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Is "Digital Art" an Oxymoron?

Oxymoron - A figure of speech that combines contradictory terms (Wikipedia).

Even now, more than 60 years after the early rumblings of the digital explosion, there are still some who view the combined labels "digital" and "art" as a contradiction in terms, something that doesn't exist.  At least three issues appear to generate this response.

First, art is generally assumed to be "created" by human beings manipulating physical media or instruments, while digital activities are thought to be semi-automated machine-generated operations. Second, "real" artists get their hands dirty or calloused  working directly with brushes, pigments and chisels, while digital artists could wear white gloves.  Third, while the skills required to create classical paintings or sculpture are profoundly difficult and require years to master, digital operations are easy and require little learning and effort, because they are mostly handled by a smart machine rather than the artist.

And of course in the way things go, film photography (analog) has finally attained the possibility of being accepted as art, while the new digital camera and computer output is considered reportage or documentation or "snap shots," but not art.

Instead of taking on these assumptions directly, I'd like to characterize some of my own and others' "digital art" processes and we'll see if these assumptions hold true.

My pictorial art, as with many other artists, begins with a photograph of an object or scene, or a scan of a photo or a sketch or even a three-dimensional object such as a flower.  Any of these operations gets the object into the digital realm.  But these operations in themselves constitute an artistic operation if one defines art as Wikipedia does, as, "The product or process of deliberately arranging items (often with symbolic significance) in a way that influences and affects one or more of the senses, emotions, and intellect."  For example, the technical and artistic skills in using a camera well, and the decisions that must be made, can require years to study and learn.

Once the subject is in the computer, additional decisions and operations may be performed to refine the image, such as modifying its colors or contrast or composition.  As in traditional art, the possibilities and choices are almost endless.  For example, Photoshop, a high-end image manipulation computer program used by many digital artists, supports hundreds of operations, very few of which are automated without the artist's input and control.

And the activity of printing the image or preparing it for online viewing are highly technical and artistic operations requiring study and practice.

Like a "traditional" painter, I am constantly developing and refining my style, my modality and my choice of subject matter and its presentation.

In the end, the proper question isn't, "Is 'digital art' really art?," just as the proper question was never, "Is Cubist or Impressionistic art really art?"  The question really is "have the items in this image been deliberately arranged in a way that influences and affects one or more of the senses, emotions, and intellect?"

Robert Wilkinson,, 2011