with a pen, with the right hand, to help make it more coordinated...Another unexpected thing happened. I ended up exploring this very old medium as if it were some brave new technology. I made experimental art with pens as I had made it with digital tools--aim for new kinds of beauty; try not to repeat myself; and, as Andre Gide put it, hope that God does the heavy lifting. I lost a hand but got a nice concept show out of this, called Low Tech/ High Tech (ink drawings, digital paintings), which took place in May, 2007.

I mention this personal saga here to touch on one particular point. Making art with a pen turned out to be, for me, SURPRISINGLY the same as making art with digital tools. Basically, my instinctive strategy is to subvert a medium, to make it do things that are bizarre and unexpected, and that maybe not many other artists are doing. Turns out I'm a natural-born experimentalist, in the tradition of Breton and Max Ernst. Digital is great for that kind of artist because you can try wild ideas at a rapid pace. Ink is also good. Surprise.

Sad thought: I find that the public hardly understands digital art at all--in particular, there is an unfortunate tendency to assume the art is somehow in the computer. It's not. No more than my new drawings are somehow in the pen!

Software companies did a great disservice to digital by sending out bogus press releases which seemed to suggest that the program makes the art. Bull. So I'll say again what I've been saying all along: paint or pixels, Artists Make Art.

Now I'm becoming right-handed. If your own mouse hand is starting to go, here's a happy thought: you've got back-up. A whole new hand. (I'd recommend to the digital world, start becoming ambidextrous now.)

To see both low and high tech, visit Price.myexpose.com (then Gallery, page 4). Low Tech/High Tech can be viewed by appointment at Word-Wise Modern, Norfolk, Va., 757-455-5020. Images above enlarge when clicked. Titles are: Civilization and its discontents; Enigma; Mist)


#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.


#5--Big Shots Ignore Columnist. World Stunned
(or: Yo, what’s up with digital?)

Okay, this is the column where I bitch and moan. Why? Because there are powerful forces in the digital world that don’t give a damn what I think. Yes, hard to believe! Naturally I want you to sympathize with me, and sneer in disdain at these powerful forces. I’m sure you want to, and I appreciate that, but we must be coldly professional here. These are big shots, as you’ll see, whereas I’m just a talky artist. Not only that, I’ve been rejected by these powerful forces, not once but twice. First, by a show, and second, when I asked if they had a comment for this column. No, apparently they don’t. What, just because I’m not the New York Times? Not that the old gray lady has anything to say as interesting as what I’m serving up. Question is, can my judgment be trusted? Well, let me make my case, i.e. present my digital vision, and we’ll see how you feel.

THE BACK STORY--By 1997, I had my second computer, a PowerMac, I was spending thousands of hours experimenting, and my vision for the digital era was fully formed. A new kind of art would come from this machine. There was no point in having a camera and messing with photography--that was part of the past. There was no point in having a scanner and putting in stuff from the real world. That was adulteration. The point, it seemed to me, was to work on a blank screen--to use new pixels to make new art. I was sure that all digital artists would embrace this credo: digital art must be about the exploration of what had never been possible before. Oddly, some of the leading players didn’t exactly share this vision. What??!

LACDA--What a thrill when I read about the Los Angeles Center for Digital Art. Even the names are startling, both names. LACDA....a wild woman from Latvia, no doubt. But my God, this place keeps having shows where half the stuff is photography. They even gave Best in Show to a woman whose work was--children, cover your ears--mostly PAINT. I don’t get the point. I wrote to the Director asking what’s going on. Here’s my email: “LACDA calls itself a center for digital art but a lot of the art you show is basically photographic in nature or even more retro, sort of mixed media where digital is less than 50% of the art--is this because there isn't enough really good pure digital art being made? Or the owners really don't want to face making a sheep-from-goats decision?? Or what??? Your last solicitation welcomes photography that uses even a little digital. But almost all photography uses a little digital these days. There's photo and art galleries for this work, right? Why the adulteration? Why confuse the public? Or why not educate the public about how this new medium is different from what came before? The only answer I can come up with is that you don't find enough great digital art. Is that the case?”

As of press time, no comment. (Visit LACDA.COM)

BITFORMS--Oh so hip bitforms, in Manhattan and now Korea. Nothing could be cooler than this place. Think Soho. Right off the bat, about five years ago, they were ambitious enough to launch a big PR blitz. A long article got into my local paper. I was spellbound. Look, the digital revolution is happening! But something nagged. A lot of space was spent explaining and extolling a piece of “digital art” that asked all the people entering a theater to turn in their cell phone numbers; at a designated time a computer would randomly call them. The resulting rings were the art. First, it almost had to be mere cacophony. But that’s not my theoretical objection. A bunch of bingo ladies, sitting around a table at the local church, could dial those numbers--same randomness, same music. Digital not required. So where the hell is the digital art? Nowhere. It’s pure conceptual art. (Of course, it’s much cheaper to do with a computer but that’s a secondary issue.) Here’s what I wrote to the Director of Bitfoms: “Do you think of the art in your gallery as primarily digital art or it is often/sometimes primarily conceptual art or modern art or hip Soho art or what? My own tendency when I'm shown digital art is to wonder, well, could that be done non-digitally or pre-digitally? If it could, then why call it digital art? Do you ponder the same questions?”

No comment. (Visit BITFORMS.COM. You will see some cutting edge digital and also some art that is hip, modern, trendy, weird...but digital?)

PURDUE UNIVERSITY GALLERIES--The art gallery at Purdue University had a very ambitious, very heavily promoted show in 2005 called Digital Concentrate. I eagerly entered and hoped to be selected. This show had a fancy booklet and several hifalutin essays, so I could really meditate on what had excluded me. Mainly it wasn’t a digital art show. Everything was video and installation and conceptual art. So I sent this note to the Director of the Purdue Gallery: “It was a fine show; I'm sure people enjoyed it. But digital concentrate? What was concentrated? The ads, entry form and promo made me think that all the art would be focused on what digital can do. That the show would be, like me, engaged with pure digital. But to my eyes it seemed more a conceptual art show. Is this a trivial point? If you think so, say so. I'm just trying to stir up discussion. But I feel digital cannot be about the past. Wasn't that same sensibility big in the 1980's? Sure, the tools are often digital but they could as well have been movie cameras or projectors. It's idea art, right? Academia seems to love this. We look at it because there's a clever concept and because the execution is striking. Those seemed to me to be the first two requirements. Digital came in third. But many of those effects could have been done pre-digital. So where's the digital concentrate? That's my question.”

No comment. (View this show at: http://www.cla.purdue.edu/galleries/digital_concentrate/index.htm)

Wrapping up: I saw digital as NEW but these people shoehorned digital into ongoing agenda and categories. But, hey, maybe these big shots are just improvising day to day. An artist walks in with something new and interesting, digital was used at some point, so the gallery says, great, we love it. Should they be purists? I just have to state my suspicion that art history will look back at this as a period of dithering. When I see photographs at a digital art show, or conceptual art being called digital art, it feels to me like beer at a wine tasting....As for my vision, the one where this new medium must be about the exploration of what had never been possible before, well, I still think it’s true. Technology keeps booming along. The 3D stuff gets more interesting. Great digital art won’t be some crossbreed of previous artistic activities, some flashback or recap. You’ll know you’re looking into the future’s crazy blue eyes....As for big shots, I’m sorry they didn’t join the discourse. The public needs more discussion, not less. That’s what I hope I’m doing here--pumping up the volume of the dialogue.
Note: previous column dealt with fractals. Three people have left smart comments (thank you!), one a list of other fractal artists. If fractals interest you, please see this list by clicking COMMENTS at end of Column #4 (below). I particularly have to commend Jock Cooper's MECHANICAL GALLERY because 1) I like machinery and 2) this work is so different from what most people associate with the word "fractals."