Something from Nothing: How Digital Art Recreates the Image

By Jennifer Eiserman and Gerald Hushlak.

Published by The International Journal of the Image

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

For thousands of years, the image has resulted of the relationship between an artist’s body and pigments, tools, and surface. Printmaking and photography changed this relationship. While artists use photography as both a visualization resource and to create artworks, serialization and an “objective” means of image capture meant that by translating an image from one form (painting) to another (photolithography) in vast numbers, reproductions of artworks could be widely disseminated (although with little “art” value). The image’s materiality was further eroded when artists began to explore the imaging potential of computer technologies. Originally, artists like co-author Gerald Hushlak created imagery by accessing scientific tools within research institutions. Today, digital tools available to consumers create democratized hardcopy and electronically published images/forms with a homogeneous “look,” a phenomenon similar to photolithographic reproduction. Hushlak partners with computers to de-/re-construct images similarly to cubism. A 65 megabit digital camera; a “state of the art” computer farm; and generative, evolutionary computer “breeding” of drawings give Hushlak insight into the computer’s influence on contemporary art images. Breeding thousands of 1 gig drawings brought the co-author to an unanticipated observation: images created from photographs of debris looked similar to early cubist images. We speculated that Picasso might have sandwiched plate camera positive and negative transparencies, generating images similar to those from digital image processing filters. The Detroit MONA (2006) revealed that Picasso used a camera with a cracked lens, prisms and negatives, deconstructing objects and flattening space, creating early cubist images. Without these tools, cubism may never have happened. Through evolutionary computing, Hushlak adds three elements to the cubist vocabulary: unrelenting iteration through the minute detail captured in source images; serialization in the thousands realized through the image breeding potential of the computer (Mendel/Darwin); and recently, inter-activity, resulting from telematically linked interactive environments wherein artist, computer and user/viewer co-create images in different sites around the world. During Cubism’s Centenary, we examine the importance of the way that another tool, computers, are changing our culture’s understanding of, and ways of seeing, images. Hushlak partners with computers to de-/re-construct images similarly to Cubism. A 65 megabit digital camera, a “state of the art” computer farm and generative, evolutionary computer “breeding” of drawings give Hushlak insight into the computer’s influence on contemporary art images. Breeding thousands of 1 gig drawings brought the co-author to an unanticipated observation: images created from photographs of debris looked similar to early Cubist images. We speculated that Picasso might have sandwiched plate camera positive and negative transparencies, generating images similar to those from digital image processing filters. The Detroit MONA (2006) revealed that Picasso used a camera with a cracked lens, prisms and negatives, deconstructing objects and flattening space, creating early Cubist images. Without these tools, Cubism may never have happened. Through evolutionary computing, Hushlak adds three elements to the Cubist vocabulary: unrelenting iteration through the minute detail captured in source images; serialization in the thousands realized through the image breeding potential of the computer (Mendel/Darwin); and recently, inter-activity, resulting from telematically linked interactive environments wherein artist, computer and user/viewer co-create images in different sites around the world. During Cubism’s Centenary, we examine the importance of the way that another tool, computers, are changing our culture’s understanding of, and ways of seeing, images.

Keywords: Digital Art, Computer Art, Aesthetics

The International Journal of the Image, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp.85-101. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 3.412MB).

Dr. Jennifer Eiserman

Associate Professor, Department of Art, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

I am an associate professor in the Department of Art at the University of Calgary. I have been exploring the nature of learning in young children for over ten years. My work is inspired by the pedagogy of the early childhood educators in Reggio Emilia. This practice understands young children to be competent learners, with problem solving and inquiry skills appropriate to their stage of human development. Learning what this means and how best to support their growth has been the work of my students and myself in the university classroom and within early childhood and elementary settings in Calgary, Alberta. I have learned from the children and now use this constructivist, learner centred, negotiated, generative approach with post-secondary and post-graduate students. My interest in the relationship between art and technology emerged in graduate study and has evolved as a result of what I perceive to be the necessity for those involved in the training of artists to provide a foundation in contemporary media to their students. Prior to entering academe, I worked in museums across Canada at a time when museum practice was just beginning to embrace the Internet as a form of dissemination. This has led me to examine dissemination practices that are authentic to contemporary digital artforms, including online exhibitions and databases, Facebook, etc.

Prof. Gerald Hushlak

Professor, Department of Art, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada