The Evolution of Paint to Pixels

13th July 2020


Technology is advancing at an unfathomable rate, and as we enter 2020, soon 2021, those industries which fail to recognize the digital age are losing their share of the commercial pie. Traditional art has been practiced for thousands of years, and we still decorate our greatest museums with works of the old masters: canvases and sculptures are not going anywhere soon…right?

The fact is that art is evolving, just like every other facet of modern life. Applications like Painter and Photoshop still take thousands of hours to master, but digital artists can produce breathtaking results. It’s indisputably still art, just a new form of it. For many, the debate is not if pixels will replace paint, but when.

Putting Art Into Context

What we must remember is that the term “art” is pretty broad. Museums won’t be replacing Van Gogh’s post-impressionist landscapes with digital replicas — that’s a ridiculous idea. The thought that galleries will sell digital pieces alongside traditional ones, however, is quite reasonable.

It’s a near-certainty that in 50 or 100 years, many artists will still use the traditional methods of paints, oils, acrylics and all that. But it will be old-fashioned, or niche — perhaps even hipster. When digital photography took its first steps, established authorities were conflicted on how this new technique for creating images would fit into the art world.

Another example: vinyl were once the latest musical technology, and they experienced a meteoric rise and dominance across the globe. Today, they’re a collector’s item.

A turntable is considered classy or pretentious, depending on your outlook, yet there is certain esteem about it. The same goes for film cameras. Virtually all new music is consumed digitally, and yet musicians, photographers and artists still thrive. We will probably always respect and admire those who work with the old methods, but we should also prepare to embrace the future of our industry.

The Evolution of Our Needs

What we look for in art is also changing. In a post on the Traditional Art Vs Digital Art blog, the author suggests that we’ll struggle to appreciate digital art in the same way we do with traditional work.

“They [regular people] couldn’t see the subtle patterns, imperfections, and strokes carved in the paint by the individual brush fibers that let us know how diligently someone has worked to create this art for us.”

And that’s perfectly true. But in this digital age, we’re used to creating art without imperfections in the traditional sense. The physical bumps and layers of paintings might be considered crude in future, or simply basic; unrefined. While we can and do appreciate the imperfections of paint-on-canvas artwork, there’s no reason to believe that it’s a prerequisite for classification as top-quality art. Not today.

And this isn’t the first time the established artistic order has been upset. When Impressionism was first explored, critics lambasted Claude Monet’s work as “incomplete, a simple sketch without realism.” Every new wave of artistic expression causes massive controversy, and while the growth of digital art is one of history’s greatest shifts, it is not inherently negative.

Accessibility and the Next Generation

Nowadays, especially in the West, access to computers is relatively easy for the majority. Many of us use computers (tablets, laptops and even smartphones) for work, or at home. While you need paint, brushes, canvases, floorspace and more to begin traditional painting, all you need to start making digital art is a piece of software.

This can cost you hundreds of dollars a month, or be totally free. The fact is that digital art is easier to access than traditional methods, and that gives it a large scale appeal. It’s also hugely fashionable, trendy and current.

Do we think the Old Masters are going to suddenly be forgotten, or that museums and galleries will drop all their canvases in favour of 4K screens? No. Is it possible that digital art will become the de facto standard in the art world, and that traditional methods, while admired, will also be considered old-fashioned? Definitely.

Art is an evolving industry, and artistic talent will always have value. We can’t wait to see what form that takes in the coming decades and will try to embrace it with an open mind.

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