One day, artist G. Michael Novak contacted me because he wanted to chat about his work, Digital Art. He feels that it’s neglected and disrespected by the art world in general and wanted to dispel some myths and notions. One look at his work https://www.gmichaelnovak.com/ alone can clear that up. However, we did indeed chat and I found myself learning about what Michael does and why it’s just as valid as any other method of creating art …
“… Nothing can change the fact that the actual artistic vision used to create works of Digital Art is the same as any other artist and his/her work. The only difference is that we use different tools to bring that artistic vision to reality ...”
MICHAEL: Hello Michael, We should start by saying that you contacted me and wanted to talk about digital art. How do we define digital art? I take it that means it's mainly digitally-created and not actual paint on canvas or paper?
GMN: Hello Michael. Yes, I did contact you. I was delighted to encounter your website but, as I mentioned when I first contacted you, there did not seem to be much attention being paid to Digital Art. This is not unusual - relatively few people seem to have a clear understanding or appreciation of the medium - but I always hope the possibility exists for improving that situation.
Part of the problem, as indicated by your first question, is that there does not seem to be a clear-cut definition for Digital Art. To simply suggest that it is any art utilizing or requiring the involvement of a computer reduces the discussion to “Oh . . . okay.” There is actually quite a bit more to it than that and a lot of variety in terms of style. Most people are familiar with computer aided drawing. Few motion pictures these days are produced without the benefit, however small, of Computer Generated Imagery or CGI. We are also very familiar with computer graphics being used throughout all forms of media. Another area wherein there is broad awareness and acceptance is the area of computer enhanced photography. Photo-manipulation is both common and well received. Just about everyone I know has played with their photographs, using Photoshop or a similar program, at least once.
MICHAEL: Yes. And this is all digital art?
GMN: Where things start to get a little confusing and a little contentious, is when you start to talk about “Digital Fine Art.” Vector Art, Fractal Art, Algorithmic Art, Digital Collage and more are all being explored by many enterprising artists today. The area wherein I do most of my work is that of Natural Media Digital Art, specifically abstract expressionism. Now, in many ways, the work I do on the computer these days is quite similar to what I used to paint on canvas. It’s just a whole lot cleaner and the house doesn't smell like paint thinner.
MICHAEL: And so, what does your process actually involve? You're not sitting in front of a canvas and painting, so does that mean you're creating art on your iPad or desktop?
GMN: By comparison to some of the other, more sophisticated digital artists I have encountered, my work process is pretty primitive. I begin the majority of my work in MSPaint. I start with a blank screen - much the same as I used to start with a blank canvas - and begin to build the foundation of the work. Again, unlike some of those other digital artists who are using the newer digital brushes and styluses, I still work with a wireless mouse.
Once the work begins to show a definitive form, I import the image into Photoshop. I am still using one of the first generation editions of that program, but it seems to work for me. In Photoshop, I will add layers and manipulate the image until the voices in my head yell “STOP.” Seriously, as any artist will tell you, a piece of work is never truly finished; you just reach a point where you have to stop.
The finished work is then printed on either paper or canvas, by one of the new large format digital printers. The quality of the Giclee process is well known and I am usually very pleased with the output. If ever I am not, it is more often my fault and not that of the printer. I prefer to print on high quality watercolour paper, but I have had some success with canvas.
MICHAEL: The only issue with digital art is that there are no originals. Of course, I'm sure you do extremely limited editions, but with digital art, I'm not sure I'd trust anyone who'd say I'm getting an original ... even if I saw you actually destroy the file after you created the original work. Your thoughts?
GMN: That is probably the objection I have heard most often. While I, in fact, only print any image once, the potential does exist to make thousands - all it requires is the push of a button.
However, there are two issues with this question. The first is the assumption that all artists, or at least all digital artists, are basically corrupt. In fairness, the art world is one of the most fraudulent environments out there. Forgeries, unlimited “limited editions,” artificially created values, etc. However, there are also honourable individuals involved in all facets of the business. Digital artists included.
The second assumption is that the only reason to purchase art lies in its potential to increase in value. Or, at least, it is the only reason to recommend that anyone else purchase it. The idea - obsession - of art as investment has been artificially created by the galleries, auction houses and art consultants as a way of guaranteeing their own success and survival. As for the actual artists, we would all be much more appreciated if we produced relatively few works and then had the good manners to die young.
If, on the other hand, the underlying purpose of art rests in its enjoyment, then digital art is no different. No matter how many times the button gets pushed.
MICHAEL: Yes, but I own LOTS of original art and I think most collectors would prefer owning original works even if they do NOT increase in value. At least they're original. Otherwise, I may as well go to Target and buy a poster.
GMN: That’s an excellent idea for those people who know little about art. That’s decoration and Target/Walmart/Ikea do it very well. What we are talking about here is ART. The issue you raised is one of exclusivity, not artistic merit. I agree with you that the fewer pieces of work you have available for sale - theoretically - the more each of them is worth. Again, we are talking monetary value here, not artistic. The artistic value exists or doesn't regardless of the price paid for it. I simply started offering my work in editions of 1/1 out of a desire to provide something different to the market. Those who have purchased my work have never stated that it was a factor in their decision, but then nobody has objected to it either.
Digital Art will never carry the cachet of a painting. Regardless of how much thought and effort a digital artist puts into his/her work, the awareness that we are the "red headed step children" of the art world is something we will always carry with us. Painters say that we don't really do anything, the computer does all the work. Printmakers deride the Giclee process as nothing more than a glorified inkjet printer. Even photographers have entered the argument, claiming that their work - albeit printed - is at least the work of a talented eye. I am aware of these attitudes and I have had my share of arguments about them, but nothing can change the fact that the actual artistic vision used to create works of Digital Art is the same as any other artist and his/her work. The only difference is that we use different tools to bring that artistic vision to reality.
MICHAEL: Among the many things I love about digital art is the fact that you can print out the final product OR make vehicle specific projects for TVs or computer screens that are actually part of the art exhibit. In other words, the medium itself is also art.
GMN: I agree completely. While - so far - I have only printed my work, I have designed an installation piece focused on presenting the digital work in a digital format. I have also been watching the development of larger format digital picture frames with much interest. I love the idea of having the ability to change the art in any room at the touch of a button.
MICHAEL: It seems to me that digital art really has potential to blur the lines between art, commerce and design like never before. What do you think about this? My concern is that art could get lost in the mix.
GMN: The commercialization of art is nothing new. It could be argued that very few of the artists of the past, including some we acknowledge as “Masters,” painted solely out of true inspiration. Much of what was created in the past was done so for the Church or for wealthy patrons. Furthermore, the co-opting of images for advertising is also firmly entrenched in our culture. I am not talking about art specifically created for advertising, but rather art created for other - more lofty - purposes that is now being used to sell toilet paper. Why would anyone assume that Digital Art will escape this fate?
The greater problem, at least to me, would seem to be in the delivery of Digital Art to the marketplace. While there are more galleries beginning to recognize and represent Digital Art, the majority still shy away from it. I assume for the same concerns you voiced in an earlier question. So, many digital artists look to digital delivery systems to market their work. The obvious problem with this is that copyright issues arise in abundance. Anyone can steal your work off of the internet, reproduce it and use or sell it as their own. At least with an analog work, the artist can prove where/when/how it was created, and by whom. With digital work, it is much harder. Often we do not even know that our work has been misappropriated.
So, the problem is not that the art is getting lost in the mix; it is that the marketplace has created an environment wherein it is the artist that is being misplaced.
MICHAEL: I think that a lot of people may also think that digital art is also very mathematical and requires knowledge of code writing and complicated things. How much of it is intellectual and how much of it is pure, natural creativity for you?
GMN: While I am sure that there are any number of highly-skilled individuals who are both artists and programmers, I am not one of them. By comparison to them, I am banging on a rock with a stick. I began doing art digitally by accident. I had painted when I was younger. In my late teens, although I had begun to achieve some success - which I always measured by selling work to people who were neither friends nor relatives - I stepped away from painting completely. I still appreciated art. It just was no longer a part of my life. More than thirty years would pass before the “accident” occurred. I was cleaning up my laptop - removing old files and unused programs - and I tried to delete MSPaint. Warned of the dire consequences of doing so, I stepped back and opened - for the first time - the program. I began playing around with it and was delighted. Not with the results - they were quite dreadful - but with the act of creation. It had been missing from my life for far too long.
Following a friend's suggestion, I began to expand my “toolkit” with the addition of PhotoShop. I was perfectly happy just taking a few hours or even a few minutes, doing work simply for my own enjoyment. That changed the day I went to get a piece printed and framed. I ended up in a small gallery that also had a framing studio. While I was discussing the framing, the owner of the gallery came over and asked me about the work. That discussion resulted in a solo show and it has gone on from there. Today, in my sixties, I am enjoying virtually painting on the computer more than I did at sixteen, when I was actually painting on canvas.
MICHAEL: That’s fantastic. Do you think that when seeing digital art people should SEE the digital part? I mean, digital can be either the message or the medium itself.
GMN: I think that there is room for all of it. I have spoken with digital artists who argue that Digital Art should only be shown in a digital format. Others just want the work to be appreciated for its creative integrity, regardless of the manner in which it is displayed. I am pretty adamant that the work should be identified as digital, although I have had other artists - even conventional ones - who have suggested, quite strongly, that I not do so.
In some of the work I have done, it is quite obvious that the work is digital - you can see the pixels - in others, it is not so obvious. I have spoken to many people who have questioned both the method and the medium. When dealing with the general public, I have not encountered any resistance to the fact of the work. If anything, they have been intrigued with it being digital. It has been a completely different experience when dealing with other artists. The resistance to Digital Art taking its place in the art business mainstream seems to come mostly from conventional artists and printmakers. I won an award last year for one of my works and the comments were quite interesting. At no time was the merit of the work ever discussed - whether it was worthy of consideration as a creative entity - but rather whether it should have even been included in the competition because it was a digital work up against conventional ones.
In the end - and I realize that this is just my position on the subject - a work of art should be judged on its aesthetic and artistic merit. The manner in which it came to be should be the secondary consideration, if it is to be considered at all. Unless, of course, all you are judging is the technical expertise of the artist. Personally, I have seen some exquisitely produced works of art that I would not consider for a second having in my home.
MICHAEL: Finally Michael, Is there a message or narrative to your work that you want people to receive? If your work could actually talk, what would it say?
GMN: That is the most difficult question you have asked. Some of my work is deeply personal and has meaning only to me. Other pieces are based on inspirations - music is a great motivator - or particular shapes and colours - I have a real thing for circles and the colour blue. Some of it is just experimentation - trying to push the envelope (mine not the computer's).
I have done political pieces and I have done pieces that are sheer whimsy. I have done pieces that are homages to the artists who inspire me. Most of my work, however, is created simply to cause a moment of thought. It doesn't have to be deep thought, but I do want the viewer to take that moment and reflect on what the image might mean to them. I try not to influence that moment - I actually title very few of my pieces, I prefer the viewer to decide what he/she is seeing. One of my friends sees angels. My nephew sees tattoos. Both of them are right. Or not.
As for what my work might say, that is difficult to answer. The reason I was drawn to abstract expressionism in the first place was the constant change that exists - even in a single piece. The angle of the light, the time of day and the mood of the viewer. All of these, and more, substantially changes the way the image is perceived. The most I have ever hoped for is that the passion contained within the work I do is felt in some small way by the person standing in front of it. Like it. Don't like it. Both are perfectly acceptable to me. Just feel something about it.
MICHAEL: Thank you Michael. Nice chat.
Check out G. Michael Novak’s work at https://www.gmichaelnovak.com/.