Digital Art is a new art form brought about by the digital imaging revolution. The approximate birth date of digital art is 1990, the year Adobe Photoshop™ brought digital image processing to the consumer via the personal computer. Because photographers were the early-adopters of digital technology and the (now) ubiquitous software application is called photo-shop, digital art is often confused with photography but they are not the same.
The definition of digital art is:
Any artwork that cannot be created without the use of digital technology (computer + program) can be considered ‘digital art.’ If digital technology is required for the production of a specific artwork, and that artwork cannot be created by any other means except by use of digital technology, then the artwork is ‘digital art.’
It’s that simple. We seem to have no trouble understanding how painting, drawing and sculpture are unique art forms distinct from each other but when ‘digital’ is mixed with photography there is confusion. We can clear that confusion by setting distinct boundaries that define when an image stops being a photograph and crosses the line into ‘digital art.’ One way to define an image as a photograph is whether or not you can go and see the scene depicted in the photograph in real life. If it exists in the real world and reflects light that can be recorded on film or a digital camera’s sensor, then it’s a photograph. Even some composite images can be photographs. If the composite image came from a darkroom or uses digital processes that could be replicated in a darkroom, then that composite image is a photograph. If that composite image uses digital techniques without analog equivalents, then it is no longer a photograph and should be recognized as digital art. High Dynamic Range images, although a result of digital image processing, should be considered photographs because there are analog techniques that, however difficult to produce, emulate the HDR technique. Digital infrared photographs are photographs the same as their film forebears, only a different spectrum is used to create the image. Hybrid images combining computer-generated elements with photographic elements are digital art because a computer is required to make computer-generated imagery.
The photographic aspects of digital art are indeed confusing. When one describes their artworks as ‘photographs’ the viewer has a certain expectation about how that image should look. When the image is so manipulated that it violates the viewers’ expectations I use the term ‘photo/digital’ to describe the artwork. ‘Photo/digital’ is an honest and descriptive term and cues the viewer.
It took over one-hundred years for photography to be recognized as a legitimate art form because, in the beginning, photography had no history. The same exact thing is occurring right now with the perception of ‘digital art’ because its history is less than thirty years. I predict that within one generation, ‘digital’ will be recognized as its own, legitimate, separate and distinct art form.
Until ‘digital art’ has its own unique history it will be perceived as ‘photography’ or an offshoot of photography.
As a photographic artist who worked during the film-to-digital transition I want to go on record and state unequivocally that ‘digital art’ or ‘photo/digital’ art are unique art forms separate from others. I know of no one in the exalted position of curator, critic, director or gallerist who has had the courage to go on record and define this new, digital, art form so I’ve done it for them. If the art could not be created without the use of digital imaging technology, it’s digital art. If anyone would like to discuss or challenge this I’m more than willing to meet and debate the issue but I doubt there’ll be any takers.