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*This is a brief (by literary standards) essay regarding my observed bias against new mediums in the art community. It covers the beliefs and opinions as I have observed them first hand and in online discussions. It's merely my attempt to shed more light on the tendency of some in the "old guard" to willingly accept or even experience new media to any substantive degree before passing judgement on it's worth as an artist's tool, or even impugning those who use the new media and call themselves artists. In this case, it's the specific use of the term "digital sculpture". I don't consider the essay finished, per se, but rather something I plan on adding to and amending over time.

The art world is a constantly changing landscape, and there's a non-stop roiling and boiling of both ideas and opinions regarding methodology. Artists are always finding new ways to express themselves, often with newly developed media and tools. Sometimes these tools are pure outgrowths of the artist community; yet, sometimes they are the product of either artists co-opting technology and methods from other fields, or better yet, co-developing new tools with those in entirely unrelated professions. For a time, this new media is often scorned and looked down upon. "It's not "pure", "traditional", or even "fine art"" is often heard being bellowed through the halls of art communities, college campuses, and especially on the web. More times than not, there is always a bumpy transition period when a new technology, tool, or media is introduced. This; however, usually gives way to broad acceptance if the media is found to have more advantages than disadvantages when applied over the broad brush stroke of time. The debate and racket never entirely dies down, though; at least not for a number of years or even decades. The problem with the detractors lies in how they handle themselves, and if they end up alienating themselves from a segment or even a majority of their community in the process.

One area where I see this occurring first hand in the new media is digital sculpting. The term "digital sculpting" is what is most often assigned to describe artists, and I do refer to them as artists, who utilize an entirely new set of tools built around the platform of personal computers. In particular, the software package ZBrush is most often what is brought to mind when the term is used. The bias and prejudice lies in the idea among some that it's not true art, fine art, or even considered work that is created by an artist. By a number of those steeped or biases for what is currently considered "traditional media", this new format and toolset is barely considered a bastard child of fine art, let alone having anything in common with "fine art".

From a technological perspective, ZBrush (and a number of other similar software packages) are merely the evolution of a tool set and technology that began over half a century ago. What began with punch cards and UNIVAC in an effort to create tools that could calculate rudimentary algebraic and geometric equations in an effort to better define the world around us has led to, ironically, and organic use of that which at its core is mathematical. From those early "supercomputers" that took up entire buildings to house the equipment, they have been refined to fit on a desktop, in your lap, or in your pocket. Along with the advancement of the hardware, massive advances in software have grown concurrently. From merely solving equations which are now high school calculus fodder, the software progressed to being able to visually present the results of solving these equations in a 3d format on a screen. Early examples include CAD (Computer Aided Design) programs which were initially utilized for engineering and architectural purposes. People were now able to design and test their ideas in a simulated environment before it ever became a reality. The profession was forever changed. Once this new tool was unleashed, massive advances in hardware would allow the software to progress in kind, oddly enough growing at a faster rate, and conversely putting exponential pressure back on those who made the hardware to push forward even harder. This is what leads us to today, and to the modern day digital sculpting software package.

ZBrush represents the most popular digital sculpting package in the world, to date. It's many tools and features mimic those of a "traditional" sculptor's tool box. The application and use of these tools and features has even taken on a physical tone since the widespread implementation of touch sensitive peripherals such as the Wacom Intuos and the ever-impressive Cintiq. Both the Wacom pads and ZBrush were direct outgrowths of artists recognizing the potential of a new media being born right before their eyes, yet not being used for any "artistic" purpose. Pixar, Disney's recently acquired animation studio, is to be credited with a lot of the heavy hauling in progressing the tech from CAD to ZBrush with their popular animated shorts and full-length animated features. They lead the spearhead of both co-opting the technology for their own use, and eventually leading the charge in opening up the new media by showing its benefits in real world application of the arts. Many other studios quickly popped up after this initial salvo, and the genie was out of the bottle, the new media was here to stay.

Pixologic's ZBrush merely represents the most advanced permutation of this drive to build a more real-world and familiar "traditional" experience around the method of creating artwork digitally. The omnipresent downside to doing art digitally had always been the fact that there is no "direct" interaction with the medium, and no remotely tactile way to integrate oneself with the pieces that were being created. The advent of Wacom's pad technology bridged this gap to a large extent, but the greatest leap had to come with the actual visual interaction with the work on the screen. Hardware technology had to grow to the point of having processors that handle billions upon billions (and even trillions!) of computations per second in order to handle the level of mathematical geometry necessary to even accurately visually describe the basic human form, let alone fine details such as skin and textile textures.

Once the hardware began to catch up, the software companies were already on the spot, with initial offerings such as Lightwave, Maya, and 3D Studio Max. These still lacked the tactile experience of clay, but were a milestone in the technological progression of the medium. Now, there is the proverbial "balls out" race going (most definitely NOT a dirty term, look it up!) between the software and hardware manufacturers to achieve mind boggling realistic detail in the digital sculpting medium. The interaction of the artist with their digital sculpture is now closer than ever to that of the tactile experience of working with clay. Digital clay can be set to have visual and "physical" qualities of whatever "traditional" medium is preferred. Shaders, or "matcaps" now allow the artist to see their work in a very realistic fashion, even going as so far as to be able to digitally paint their work to see how the piece will likely look when brought into reality via any one of a number of 3D rapid prototyping machines.

A technology that is still woefully behind the curve (but improving every day) that is necessary in order to bring these digital sculptures to a reality is rapid prototyping. Without these "printers", there can be no physical manifestation of these artistic works. There are a number of different technologies that allow the bridge to be made from 1's and 0's to reality, yet I won't cover each individual iteration of the technology here. It is not pertinent to our discussion, only the end result. As it does not concern the artist in any direct fashion, other than knowing basic simple rules of slight changes in sculpting technique to make up for current shortcomings, that discussion is best left for another time. However, what is important to know is that this is the foremost bottleneck in an artist being able to accurately usher their digitally sculpted piece from their hard drive to physical reality. Fortunately the technology is improving at an ever increasing rate, and whereas 5 years ago the retention of fine facial wrinkles on a final output from one of these machines was a pipe dream, has now become a welcome reality. The hang up with the process remains that there is still, even in receding amounts, a need for physical refining of a piece once it is printed. If at all possible, this is a phase that is best left to the original artist to handle as long as it is economically feasible to the artist and the entity doling out the contract. However, in most pipelines, it has been found more beneficial to maintain a small group of those who can use their finessing skills to make sure that the original intent of the artist and digital sculpture is maintained through the print cleaning process. However, the need for this service has drastically decreased over the past 5 years, and within another 5, I personally believe it will be virtually non-existent.

At this point, after having covered the natural progression of this new medium, it's prudent to cover the prejudice and bias that has accompanied its' inception, practice, and increased usage over time. Like with any introduction of a new method or technology, it has its detractors that use familiar arguments against it. As mentioned before, the most frequently used are "it's not true sculpting", "it's not fine art", and "those who use it are not artists". This is not to say that one who portends one actually ascribes to the others, or that one can only have one of these arguments. These three just best sum up the broad swath of antagonistic feelings towards the medium.

This expression of prejudice, antagonism, or antipathy towards those using the digital sculpting medium is not unique. It has accompanied most all new media for as long as man has created. I believe this to be, at least in some part, directly related to how the human brain separates the areas that are widely attributed to housing the art and math centers....or right vs. left brained. This is not going to be, by any means, a commentary on the intelligence or intellectual capabilities of artists or mathematicians...or those who at least trend in one of those directions. It's been well known for centuries that the art and math (aka science) communities have never gotten along. Yet, ironically, they have most everything in common when it comes to putting pen (or digital stylus!) to paper (or pad!). Those who are art minded (read: right brained) feel that the emotional or subjective side is what steers them in their work and creations. They often have little regard for the math/science community when it comes to matters of creation or the "heart" as it relates to the act of creation. It becomes even more obvious when matters turn to debates of a more social nature. Those who are hard core science minded (read: left brained) tend to fall back on what they consider logic and hard "facts" to describe the world around them, the most extreme elements looking at the practice of art as a more-or-less useless exercise of existence. As I've mentioned, the irony comes in that they both overlap more than they diverge.

Possibly the most popular and successful artist of all time, Leonardo Da Vinci, was (for his time period) a master of both the right and left side of his brain. His quest was creation, and his tools included those on both sides of the argument, a paint brush as much as a compass, and even what has been recently been discovered to be an opaque overhead projector. Yet, few on the right brain side of things dispute that he was an artist any more than those in the left brain camp object to his status as a scientific inventor. Why is this? I believe it lies in the fact that true creation is inherently neutral, in its ideal form utilizing both sides of the brain; however, the nature of man is to divide as its the path of least resistance in any ideology. Da Vinci often showed, even with the limited level of mathematics that existed at that point in time, that even in the most organic state of things, math and science hold true when the undertaking of creation is taken on. There is definitely room for injection of spirit or emotion to varying degrees, more so in "fine art" and in little supply in "industrial design"; however, the same rules often apply. The golden mean may be the most pleasing proportion to the human eye, but there is plenty of science and math to describe why it is so, and why we're programmed to trend towards these "ideals". The same can be applied in varying degrees to the human body, nature, and the universe at large. Math and science are only supporting and reiterating that which we know inherently as second nature.

This is where we delve back into the idea of ZBrush and digital sculpting as just a varied expression of creation. Sure, it may have a different set of barriers between the artist and the digital clay medium as opposed to the "traditional" sculpting elements of clay, wax, and stone. But it also has its fair share of benefits over the others; such as "undo", precision measuring, and larger than life mastery over a medium that has much fewer boundaries than a physical medium. It's an "unobtanium" of sorts. It's merely another tool in the toolbox, and should never be considered to be anything more, and definitely not less.

Other, more baseline biases against new media have their roots in more common aspects of the human condition; reluctance to change, concern of wage loss, and fear of loss of perceived value at large. As with a significant portion of changes or additions of methods and tools, especially as it relates to the fine art side of things, this is rarely the case. If scrutinized with a left brain mentality, art has rarely been this way.

No one looks at the pantograph illuminated manuscripts done by medieval monks as illegitimate, nor do we look at the pantograph contraption with disdain. The pantograph copies are usually indiscernible from the "original". Both are and outgrowth of the creator's touch, and are valued equally due to the master's necessary involvement in creating a final product. However, many of these books were not venerated as art at the time, even though they were highly treasured possessions. Only after long expanses of time passed were they elevated to "fine art" status. The same mentality is applied by current detractors of digital sculpting to the digital sculpture-to-printing process. The idea is put forth that the machine is actually doing the sculpting, not the artist. The machine is merely an automaton designed to replicate data created (or input, in the most primitive of terms) by the digital artist. How this possesses any major degree of separation from the pantograph eludes logic. Perhaps that is more of a "long view" example than the changing view towards digital sculpting, but pertinent nonetheless.

The concern over the potential of lost wages is likely the only worry with merit in those who deride a new medium. The strict adherence to what is art and what is not; or in this case, what is sculpture and what is not, is what leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Very few artists have ever had the pleasure of just creating art for art's sake, they all have to eat. Even those artists who we consider the masters of old, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Bernini, et al; were the commercial artists of their day, and those who were most successful were those who were able to master the new tools without sacrificing the makers' mark. Those who refused to keep up with technological developments had to either progress or be left behind, even if it were only in a small sense. Many were lesser because of it, unfortunately. Mastery of another tool doesn't mean that is the only tool that is used, or used to any preordained extent, just that it is understood in both benefit and detraction.

The most fundamentally understandable concern is loss of pertinence to one's profession. I understand this both on a existential level and on a professional one. It is a feeling that doesn't only cover the ever changing world of my profession (as I originally started as a "traditional" sculptor, yet quickly transitioned to digital) but also every aspect of my being. I have a feeling this bubbles up in everyone's life to some degree, with artists being on the spearhead. As what we do is judged, more times than not by the public-at-large, by the final result in a subjective manner, it is directly connected to our idea of personal worth. Few others are open to rejection in such a large manner. Most struggle with this in familial relationships, a slim majority have this experience to such a large degree in their personal lives. What matters to us all is even more pronounced to the artist. We need to have a sense that what we do is both accepted and matters; we have a need to make a mark on the world so that they recognize that "Hey, I was HERE." When carefully handled and put in perspective, reluctance to at least accept a potentially and objectively assessed change in one's life or professional methodology is what leads to folly and downfall.

The toolbox of the artist has always been in a state of flux. So should be the mind of the artist. Generally, those who have met with the most success are those who embrace the idea of the ever-changing tool set, in addition to accepting the inherent advantages and detractions of each. To retain the idea that a new way of creating art is not legitimate due to preconceived notions of what "real art" is goes against the core of being a "right brainer", an artist, and open mindedness in general. Time will always change the nature of the tools, but never the heart or mind of the artist. To cut off a group who decides to take up and embrace the new tool or method only serves to fragment the community at large. This eventually segregates many to the potential dust-bin of art history should the tide of opinion sway overwhelmingly and the new way of doing things be vindicated in the long term. However, there is one thing that has never changed no matter how much time or technology may separate one artist from another; that the act of creation is the only name of the game.

*As a side note, I *highly* recommend studying the life, times, methods, and work of Da Vinci and Bernini specifically, and how they were able to successfully navigate the seas of change as it relates to their work and practices. I also feel it pertinent to suggest reading "Simulacra and Simulation" by Jean Beaudrillard. It has a more-than-direct correlation to the broad based argument for accepting new media as reality. A concise overview can be found on Wikipedia (not my most trusted source for information, but valuable in a summation of the book, nonetheless) here:…
  • Listening to: Pandora
  • Reading: Hellboy: The Crooked Man and Others
  • Watching: history unfold
  • Playing: catch up...Always catch up
  • Eating: bacon
  • Drinking: not enough
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TimTownsend Featured By Owner Jan 14, 2011  Professional General Artist
Great post! As someone who has, at length, gone on public record on the subject of digital vs. traditional inking, I get everything youre saying. There was a time when I was labeled as being "anti-digital", much to my chagrin. This mainly boiled down to my inability to accurately articulate my feelings on the subject so that EVERYONE could understand what I was trying to say. Id like to think Ive since remedied that but, due to the fact that reading comprehension isnt exactly a strong-suit with the masses these days, Im not holding my breath.

A computer is a tool, just as valid as a pencil, brush, chisel, what-have-you. My only issues are when people purposely leap-frog the fundamentals in order to jump to point C because theyre too lazy and drunk on a sense of entitlement to actually put in the work. The reason digital media gets a bad wrap with more traditionally oriented artists is that its usually the avenue that these types choose to take to facilitate their agendas.

Hey, to each his own. Leap-frog all you want. Just dont try to pretend youre something youre not, right?

Happy New Year, amigo!
mistersasser Featured By Owner Jan 14, 2011
Word word.
TKMillerSculpt Featured By Owner Jan 14, 2011  Professional Artist
TKMillerSculpt Featured By Owner Jan 14, 2011  Professional Artist
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Submitted on
January 11, 2011