Digital Aesthetic v.3_pg2 | WebReference

Digital Aesthetic v.3_pg2


The Digital Aesthetic v.3
page 2


Physicality of the Med

When we speak of a medium's physicality, exactly what are we referring to? Physicality refers to the physical presence that a work of art has. Paintings often have a physical presence due to the texture of the brush strokes and the way the paint was applied. In contrast, photographs usually have less of a physical presence, as their smooth surface creates an illusionistic window we can look through, diverting our attention away from their physical characteristics.

The physicality of a work is important to consider in that it dictates a certain distance or immediacy in a work of art as it reveals itself to the viewer. This process of revealing or uncovering is inherent in the various mediums themselves, and it is important to have the proper expectations before you decide to work within this or that medium.

Consider your initial response when you come upon a sculpture, compared with that of viewing a painting or photograph. Imagine coming upon a sculpture, either in a museum, or outdoors. Regardless of whether you pictured a figurative piece such as a Rodin, or an abstract work of Alexander Calder, the sculpture will present itself to you in a specific way, making unique demands of how you are to make sense of it. Consider the way it occupies space. It has a three-dimensional presence, it does not simply hang on a wall, or act as a "window" through which you are to see the subject. This "inside-outside" dynamic, with you on the inside, looking out the window at the painting or photograph, does not occur when viewing sculpture. Because two-dimensional mediums often ask us to look through onto another world, there is a certain amount of distance created between the viewer and the subjects being viewed. While in this viewer mode, we often feel like something of a voyeur, in that we can see the subjects, although they cannot see us. Sculpture removes any sense of distance from between us and the image being viewed. We are no longer observing an object from a distance; it is here, in the room with us, right now. It can see us just as easily as we can see it.

Digital media looks like photography in most respects. The detail, format, and feel of the print often leads us to mistake one for the other. When we try to approach digital art as a form of photography, another dynamic becomes very clear to us, fundamentally affecting the way we look at digital art. In v.1 I talked about photography being the official recorder of our life and times. Almost from it s inception, photographs were considered as true reflections of reality. They were admissible as evidence in a court of law, considered valid forms of identification, and printed in the newspapers as proof that events actually happened. (Whether or not this is true, it is the perception of the viewing public that is important in this example.) The digital image makes a decided break with this tradition by seamlessly manipulating reality. One looks at a computer generated photograph and realizes immediately that what he is looking at is fabrication rather than truth. Consider the comments of Geoffrey Batchen, from a recent article in Aperture Magazine:

"The difference seems to be that, whereas photography claims a spurious objectivity, digital imaging remains an overtly fictional process. As a practice that is known to be nothing but fabrication, digitization abandons even the rhetoric of truth that has been such an important part of photography's cultural success."

So digital art not only lacks the physical presence of painting and sculpture, it also lacks the convincing reality once held by photography. These are defining characteristics of this new medium, and they are components that all digital artists should be aware of.

I'll pick this thread up in the next installment....


Created: Dec 12, 1998
Revised: Dec 12, 1998