Getting assigned to write this piece felt a bit funny. I used to write as a hobby, and as a kid, I’d get myself in trouble for being so opinionated. Yet here I am, struggling to write an opinion piece!
Because I want to spare Mign, Emman and Abby from telling me off about this, I dedicate my Tuesday afternoon to finally sitting down and writing. I go down to one of the many coffee shops across the street from ours, get myself a pot of extra strong coffee and type these words out as they occur in my head, without any real direction. You will soon find out why I consider this dangerous, but you asked for it.
The hours pass and multiple cars drive by in front of me — some posh, some battered, some in-between — I even see one with a little stuffed blue bear hanging from the bottom of the rear bumper. Hopefully both the driver and the bear owner know about it, otherwise I would feel sorry for the driver. All sorts of people walk by – office folk, wait staff, many families of different ethnicities, the occasional nanny pushing buggies with little feet sticking out of them. Being in this environment while Spotify instrumentals blast through my ears to block out the noise of traffic and pretentious café chatter; it was so tempting to write about something existential. . . like “What is the meaning of life?” or maybe “How do I help bring about world peace?” but, I thought; well we already know the answer to those, right? It’s “42!” I’m not sure why people continue to ponder these questions when there are lots more pressing life truths to pursue, like “what should I have for lunch?” and “are these really salad leaves I am eating or the dead rat from 10 years ago that may have fertilized the soil in which this lettuce grew on?”
The Creative’s Paradox
But seriously, I’ll get to the point now. There has been (what I think is) a paradox that’s been bugging me for a while now. (The designers might care to give me their thoughts, but they are welcome to dismiss me as the office grandma. No obligations!) That is the whole discrimination against digital art as being inferior to traditional art.
Over the past 10 years, I’ve dabbled on and off with creative activities such as painting and photography. As with a lot of hobbies, there seems to be a natural tendency for people to generally find affirmation that their output is good (enough), to compete against perceived equals, or to seek out better-skilled others in the hope of learning. A combination of these hopes always lands me in organizations of some sort — a couple of camera clubs, online photography forums, ‘artjam’ groups (and factions!) and, well, hashtag results!
(Snooty) Traditional Purists
A common theme in these groups seem to be how people turn their noses up at digital ‘shortcuts’ and ‘cheats’. A photographer is considered macho if they shoot purely on manual mode, adjusting the settings with every shot on their $2000 cameras. A portraitist can charge more for every head on a painting if they draw from live models vs a photo reference. Photographers obsess about not post-processing their photos, and illustrators are way cooler if they use watercolor and not Adobe Illustrator.
I’d be a hypocrite if I say there isn’t a part of me that judges every time someone admits to applying Photoshop actions on their shots, or when I realize an Instagram account is of a digital artist and not a water-colorist. It’s embarrassing how I find myself checking metadata on Flickr, peering closely at photos and artwork just to discern the media used, because honestly, when you read opinions from these judgmental idiots way too much, it does create a part of you that becomes judgmental. We are, after all, the average of the five people we surround ourselves with, and I feel like the same is true for me with art communities. You tend to adopt the values of your peers, even though sometimes, internal scrutiny of your own views might reveal something else. I get the whole romance around handwriting versus typing out a letter, of creating with the hands rather than machines.
The Craft and Mastery of Digital Arts
Truth be told, I’ve not properly added Photoshop to my photography toolbox because I realized I sucked at it. It’s a whole new skill set to master. That’s why there are people who make a living out of selling their action sets, which, by the way, still need some amount of tweaking to your own taste. And this is the first time I am sharing to anyone how my first experience with an Apple pencil went: it made me feel like a first-grader. Seriously, people who do calligraphy and illustrate purely with that thing have some mad skills! I’m sure youngsters realize this, but I’m here to tell you that from my generation, the discrimination exists.
With my entire working life being around projects that develop applications that aim to make people’s lives easier, to make communication faster, and to cut out manual aspects of information processing, I agree that it’s such a disgrace when people buy expensive cameras but shoot only on manual, ignoring the ‘bells and whistles’ which took a lot of research and development resources to create, an effort that they funded with their purchase.
That said, do I dare shoot on automatic mode around my camera club? Do I dare bring up pursuing digital art in front of my watercolor-loving, oil-painting artist friends? The honest answer is no. This hypocrite is still a herd animal, and it gets old having to take the soap box every time I air an opinion.
*Stepping off the soap box now*