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Jessica Art Blog


by Bookwyrme , May 5, 2008—12:00 AM

Topics: Rambling, classes, photoshop, technology

I have long standing love/hate relationship with Photoshop, one that has only deepened as I've taken the photography class this semester.

Today, I spent some time working on two different pictures of palm trees in the park-or rather, one picture approached in different fashions. One is pretty much "normally" photoshopped, that is, the color and levels have been tweaked a bit to bring out what is there, but nothing has really been altered--it looks like what I saw and fairly faithfully reproduces a pleasant evening in the park.

The second has been far more drastically altered. It's now a somewhat psychedelic sunset, no longer peaceful, and no longer much like the evening on which I took it. It's fun, but where does it fall on the scale of things? Does it even qualify as a photo any more or is it something else ("digital art," a term I'll figure out one of these days)? Or does that take more drastic changes still? Is it "Art" or just scribbling with crayons (metaphorically speaking)? I had fun making it, but it definitely no longer reflects "what was really there."

I try not to spend too much time worrying about What is Art, but of course, it does come up.

Edit: The other image is on my blog at can't see any way to upload both for the blog here.




  Mary Lawler ( homepage )

05/08/2008 * 10:05:30

Michael, I am so glad you clarified your comments, I knew you were a Photoshop geek so I was a bit surprised by your observations. But I am pleased to have started some discussion around this topic. I am by no means a product of the digital age, I learned everything the old fashioned way and I still argue passionately that all artists learn the underlying processes by hand before they tackle the digital process. As Jessica pointed out, a great deal of the terminology and commands for software are based on the hand process. Even simple everyday command like Cut, Copy and Paste comes from photostats, razor blades and glue. If you understand the the history of the process the digital form will be much easier to learn and retain. I heartily recommend that you get into a a darkroom Jessica, even if just for a little while, to see the similarities and differences.
I suspect that's why I struggle so with Illustrator, all those vectors and foreign tools and commands are much to abstract for my little brain.
Michael, I think this could be interesting for a Feature Blog topic, what do you think?


  Jessica Greenlee ( homepage )

05/06/2008 * 15:30:14

Mary asked: "When you worked in a wet darkroom didn't you make adjustments to the print? Dodging burning, double exposure? It was OK to manipulate photography in a wet darkroom and not have it run the risk of being denied the status of art"

Thing is--I never have worked in a wet darkroom! Not yet,. anyway I'm a product of the digital age. I took very few pictures with my old film camera--I could never get them to look the way I wanted. I started really taking them about 6 years ago when someone gave me a digital camera, and started taking them seriously only a couple of years ago. So, yes, I'm sidling up to the whole photo-altering thing warily.

I probably will learn traditional darkroom techniques at some point--for one thing, all the black and white classes in the area are still analog, and for another, I think it will again help me look at things a new way. And, I like the history.


  Michael Mize ( homepage )

05/06/2008 * 15:20:14


I have been a full-blown Photoshop geek for going on 12 years now. And I apparently need to apologize for some confusion resulting from my comments. I wrote my response just before I left work and it obviously was not as clear as I had hoped.

You actually supported the point I was trying to make beautifully. But please allow me to clarify the points I failed to explain well.

Using many of the filters and other user friendly options, anyone can quickly create slick images that, to someone unfamiliar with Photoshop, appear to have taken hours of meticulous manipulation. I suspect this is why some people approach the digital arts with the same attitude that abstract expressionism often receives. I am most decidedly not a subscriber to this attitude, I was merely calling attention to it. My paint by number analogy was meant to illustrate that mentality. There are many that do not recognize digital art as a legitmate form of art because, in their mind, "the computer is doing all the work"

However, to use Photoshop to it's full potential very much requires an artistic mentality and aestheic sensitivity. That is what I was trying to express in my final sentence, and what you expanded on in your reply. I couldn't agree more with your statement that, "Computer software is just another tool in the artists skill set."

I apologize for any confusion my haste may have caused.


  ArtId Staff ( homepage )

05/06/2008 * 13:55:32

When you worked in a wet darkroom didn't you make adjustments to the print? Dodging burning, double exposure? It was OK to manipulate photography in a wet darkroom and not have it run the risk of being denied the status of art. So why isn't it OK to manipulate photography in digital media? Darkrooms hardly exist anymore, we have to work digitally. I keep going back to software being a tool, that's all. Except these tools are new and I think threatening to what we all tentatively agree on, is art.
By the way, the same uproar occurred when steel nibs began to replace goose quills and scribes went berzerk. It wasn't really calligraphy if it wasn't done with traditional quill on vellum. Today, we seldom work with goose quill on vellum, we know how, it just isn't practical most of the time so we now use the widely accepted steel nibs on paper. I predict that in 500 years or so digital art will be accepted by the mainstream art world, as art.


  Jessica Greenlee ( homepage )

05/06/2008 * 13:30:12

Yes, in many ways, Photoshop is a digital form of the darkroom (half the names come from darkroom techniques, which is one of the things that makes it hard for a non-darkroom photographer to figure it out--Unsharp Mask sharpens things. Go figure). It's a way of coordinating matters between camera, computer, and printer.

Even in the "original" I made some modifications--darkening the sky a bit, for instance. If I had had a polarizing lens on the camera, I would have gotten a similar effect. I don't own one, however, so I used Photoshop to intensify the sunset a bit--to make it more like what I "really" saw.

I'm still not entirely comfortable, however, with some of the more dramatic effects achievable. In some ways, the palm trees may not be the best example, but they were what I was working on yesterday, so they are what I used (Actually, as far as they are concerned, I'm starting to think that I didn't go far enough--if I'm going to make it unearthly, why not go the whole way?).

Probably I'll make my peace with it eventually. Maybe. Maybe not. Uneasy alliances have their place in art, after all.


  Mary Lawler ( homepage )

05/06/2008 * 11:38:57

I heartily disagree Michael,you are misinformed, not to mention wrong.
Photoshop requires a high degree of technical ability. Photoshop has multiple layers of capabilities, even the most skilled don't use them all. Sure anyone can "make a few clicks" and get some whacky stuff, just like anyone can pick up paint, canvas and brush and produce junk; but it requires a technician with a keen eye for color, form, detail, balance and composition to to enhance or alter a photograph properly and "anyone" cannot do it well. To liken it to paint by numbers is naive. I am not a "digital artist" but I do work with Photoshop on a daily basis and I can assure you it takes, training, math skills, a working knowledge of color theory, color balance, and traditional photographic concepts to use it well.
Jessica remarked - but it definitely no longer reflects "what was really there."- Most of legitimate art does not reflect "what was really there." The artist chooses to manipulate color and form freely. Take out a tree, make the house a brighter yellow, move the fence add a few clouds, need I go on?
Computer software is just another tool in the artists skill set. We are living in a digital world, artwork is reproduced, photographed and uploaded onto the web thanks to digital technology, and just like any other tool it can be used badly in the hands of the uneducated.


  Michael Mize ( homepage )

05/05/2008 * 22:37:50

The other art teachers and myself were just having this very debate at lunch today. Photoshop, and other digital manipulators, do not require any degree of technical ability to produce dramatic and striking images that very often do give the impression of significant artistic skill. In this regard I think digital art makes a lot of people uneasy because it very much is dancing on the boundries of art. In some regards, it's almost akin to paint-by-number pictures. It's like the complaint frequently hurled at abstract expressionism, "anybody can do it." Only in the case of Photoshop, that statement is actually quite true.

Ultimately, what it boils down to is decision making. Sure, anyone can click a few times and make a crazy looking picture. But just as with any other "legitimate" media, it takes careful consideration, sensitivity, and an understanding of the formal elements to create an image that will hopefully illicit an emotional response or otherwise resonate with an audience.

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