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At what point does digital photomanip become art? - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
At what point does digital photomanip become art?
Okay, various questions of "Is that live or is it Photoshop?" have come up lately, and it got me to thinking... what about photomanip as an art form?

I think it obviously doesn't count if I just take an unaltered photo and run it through a pre-existing filter. (BTW, does anyone remember the link to the filters that run pictures through and render them in the style of Mondrian* or Matisse or Renoir or whatever? I loved that filter, and would like to introduce it to some kids I know.)

But what about the person who designs the filter? Is that art? It certainly takes a visual imagination and skills that I don't possess, which is usually how I define the term. ;p Granted, it's not exactly high art, but then, in a world where someone puts two cans of soup on a pedastal and calls it a sculpture, and a gallery displays a circle of rocks on the floor as an exhibit, can we be that picky? The filters at least require the application of brain cells.

Or what about using filters in new ways, mixing them to create an interesting visual effect? Or pasting parts of different photos together--is that much different from, say, magazine collage? What about using pre-set shapes? Is the "modern" mural I made at work from construction paper just cut into standard shapes using pencil compasses and protractors--sometimes just its own original shape--inherently more artistic than using the same preset shapes in PaintShop (as here)? And what about things that never see the paper light of day but use six or seven filters to get a particular sort of effect, like here? (No, I'm not submitting either as an example of great art--I have the one because I was using it in a cheaply photoshopped idea explanation of something, and the other I threw together from memory to compare to the equally thrown together construction paper original... they're just examples of what I mean, and presumably there are people who could do it better.) At what point does it make the crossing into something called "art" (given that we do live, after all, in a post-Marcel Duchamp world)?

Just thought it might be a fun conversation.

ETA: Poking around for definitions of art, I think I'm madly in love with Stuckism.

*ETA2: And by Mondrian, I of course meant Modigliani. An Mondrian filter would produce a very odd face. :sheepish look:
16 comments or Leave a comment
silverhill From: silverhill Date: August 27th, 2006 04:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
I was thinking about this sort of thing just yesterday, when I noticed the spine of the book Surrational Images on my bookshelf.

At the time the images were originally produced, photomontages took a great deal of time and talent (doing weird things to negatives to combine two or more images). Now, any yahoo with Photoshop can do the same type of thing pretty darn easily. When something becomes easy and common, does it cease to be art? Maybe so.
From: leeflower Date: August 27th, 2006 04:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
Link: http://www.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~morph/Transformer/index.html

I think that's it, anyway... I went bookmark-diving.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 27th, 2006 07:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yes, that's it--thanks! The racial and age filters suck, but the art style filters are amazing. I wanted to show it to some manga fans, to show them how to morph from one style to another.
shadowturquoise From: shadowturquoise Date: August 27th, 2006 06:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ah, you’re getting into my area now. (I’m a graphic designer by trade). The “that isn’t art” argument has been raging since the Dada’s of the 1930 rebelled against the establishment and created the beginnings of Modern Art. Visual manipulation on a computer just offers an extra medium for people to argue about.

I find, however, that I am in a hypocritical quandary about how I feel. My tastes in art definitely lean towards realism: I want a face to look like a face. I despise Modern Art. But in my work I can really appreciate a well designed montage. Any old fool can arrange 3 blue light bulbs in a circle. And yes, “any old fool” can open Photoshop and learn to draw circles and arrows and triangles and overlap them on top of each other. They can even learn to warp them and apply filters. Is that art? It depends. The knowledge of how to use an art application is not the same as the talent required to compose images together that “work”. Yes, “work” is highly subjective here.

Photoshop, and before it Scitex, were once highly specialized programs owned only by companies in the graphic arts industry. These programs ran on computers that cost half a million dollars each and took up an entire refrigerated room. Those of us that utilized the programs were artists first and computer geeks second.

Today the relatively shallow learning curve that the newer and improved Photoshop-type programs offer has both advantages and drawbacks. The programs now attract the less serious users with the ease of use and vast array of filters that remove technical and skill boundaries. But when the necessity to understand the concepts of composition are removed, the end product is not (to me) as appealing. On a positive note, that ease of use allows a greater number of people to create and develop without as much restraint, exponentially expanding new ideas in ways that benefit everyone.

Getting back on track: when does computer generated art become art? That answer is just as subjective now as it was when Modern Art began. To me, the dividing line is the one I mentioned above between the knowledge of how to use the program, and the talent to use it creatively.
From: tunxeh Date: August 27th, 2006 06:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
My definition of art has less to do with how the image is produced and more to do with what it communicates. But if all it communicates is "I have a copy of Photoshop and have found its filters menu", that's not very impressive.
beaustylo From: beaustylo Date: August 27th, 2006 06:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
I would argue that Photoshop or any other software program for that matter is just another tool for an artist to use. And the filters are different variations of that tool that might affect the texture or shape of the output - like using different shapes and types of brushes in painting.

As long as someone controls the composition through the placement of shapes, lines, and color, they are creating art. However, the perceived value of that art may be influenced by the process of its creation. Would the same composition hand cut and assembled in paper have the same value as a composition created in Photoshop? No, because the work involved in the former is (or should be) greater than the latter and will therefore be perceived as more valuable. Does that mean that the image in Photoshop isn't art? Absolutely not. Art can be accessible to all - it may detract from the value of that particular art form but it's still art.

I would suggest however that tools are often most effective when they are used for their intended purpose. Would you use a brush to sculpt with? Or a chisel to paint with? Technically you could, but you'll most likely have better results using the proper tools. So, why shouldn't Photoshop be the same. Photoshop's strength IS photo manipulation and the filters and other items that can create effects that you couldn't achieve with manual tools. So computer generated imagery that makes the most of those features would consequently be the most successful in general as art.

Photo manipulation can be a great art form in my opinion and will probably be recognized even more so in the future. Just because anyone can do it doesn't mean that it's always done well. Anyone, can pick up a paintbrush and make a mark, but some stand above the rest. The same is true with any artwork created on a computer. To do a really great job with photo manip, you have to have some artistic sensibility. You have to have a sense of light, shadow, color, and form and often you'll have to draw in missing details. If you'd like to see some great examples of truly artistic photo manip, go to worth1000.com and look at some of the Photoshop contest galleries.

This page in particular has some real winners:

Thanks for the topic starter, it is a fun conversation.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 27th, 2006 07:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oo, neat! Those are great, and exactly the sort of thing I was thinking of when someone blithely dismisses the concept of photo-manip as art. (Honestly, if photography itself is to be seen as an art, then working with photos to make them express imaginative ideas would be even more so.)
From: tree_and_leaf Date: August 27th, 2006 08:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
I love the idea of Stuckism, but I've yet to see a good piece of work the school has produced - mind you, I'd love to be proven wrong...
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 27th, 2006 09:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, I didn't see much good art, either. But I am wild about their manifestos. They write manifestos like nobody's business.
From: lianna_blanca Date: August 27th, 2006 10:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
As an art student, I have to use photoshop as part of my classes. Personally, I much prefer to do things by hand, but that's really not relevant here. It's hard to draw this line. One of my teachers told us that Salvador Dali once put a chamber pot in the middle of an exhibit hall and called it art. We debated; he clearly didn't put much EFFORT into it, but how much THOUGHT went into it?

This isn't a perfect definition, but I generally say that art has some meaning behind it; symbolism, sometimes, or just an expression of feeling. I don't particularly like realism because it bores me (a long time ago, yes, perfect capture of an image was highly prized, but now it's not as valuable - which isn't a criticism, but I still prefer the abstract or otherwise "modern" styles). Art often makes me think; the best pieces bring across a strong message, whether it's a political statement or silly amusement.

And so, I think manipulation of a photo only counts after a certain level of work (except for the art of the photography); do we call film special effects artwork? That also depends on what; smoothing over imperfections on someone's skin isn't art, but altering them to be completely alien? Whether that's CGI or makeup, it can be called art. The design of the alien can be called art.

And much of the time, "art" is an exploration of a concept; I'm currently doing a project looking at the different ways people interpret spoken words (where a lot of misinterpretations and personality clashes come from) - there is nothing on my canvas but text, layered on top of each other. I could do it in photoshop if I chose; I might even manage it in Word. I still call it art, because there's a definate issue involved - I'm trying to say something, to communicate my point visually. But if I were to take this entire post and print it out, that's not art - that's an essay.

I'm sorry; I ramble. But the line defining art is fat and fuzzy; I think that, in the end, it will always be a matter of individual works and people's interpretations - always a matter of degree.
From: (Anonymous) Date: August 27th, 2006 11:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
One of my teachers told us that Salvador Dali once put a chamber pot in the middle of an exhibit hall and called it art. We debated; he clearly didn't put much EFFORT into it, but how much THOUGHT went into it?

Are you sure you're not thinking of Marcel Duchamp and the urinal? That's the most famous example usually discussed in art history classes. Duchamp placed a urinal upside down and titled it "Fountain". It's actually still displayed at the Pompidou Centre in Paris. In another attempt to ask the age old question of what is art, Duchamp also took a postcard of the Mona Lisa and painted a moustache on it. I think that one is almost more controversial in a way.

Sorry for the ramble. As an art school alum myself, I enjoy art discussions and seldom get the chance these days.
From: lianna_blanca Date: August 29th, 2006 12:36 am (UTC) (Link)
You're probably right. I know I was at the Dali exhibit at the time, and may very well have missed my teacher saying "there's another artist who..."

And you're not rambling - I rambled. This is no ramble.
nundu_art From: nundu_art Date: August 27th, 2006 10:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
Good question. As a 'traditional' artist (portraiture) who does a great deal of HP 'fanart', I am constantly criticised because my pictures are 'too sketchy', in black and white and not 'cute' enough. There is an entire generation of children growing up thinking Manga is the only way to draw human figures. To me it looks cookie-cutter and reminds me of the wide-eyed children paintings of the 60s. If you take a computer program that allows you to take 'those eyes, that mouth, this hair', etc, then I don't see that as art. That is no different from when I was younger and could put together a ad using a book of clip art that I literally clipped and glued onto a page, added text (hand lettered) and voila, an ad for the yearbook. Art involves creativity and the ability to create from nothing, something.
lady_moriel From: lady_moriel Date: August 28th, 2006 05:47 am (UTC) (Link)
As someone who's done some photmanips myself and has seen a lot more, I would probably say:
-Photoshop and similar programs doesn't inherently make an image either "art" or "not art". It's just like any other artistic tool; the important thing is the end result, the thought, the effort, and the hours put into it, not the medium in which the artwork was made.
-I like to say that if something's going to be art, it should either mean something or capture beauty, and if it doesn't do that, it at least ought to be interesting. Photomanipulations can qualify for all of the above.
-At what point do photomanips become art? When they have their own category on a big art site, maybe. If you glance through some of those, you'd probably notice that some of them look pretty darn good, and others...pretty darn bad. It's just like any other medium that way. The ones on that Worth1000 site are good examples of really good ideas that were executed a bit choppily. You can see some better ones here.
-Most people who offer stock photos for others to use in photomanips say that if you just take a stock photo and apply a Photoshop filter or too, that's not art. It's not creative. You have to take the image or images and change them until they're really different, really your own image. For instance--let's see if I can dig up any good examples...here's a sort of simple image, made from this stock photo and this one. Here's another photomanip, this one compiled from 9 stock photos. This mask was put together from three stock photos and two textures; the artist put links for all the original stock on the description, so you can see each picture that made up the finished work. Here's a more complicated manip; the description says it took 10 hours to make and was made from 46 layers and 9 different stock pictures. Two or three of those are forest; one is the girl with the sword (that's me, actually); one is the horse; one is the deer; one is the other girl's skirt, and another is her upper body; and so on.

Yeah, anyway, that was an overly long and involved comment for something that probably didn't merit it...
From: tunxeh Date: August 28th, 2006 02:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
Or, look at anything you think is a photo in any magazine ad. A large fraction of them are probably composites similarly built up from multiple stock images.
stella_nova From: stella_nova Date: August 28th, 2006 10:31 am (UTC) (Link)
my sister is a huge graphics designer and spends a good amount of her time on photoshop. i wasn't very appreciative of what she did at first but after much deliberation, she sat me down with her and took me through the process. its amazing the millions of things and processes that hte picture needs to underglow just to insert a mere golden glow to it. she spends up to days just on one picture...and well now, i understand that what goes into those pictures aren't just copy and paste and a couple of filters and brushes. art has always been a soulful thing for me, something inside the artist. putting it up for public scrutiny sometimes achieves nothing because what is in the artist's eye can't fully be comprehended by the viewer. beauty is in the eye of the beholder...or...the creater...that's sort of my point.
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