Digital art is here to stay. This is a fact.

The software constantly gets better. Now you can do in minutes, on your home computer, what used to take ages in a lab.

I fear that many still don’t understand the difference between digitally manipulating a photograph to create a work of art, and simply turning a photograph into an oil painting by clicking a button.

I am certain I am not the only frustrated photographer who has worked for hours on end, digitally manipulating a photograph until it gets close to the idea in my mind and imagination, to be greeted by the remark: “ha, this is Photoshop”, said in a disparaging tone.

Of course I can understand that the result may not be to the liking of the viewer. That’s understood. Not even the greatest and most popular artist can expect the instant approbation of their entire audience, and the mere fact that this is new makes it particularly difficult for some people to understand or appreciate. And after all, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. But is it really reasonable to move from not liking what I do to annulling a whole new trend and direction in art?

Artwork by Shifra

Facade of a building - after.Smaller

I would like to share with you a little about my way of working.

Not coming from a film camera background, I don’t feel the need to be careful about my frames, the settings of the camera, etc, especially when I am on a walking spree, trying to capture as much as I can of everything around me. As much as I try to work with the right exposure, aperture or shutter speed, I find myself often not noticing, or simply forgetting, to change the settings. And yes, perhaps this is because I am well aware that all my mistakes can easily be corrected in my home lab, the Photoshop.

I am not a technical photographer. It is not extremely important for me that the photo is very sharp, or the colors balanced to an extreme degree. I am looking for more than a perfect frame. I am constantly on a quest for the “added value”. Many times the frame is just a starting point for something that ends up radically different from the original frame.

When working on an image, I keep going back to the frame, cropping and recropping, adding and subtracting, constantly changing and manipulating. After I am finished with the image, the frame may be hardly recognizable.

I know some are still far from accepting digital manipulation in photographs or digital art in general. This is partly because they think “oh, this is real easy”. It is not. It is simply a new way of working and trying to produce art that is worthwhile at the end of the day. Like all good art, it can be difficult to achieve and many times very frustrating.

In the two examples in this post, you can see the “before” and “after” of two pieces of my work, the “before” appearing above the “after” in both cases. Take a good look at them and see if this can be dismissed as ‘just photoshop’.

The three ages - Before.smaller

The three ages - After.smaller

Shifra Levyathan describes herself as an ‘urban photographer’ has taken part in successful solo and joint exhibitions, while some of her work has been collected and published. You can find more information about her and her work on her website.

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11 Responses to Guest Post by Shifra: Who’s afraid of digital art?

  1. DAFONTE says:

    I admire Einstein who said, “It’s exciting to find relations between fields which today are separated.”
    Between the reality of a digital photograph and a digital work there is a gap of like that of 3500 years. It is like the difference between the first cell and the complexity of our brains… We should remember that our perceptions are relative – even the perception of time is relative to speed. What counts is what goes on in the brain. Therefore, I am willing to accept that art is a product of the brain, not the collection of reality.
    We are more about what is inside than outside. And this is expressed particularly well in digital art.

  2. DaveL says:

    Working in Photoshop is akin to the dark room manipulations used by film photographers…particularly black and white. If you look at the original photographs of, say, Ansel Adams, you realize just how much work was done to produce his finished print (dodging and burning, different densities and processing times, etc.). I work in color film and do not even crop my work- I am an image-maker, not a print-maker. I look to create a finished image in the field at the time of its creation….it is my way, I see no reason for anyone to validate or condemn my method or any other….I simply choose to work according to what suits me the best. I am at one end of the spectrum…I will not even take a photograph if it doesn’t meet my standards in composition and color balance….digital is at the other end of the spectrum, perhaps- so be it!

  3. Susan Marx says:

    Beautifully put. An artist needs to be in control of his medium, and work with that medium. And that is exactly what you are doing. The computer is your “brush”. And just as in painting, your artwork will “speak” to some people and others will not like it. People should feel strongly about art, what they like and what they do not like. Just as you should feel strongly about the art you are creating by making your computer express what you want it to.

  4. Yes, as a photographer and digital artist, I do get sick of people assuming that because it was worked in Photoshop, that it is less than art.

    I love the traditional film photographers who accuse me of cheating because I used photoshop to do color adjustments when printing. They say that it is not real and that they are true artists because they use film and don’t “digitally manipulate” their photos.

    My response is this, “as an artist, my work is more “real” than yours because I am in fact doing my own color adjustments. You are sending your film to a lab and letting them scan it and make all of the color decisions for you. So, in fact, I should get more credit for my work instead of less because I am doing it myself instead of paying a lab tech to do it for me.”

    I have a piece titled “Playing for Keeps” that is 189 photos put together to make one scene and can be viewed on my website opgart.com or Artmine.com. The piece took me four years to shoot and create. I only used Photoshop to cut and paste. The piece is my pride and joy as an artist because of the concept behind the piece as well the technical execution. However, I’ve actually had people say to me, “I can do photoshop, so I could make that piece myself.” I just smile and say, “have fun.”

    I think the problem comes from Photoshop filters. When most people begin to play in photoshop, they click on the filters and actions to see what they do and they think the effects are cool. So, when they think of digital art, or digitally manipulated photos, they think that the artist simply clicked a button and photoshop created the art for them. It’s just a matter of educating people about what digital art is.

  5. SHBY says:

    I don’t understand why artist that work in digital photography and image manipulating think that photographer that creating in the traditional way are “afraid” of digital manipulation,
    Is it true that traditional painter afraid of air-brush?
    it is only another kind of art. or another kind of “brush”.
    you can’t camper between them.
    you can be a “photographer” “artist” “c.g. creator ” or whatever you want to name it,
    the reel question is “what you craete?”

  6. An artist puts her work out for the public to view. Ideally, the viewer will approach the work and connect with it in some way. It should not matter if it is a painting, a watercolor or a digital photograph.

    Does the work resonate with the viewer? Does the photographer have a good eye for composition, subject, etc?

    I still shoot film using an old 35mm camera. This does not mean that I do not appreciate digital photography even when it has been manipulated. Many of the great photographers manipulated their work in the darkroom.

  7. Monika Mori says:

    I think people do not really know the meaning or background of “digital art”, like to measure everything by the same yardstick and mix it, because the word “digital” is used in countless different contexts.

    The history of digital art has started “a few days ago” and will take place more and more in the next generation, thats my opinion.

  8. Loz Taylor says:

    I think one of the big reasons why digital art is not being taken up as quickly as it should be, is that those in power don’t understand the medium well enough to be able to promote it with confidence and enthusiasm.

    When a new generation of young art dealers and buyers come through (not too far down the line now) you will see a massive awakening to digital art, and to those who are producing it right now.

    We, as digital artists, know our medium will play a big part in art’s future, and others will know it soon enough, so the message is simple – keep the faith.

  9. Marisa Atha says:

    What a well-written defense of our art form. When speaking to clients in the past, I’ve found myself searching for other words to describe my digital photography…anything to avoid speaking the word “Photoshop” aloud. An interested party would pick up one of my prints and ask, “How did you do this?” and I would try my best to come up with jargon like “digitally manipulated” or “digitally enhanced,” but without fail, when Photoshop was finally mentioned, a client’s audible sigh would break the string of mystification.

    Fortunately, a younger generation of artists/viewers is coming forth. There is a vast difference in reaction to digital art according to age groups; the younger generation is immersed in digital life constantly…ipods, social networking, mobile devices with communication/entertainment always within grasp. This generation dabbles more with programs like Photoshop, and I think the difference between an oil painting filter and a Picasso work is still profoundly obvious. The more people understand, and even experiment with, a given artform, the more they realize the difficulty, invested time, and intangible artistic vision that are required.

    Anyone can pick up a paint brush and canvas, just like anyone can fiddle with Photoshop. The difference between the hobbyist and the artist should be obvious to anyone whose mind is open enough to welcome a burgeoning form of art.

  10. [...] Guest Post by Shifra: Who’s afraid of digital art? [...]

  11. George Kovacs says:

    An Art, created with the aid of digital photography, to some appears, and expressed to be as a simple procedure. However, the Artist has a different view to create something in a format that others can identify as an Art within that complexity of data captured of an unknown image which to some, appears to be insignificant. Irrespective of what tools you got in your hand, to create something with it, you need to have imagination, and ability to transport that imagination into a dimension that brings forth an image, identifiable as an outstanding creation. Every Artist, professional or just a hobbyist, has his/her own theory on any art form others might dislike and inveigh, but to inveigh against theory, even in the most elementary arts, proves only the ignorance of the inveigher. It is not the profoundness of the theory, but its imperfections, that should be blamed for the ill effects that so often follow its working out in practice….Many data regarding the needs to be satisfied, the means of satisfying them, (the time and expenditure involved, that are perforce ignored within the field of mere theory), come into the problem of working out a practical application. By bringing these factors into play with the skill that marks practical genius, it is possible both to extend the narrow limits within which prejudices against theorising tend to confine the arts, and to guard against the mistakes to which an unskillful use of particular theory may give rise. I am not one to inveigh any theory on art, but to admire the ability of the artist to create an Art in any form of any shape that represents something out of an imagination. Your creations are, to put it in simple words, JUST WONDERFULL, congratulations.

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