Computer Made Art Is Just As Important As Traditional Art

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Recently I bought myself a Focusrite 2i2, a great little interface to start recording music onto a computer with, and to get myself going with some different electronic amp options routed from my PC. Look at that, I plugged a product in the first line. But, what shocked me about this purchase was the amount of sheer snobbery and elitism I came into contact with through forums and other various online hangouts for guitarists, who were all deriding the use of computers as part of any practice or home recording setup.

Let me run you through why I got the Focusrite. I like to play my guitar along to a backing track, and sometimes I like to play my guitar at night without waking up my entire street by using my amplifier. That means I need a way to play my guitar, get a quality tone from it and hear the song I want to play along to all through a headset – and the best way to do that is via a computer.

I can purchase some software that gives my guitar a realistic sound, I can route the backing track through my headset as well, and I can control it all on my computer screen in one go. So why is it that this seemingly simple process that does exactly what I want it to do is demonized throughout a lot of traditional guitar playing forums?

Love For The Old Ways

To be honest, I think I nailed it with that subheader alone, but sure, I can expand. There are a lot of guitar players out there who like to gatekeep – (a term we use when someone is elitist about their hobby and fails to recognize others as valid hobbyists until they conform to the gatekeeper’s strict standards. With that in mind, let’s think about a stereotypical PC-amp hating guitarist; they often play a Gibson Les Paul, have an amplifier worth well over $100, and spend drastic amounts of money on all the various pedals you could want.

I’m not saying that spending a lot of money on a hobby you love is a bad thing because it isn’t, but often guitarists can spend tens of thousands of dollars (if they are allowed to) all chasing down a specific tone for their guitar – and even then, it might not be enough. I run a Peavy 6505+ for my actual guitar. Its got a great metal tone to it, and I love it – but if you wanted me to play some reggae through it? I mean I could, but you wouldn’t enjoy it.

My point is this: I can access a variety of amplifiers and sounds replicated on my computer easily, at the cost of the interface itself, and a little time spent learning how to play through my computer. Guitar and music technology is a skill of its own – but the time I spend sinking hours into a physical setup could easily be transferred to a digital one, and I am bound to yield more (if not as great sounding) results.

But, that isn’t the real cause for purists to call my PC based playing ‘not real’ or thinking of it as lesser than analog playing. It’s the long-held belief that because I’m playing through a computer, the computer is patching up all of my mistakes and making up for bad playing. Not true at all.

Fix-It In Photoshop

How many times have you heard someone say that without fully understanding what it means? There are lots of people out there who have a less than a literate understanding of computers who think they can take any old photo, stick it into the magic Photoshop and have it handed back to them ready for print in ‘Best Photos Weekly’ magazine. It’s not true.

I don’t have much experience with a camera (no more than anyone else who occasionally takes pictures of their dogs), and I could no more go outside and take a photo, then turn it into a prize-winning photograph than someone who has no experience on a guitar could pick one up, plug it in and nail Freebird first time around.

You might be wondering what I’m driving at here, and my point is this: a computer isn’t a solution, it’s a tool. You ever tried to use Photoshop? If you go in blind, it can be the most confusing piece of software in the world. The same applies to any music software, if you don’t know what you are doing then you are going to get lost fast.

So, without the raw talent to get something onto your screen in the first place, you are never going to yield the results you see from professional-grade photography or engineer mixed songs if you don’t have the skill to perform without them. I’ll talk about an art form now that is probably the worst for this sort of criticism out of any you can create on a PC; illustration.

If You Don’t Use A Brush Then It Isn’t Real Art

Illustrators are probably some of the hardest working creatives in the media industry. Think about your favorite cartoon. Then think about how many different frames you see within that cartoon in order for all the characters, backgrounds, and prop animations come to life within them.

Its more than likely that all of these animations are done on computers – and that’s fine. A good thing if anything. But there are plenty of people out there, like those guitar purists, who are going to degrade the work of these PC based animators and illustrators just because they use computer-based hardware to get their work into the final product.

If you work in that industry, I bet you already know what I’m talking about, but for those who don’t, then it might come as a shock that there is a very large portion of art critics, fans and enthusiasts who just refuse to accept that anything created on a computer is art. At all.

So, let’s go through the individual steps you need to take in order to get an illustration, or any art project onto a PC. Step one: decide on which format you want to draw or paint your illustration. Step two: create it. Step three…wait, I think I already covered the basic necessities for calling something art: a user creating something designed to elicit emotion from the viewer, regardless of how it comes into being.

Sure, sketching out a piece onto a tablet or a dedicated draw pad isn’t using classic oils and pastels – but it still requires the kind of dedicated user input that every painting does – as well as a fundamental understanding of how to use the software at hand.

And with that comes another question – is a PC a frame or a tool? Sure, you can check into Reddit or Facebook, and look at all the different things that your friends or strangers have created and say ‘OK great’, but in this instance, you are using your PC as a screen, the same way someone might walk through an art gallery. Sure, they see the end result, but not how the sausage is made.

But if they were to take the time to read up on how that illustration they wrote off immediately developed from its initial sketching stage, they might appreciate how the finished piece was formed.

Knowing What A Painting Is, And Understanding How To Paint

Sure, I can tell you what a painting is. I can even name a few different paint types, and the styles in which to paint – I couldn’t tell you how. That’s the difference I think that a lot of traditionalists are finding it hard to pick up on, that hard knowledge that just because they don’t understand how a certain piece is made, that they can write it off instantaneously, and say that because it was made on a computer, it isn’t real.

Want to know a decades-old debate that has been going on within the PC (and larger gaming community)? Whether video games are art. How is this relevant?

Well, think about the average gallery owner, or chair of an arts committee. Stereotypically, they are going to be a little bit older, a little bit less up to date, and they aren’t going to have played Red Dead Redemption 2 from start to end – they are going to think of media popularized games like Space Invaders or Pac Man and write them off as a fun hobby.

That’s to say nothing of the hours of coding that go into modern titles, the animations that are often of movie grade quality, performances that span both motion capture and voice that have been delivered by some of the biggest names in film and incredible talents within their own field – and these games are written off as nothing more than wastes of time.

That’s the kind of difference I’m getting at here. If you have played Red Dead 2, you know the story, you know the acting, and you know the scenery – all of which in their own right deserve recognition for their merits, but instead, they have been written off because of their format.

They are similar to films in that we are in the (relative) beginning of their life cycle. Right now, people compare games to movies in the same way that silent films were compared to novels – because its what we are used to, and the technologies aren’t fully appreciated.

But leave it a few years, and hopefully, the general masses will have a better understanding of not only what a game is, but how it provides art even though it came from and is displayed on a computer – and the drastic (and often borderline criminal) levels of effort that is put into these titles, and that the fact it relies on computers isn’t somehow cheating, but a necessity that derives from the format. 

Too Many Cooks

I touched on the sheer scale of production that games often go through there, and I wanted to expand on it here because I have seen the argument made that because games are made by huge teams of people that they don’t qualify as proper art, as it isn’t a singular vision realized by one person.

And to that I say bull. If that were the case then plays, opera’s, musicals, symphony pieces, and movies aren’t art either. Look at the credits at the end of any game, and sure – the list of names is going to be a lot longer than any films, but you are still going to see a chief composer, a head of art direction, a lead scriptwriter – all the same types of creatives who come together to define a movie are present in a game, making it just as valid an art piece as anything else.

That’s what makes art pieces like photography all the more interesting and impressive – not only do photographers take their own photographs, but now they have to upload these pictures into their computer to complete final touch-ups and editing that in of itself requires years of courses and education to be fully fluent in.

This isn’t a case of a computer acting as an AI, applying a filter like Instagram does and then shooting it off into Facebook land for everyone to scroll past, but a real form of art that is bringing out the best in their work, that could arguably be a process defined by two separate people – a photographer and an editor.

Instead, what we have is a singular photographer capturing their image and then amplifying it, giving it new life in the editing bay on their own that aligns it with their original mental image of what their piece should be – fulfilling the argument made by those who say that computer-generated games and movies can’t be art because they are made by large teams.

Why Can’t People Accept Computer Generated Art?

Perhaps the key here isn’t arguing with pursuits about how digital art is art, but rather how a PC is a new medium to use – like introducing people to watercolors for the first time. Sure, it’s not what they are used to, but that doesn’t make it any less valid or impressive. Just because you can’t hang it on a wall doesn’t mean that a piece completed on a PC has had any less effort or time sank into it than an oil painting, it just means that its meant to be appreciated in a different format, in a way that is meant to elicit emotions in an entirely different manner than a traditional painting could.

Basically art made with the assistance of a PC is just as much art as anything else – and it’s definitely becoming more valid by the day.

Think of it this way – we all have Microsoft Word, but we don’t think any less of books just because they aren’t written with a pen.