International Space Art Network

Welcome to a place of vision and beauty. Welcome to the world of space art.

I've been looking over the whole collection of images posted on the site and one thought keeps coming to mind. Too many of these look precisely as though someone had done an experiment or exercise with their favorite software program, added a title to make it sound like a finished work of art and posted it (these titles are, to me at least, patently after-the-fact). The worst of these seem to be missing the hand of the artist entirely---that is, they look as though someone took whatever their computer generated and posted it cold...thinking, I suppose, that whatever their computer generates must be both finished and good.

A number of years ago I was one of the judges for a national digital art competition. When I got the CD containing the entries, I was able to immediately throw out more than a third of them. These were works where it was obvious the artist had put nothing into the artwork other than the parameters demanded by their software. I didn't see any in which it looked as though the artist sat back and asked themselves, "Is this any good? Does everything look right?"

A related mistake is the digital artist who assumes that digital art by its very nature must be good. As a result they don't put their artwork through the same gauntlet that any traditionally created work would have to pass. They don't (apparently) even think of asking the same questions of it or holding it up to the same standards. Unfortunately, their work is not exempt from these criteria.

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Those are some great points, Ron. I know I myself am very guilty of having more than once delighted in something my computer churned out with minimal input/effort from me and pronouncing it a finished piece.

When I started working with Bryce 2 over 10 years ago, I was astonished at what could be accomplished with a few inputs and an overnight render. Even with digital pieces that required a lot of my effort, it was never apparent to the uninitiated where exactly I had spent my time. I recall once showing a published piece to a painter friend who marveled at the many and varied reflections on the foreground water. I was surprised because that was the least difficult part of this digital piece given that the software handled the complex reflections with very little input from me. I explained this to my friend, and told him that what was most difficult about the piece was making the planet on the horizon look like a planet, rather than a giant beach ball. I spent hours on that aspect alone.

I once worked as a professional photographer for several years, and I especially enjoyed developing and printing my own black & white work. I wasn't shy about cranking through rolls of film in order to be sure I got an image I could work with. Then in the darkroom, once I had chosen an image from the negatives, it all came down to how I composed and printed the final piece. Black & white printing especially offers a wide latitude in how light or dark the final print comes out as well the relative brightness of specific areas of the print (via local dodging and burning). While printing a finished piece is by no means a simple exercise, given that you can turn out several satisfying works in day, the investment of time and energy is nothing compared to the artist who patiently works with paints or other traditional media for weeks and months at a time. So I used to ask myself: If churning out a decent photograph can at times be so embarrassingly easy, where's the artistic part?

I have to assume there's something to be said for the artist's vision. A found object in a junk yard is just another piece of junk. A found object singled out for our inspection might contain a secret that the artist wishes to share. In this regard, in any piece I do I ask myself: Does this image tell a story? And does the story it tells worth asking others to look as well?
Your replies go a long way to explaining why the work done by either one of you scarcely falls within my critique!
I didn't name any specific artist's work since I think unsolicited critiques are rude. If it's any comfort, I wasn't talking about the images you posted!

Neither was I distinguishing between works that appear done by an amateur or beginner and those done by a professional. What I was talking about are those that were all-too-obviously popped out of a software program and posted cold without any real input or thought by the artist other than the attachment of an appropriate-sounding title. These works are, I think, painfully obvious to spot.
I think what I mean when I say "patently obvious" is when a composition is extraordinarily bad---especially when an image has no apparent subject. The effect is much like that of a background painting for an animated cartoon. There is something missing.
What might be very useful for these critiques, in order to embolden an artist, would be to include the language of art, namely the elements of art, the visual things in the work, and the principles of design; that is, how the artwork evokes feelings within the viewer based on the artist's organization of the elements within the artwork whether or not this was the intention.
Ron has expressed very well the difficulty of becoming an accomplished artist during this period of technical enlightenment that offers us dozens (if not hundreds) of new tools that seem to do most of the work for us - at least at first glance!

Strangely this discussion is very similar to one that started on the IAAA (International Association of Astronomical Artists) critique pages back in 2001 or so and spread rapidly to the list server. It did raise many valid points (as Ron has again here) along with several solutions.

The one solution/hurdle that I recall being of most benefit (at least to me) was someone pointing out the major difficulty for a artist utilizing these 'new' electronic 'world-building' tools to develop any kind of 'style' that would be recognizable distinctly to that artist.

That debate caused me to strive mightily to develop a style in my art that would put me on the way to 'my own recognizable style' regardless of whether I accomplished my art works in digital, traditional or some combination of the two. Since then every piece I have painted is a result of effort that seeks to hide any clues as to whether the piece or its' elements were done digitally, traditionally or a combination thereof.

And I believe that most viewers will find it very difficult to discern which parts of my works might be digital and which are traditional! Clue: I find it very helpful to use Bryce for large gas planets like Jupiter or Saturn - but that is almost the only element I ever use Bryce for.

And I almost never use Terragen (except when I need a sky with a few sparse clouds sometimes) - and I don't use Photo-Shop for anything - and I don't rely on any star-generator programs!

Now - with those clues: can you determine how I have accomplished any of my pieces - and still retain some semblance of my 'own style'?

Perhaps - you don't discern that I have a particular 'style' - or that my work just looks like the work everyone else is turning out via some 'world-builder' software! I would be interested in knowing what your impression is! In the meantime - let's keep this valuable discussion point alive!
I agree all down the line with Frank. If the medium is the first thing that someone is aware of then the artist has made the medium the subject...and that's wrong. If someone is looking at an artwork and wondering just how an artist went about accomplishing it...then I think the artist has done a less than compelling work. Do we worry about whether van Gogh was using oils or Homer watercolors...or are we caught up in the subject matter and ideas they were trying to express?

I went digital very, very reluctantly and can hardly express the relief I felt when I presented my first efforts to my IAAA colleagues and was told, "That looks just like a Ron Miller painting." Bingo!
While its true that I'm not a particular did BIG fan of the digital medium, it is certainly related to the dogmatic nature of my lack of exploration utilizing these software packages. I loath learning curves especially when I have other broad interests for exploring my own curiosities. Innovation begins with a combination of traditional and digital entanglement however I suspect. Yes, both Ron and Frank have a style. After years of looking at space art I can more often than not recognize who was the originator of the piece. I can tell a Don Dixon from a Don Davis, Michael Carrol from David Hardy, Kim Poor from Lynette Cook, Joe Bergeron from BE Johnson, Rick Sternbach from Joe Tucciaronie, a Bill Hartman from a Kara Szathmary etc.

My faith still lies in the principles of art and design, and not trust that a digital program was created by smarter people than an artist hence the artists doesn't need to do anything other than water mark the work. Let the artist prevail... make the work your work, after all the makers of oil paints in the mid 1850s didn't create the paintings that Vincent van Gogh et al did but lent these artists more creative time than to have them spend time grind their own colors.
It is my observation that when artists use the digital medium as a canvas for their painting abilities the essence of what we are seeing is then driven by the artist more than by the 'stock tricks' of the software. The former will retain its uniqueness, the latter will usually age poorly and unintentionally date the work.


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