Monday, June 17, 2013

So what is Art and who is an Artist?

Digital Artist Magazine has just started publishing and in the Preview edition Al Sterner wrote an editorial that said, in part:
If you take something that was made by someone else, put all the pieces together and output an image of the compiled items, it does not make you an artist. You are a composer, and nothing more. Certainly I will concede, the way these parts are positioned and lit require a good eye, it still only makes one a composer. . . . . . With the exception of a few, the 'hobby artists' are posers. Note the lower case p was intentional. If you create something from scratch, you are an artist and deserve the recognition that goes with that title. Otherwise, you are a composer.
I have just changed the descriptive paragraphs on what this site is about, and since I mentioned my hobby of working with Poser, I will comment, in the future, on how that experience goes. But for today, let me tackle the above paragraphs.

As background, I have been building a library of Poser figures, clothing etc. for a number of years as a resource to keep me amused in my retirement. That time having come, I am now starting to learn/relearn the features of the program and the supporting programs that are needed to make best use of it. I just upgraded to Poser Pro 2014, with Reality 3 that allows use of Lux Render, as well as other programs that I will mention as the need for them comes up. So have I the ambition to be an artist, or must I accept the definition that I am merely a “poser”?

My ambition is to ultimately make what kind friends might call “art.” But that would be my definition, not that of the editorial writer, Al Sterner, and so let me explain.

I find it clearer, when I give talks, to speak to an example, so let me begin with a piece that I composed while learning about lighting (a future topic or several).

Figure 1. Angus the Witchtaker.

For those curious it is composed as follows: Angus on Michael 4 (with morphs), wearing the Witch Hunter garb, and carrying a flintlock pistol. He is standing outside the Courtyard tower near some dead bushes. The lighting is with a Mesh Light from Reality, and a small fill. It is rendered via Reality.

Now any composition, whether a painting, a photograph or a render has to have a beginning. And so almost all artistic creators are going to begin with a concept. (Apart, that is, from the lucky photographer). In this particular case I figure I might as well learn from a master, and so this is roughly based on N. C. Wyeth’s “Man with a Pistol”, which he created in 1903, when, at the age of 21, he was a student of Howard Pyle.

Figure 2. Man with a Pistol – N.C. Wyeth 1903

Now, having been in N.C. Wyeth’s studio, I know that he drew using models of the various pieces that are represented in his paintings.

He worked with models (and in his last painting of Washington he worked from a bust). So that, other than in the conception, he was rendering a composed integration of the image of existing items, that he did not create, onto canvas. In the same way photographers that create art compose a picture that projects an image of a scene, using models, landscape or other things they did not create. This becomes art through the composition and lighting and manipulation, by the artist, of the image.

Ansel Adams did not create Yosemite, N.C. Wyeth did not create the hat and clothes he painted. Why then the complaint because I did not create the parts of the above figure?

The answer comes, I think, in the difference between, for example, a catalog photograph of a model, and the artist who makes the image more than just a simple picture of a man in a coat. And that involves the lighting, and the composition. And that is no different to the rendering of an image.

What makes it art, rather than a composition, lies more in the eye of the beholder. And if, in creation of the render, I tweaked the pose of the figure, adjusted the expression, changed the hat (once) and the gun (twice) in order to make something I liked better, then that is part of creation. I also didn’t like the color of the vest/shirt, and so (using Sveva’s Texturing and Stitching tutorials) changed the color and added a bump.

And yet, in my own mind, I don’t see what I am doing at the moment as creating art, yet. But where the line is drawn as to how much originality must go into the components of a piece before it can be judged as art is, in itself, a judgment call.

Some of my future work will look at how Native Americans looked in the times around the 17th Century. The image base will, as far as I can, come from contemporary illustrations. However, as Karen Ordahl Kupperman noted in “Indians and English – Facing Off in Early America,” John White’s original sketches of the Wabenaki were made to look more European by Theodor de Bry’s artists to become more acceptable art to their clientele. And with 95% of Native Americans in the North East population dying around 1620 there are few good images to work from. Yet if I use Blackthorn’s models with the faces of the Men and Women of the different tribes, defined as Cahokia, does that preclude a piece from being considered as art? Not even if I age the face, and change the expression? And that before we even consider clothing (or face paint).

Figure 3. My version of Blackthorn’s Full Moon of the Assiniboine. (from Women in Cahokia)(Warm'NSoul Lights and Raytracing) (Native American clothing, Amber Hair)

No, my answer as to what I consider art is something that Al Sterner discounts. The mark of a good artist lies in the “eye”. It is in the ability to conceive and create an image that successfully conveys something (emotion – information . . .) to the viewer. The source of the material is less important than the composition. And the judgment of artistic merit lies in the eye of the beholder.


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