Thursday, January 21, 2010

Traditional Fine Arts In a Digital World

Being a fine artist who works with traditional media I am from time to time confronted with the question of where art forms such as painting, drawing and sculpture fit in with the world that we live in today. Hundreds of years ago people got their portraits painted because photography wasn't invented. Then one might ask what's the point of painting a person's portrait today when we can just photograph them? I'm not denigrating photography by any means, but painting or drawing someone is a very different experience than taking a photo of them. For me drawing or painting a person is very relational. It delivers something photography can't, (and photography delivers something a drawing or painting can't). Making a painting for instance occurs over a period of time, where it is characteristic of photography to be more immediate in regards to time. For this reason painting invites the artist and the viewers of the work of art into an experience and kind of directness with the subject that can't be replaced by more technically advanced mediums. The subject is "channeled" through the artist's eye's head and heart in a very personal way and invites the viewer into that same intimacy with and knowledge of the subject. This is why I prefer working from life than from a photograph when I paint or draw because then it is about communicating a relationship with an actual person or your experience of a particular place ect. It is my belief that each medium, whether it be sculpture, drawing, painting, printmaking, digitally generated images, photography or film each have their own strengths and limitations and any of these mediums cannot be replaced by another.

I am discerning my vocation right now and I am very much attracted to the Daughters of St. Paul for multiple reasons. Their big thing is evangelizing through the media so I am confronted with the question of could my working with traditional media such as oil painting be integrated into their mass media apostolate? For a while I dismissed them for this reason...mass media nuns would have no use for a fine artist working in such "archaic" mediums. Oil painting and mass media just didn't seemingly fit together in my mind. But I would ask myself...then for what reason am I painting in oil if it's not relevent to the culture today, a culture dominated by mass communications? I want to use my talent to engage the culture, there must be a way to integrate the new media into my life as an artist so I could reach more people. I can think of a few examples of people who are integrating fine art, Theology of the Body, and mass communications to reach people. One of them being Fr. Thomas Loya, who redirected me to the Daughters of St. Paul after I had more or less dismissed them. He told me that the we artists must use our art to help the larger culture see like us, that is seeing the glory of God in the human body- this is purity. So I have seen that fine art and mass media can be integrated together but still questions arise. Some pieces of art, i.e. art that is digitally made or altered lend themselves better to dissemination through the mass media e.g. the internet. Here's an example. Here's a pen and ink sketch I did of Mother Theresa, in preparation for a ceramics project I wrote about in a previous post "Faith, Hope, and Love".


I scanned this into photoshop and slightly tweaked the image there. This image loses nothing of it's beauty or power by being disseminated online seeing as how it was processed digitally. On the other hand, if I were to post an image of an oil painting, though you can see much of its beauty, something is lost through being transmitted via video, in a book or through the internet. Seeing an image of a painting, though useful and valuable, is a different thing than experiencing a painting in person. These are just some points that I need to reflect on further as I continue my journey as a TOB artist living in a media world. Any reflections or comments are much valued!


  1. In many ways the contrast between "traditional" and "technically advanced" (or digital) media is simply irrelevant.
    It is an interesting way to think about the arts in terms of these percieved two camp mentality where artists either are encouraged or encourage themselves to segregate based upon the "role of art in the digital era".
    We as humanity are still having trouble figuring out the role of art in any era, similar to the ways that we struggle with the incorporation of faith in our lives (or for some our lives into our faiths) in our every changing societies.
    Speaking for myself as an artist I am primarily concerned with image and narrative, based on those principles and depending upon what sort of image or narrative I am concerned with conveying the media or medium usually takes care of itself, providing that I am in a place like Alfred that allows for a variety of processes via diverse facilities.

    Now, the question of the loss of potency of image via digital reproduction. I'm with you there, however the idea that some media are without exhibition issues is not exactly spot on either. Art given all of the chances in the world to be (digital or tradtitonal) disemminated in a variety of ways, digitally, virally, in person, in print, ect. may not ever turn out to have the right kind of impact upon or dialog with a viewer becuase viewing conditions are simply not right.
    Each and every peice needs to sort out its own ideal exhibition characteristics, however in the mean time on this earth the attempt at many forms of exhibiton in many differing ways in order to achieve acecess to many may be the only way to work toward that "ideal" or "perfect" exhibition status.

  2. I am blessed reading your blog, you have a lot of wisdom for such a young person. God bless you! Your sketch of Mother Teresa is beautiful, you are definitely gifted.