Digital Enhancement
Art Daily

Is Digital Enhancement Really Art?

Construction Versus Deconstruction When Creating Art

Standing in front of a blank canvas provides an artist with a virtually unlimited range of possibilities. Infinite combinations of form and color are possible for delivering the artist’s desired impact. What messages, emotional or rational, will she or he attempt to convey as paints are applied to the canvas? It is true that, most of the time, the artist already has some imagery in mind, but undoubtedly the final image will vary to some degree from the original mental image.

Digital art has opened up a wide range of tools for visual artists, and it has raised questions about what constitutes art. When I open a blank artboard in Adobe, there are many tactical and strategic differences compared to viewing a blank, white canvas in my studio. But the underlying artistic intent is the same. The blank space, yearning for form and definition, allows my thoughts and emotions to flow through to the viewer. However, the mechanics of producing art on a canvas versus a computer are different — each has its own advantages and challenges.

At a basic level, however, digital and analog creations share a fundamentally similar path. Both require a mastery of the tools at hand. For analog painting, there is first the choice of medium—oil, acrylic, tempera, and more are available. Then there is the need to apply the medium. Again, the choices are wide and include brushes of all types, palette knives, fingers, etc. An artist’s work is often recognizable through the techniques he or she develops in using these basic tools. Digital art also offers a variety of tools, including brushes, textures, algorithms for grouping and manipulating color, distortion and blurring tools, and much more.

One of the more interesting options for digital art is the ability to deconstruct. In traditional analog painting, we start with nothing and slowly construct a final work by mixing colors and systematically applying our medium to the canvas surface. Stroke by stroke and layer by layer, we construct our image. One of the many options digital art offers to us is the chance to start our work by applying a full image to the artboard and then deconstructing it to achieve our desired effect.

If you are on board with considering photography as an art form, then it is a small step to accept that the digital reworking of your original photograph is also art. But wait, are we saying that pushing a button and applying computer algorithms is creative art? It seems to make the artist more of a technician than a creative figure. But we could possibly say the same about a traditional painter. After all, anyone can take a set of basic colors and slap them on a white canvas with a brush. Good artists have mastered the techniques needed to transform color, form, and texture into a compelling visual image. Likewise, there are hundreds of different algorithms in a digital art platform. The techniques by which individual artists apply those algorithms are what make their work unique.

Digitally Deconstructing Art

Because the process starts with a photograph, the basic form is fixed. This starting point poses the first challenge, which is to have a photo with the desired balance and flow. By balance, I refer to the distribution of shape and form throughout the image, and flow is the natural path the eye takes when viewing the photo. There are ways to digitally alter these aspects, but that is for another day.

The photograph below was taken along the Monterey coast on a bland, gray day, but the balance and flow worked for my project.

Original Photo by WM House

The next step was to break apart the photo into larger blocks of color, essentially creating uniformly colored pixel sets.

Color Blocking

From the stage above, colors were enhanced via a color saturation routine.

Color Enhancement

With the colors blocked and saturated, I looked at two options. One was placing hard edges around color blocks to posterize them, and the second option blurred the edges, giving a softening effect.

Addition of Hard Edges
Softer Edges

Everyone will see these images differently. Some may prefer the original photo, but the digital modifications allow me to experiment with a wide range of effects to achieve what I consider to be the right look for this particular work.

The actual finished product (below) is different than the simple steps used above to demonstrate different techniques. But it was still produced via the same type of deconstruction process. It takes the photo and makes it look more like an analog painting, which was my goal. I wanted deconstruct the original photo and arrive at a point where color and light overemphasized the rock formations and set them off against an amorphous, horizonless background. The original photo provided the form, and digital modifications provided the rest.

Monterey Coast
Monterey Coast by WM House

I will leave it to the viewers to decide whether this process makes me more of an artist or more of a technician. Regardless of our feelings about digital art, there is no denying its significant impact on the world around us in film, galleries, memes, graphic novels, and advertising. The advent of crypto art and NFTs has even allowed us to own unique works of digital art.

Traditional analog painting is a constructive process, but digital art allows us to produce art using both constructive and deconstructive techniques.

Also see:

Engaging With Art

Art and Empty Space

Art Disappearing into the Ether

Early Artistry of the Standing Stones

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William House
William is an earth scientist and writer with an interest in providing the science "backstory" for breaking environmental, earth science, and climate change news.