Art and Tricks (2002)

My text appeared in digit magazine No. 6, June/July 2002

The latest (May) issue of DIGIT featured Kuba Tatarkiewicz’s text ‘The Art of Art’, where the author attempts to present his definition of art. A very ambitious topic, especially in a computer magazine, although DIGIT’s subtitle in its vignette reads – ART, TECHNOLOGY AND DESIGN. Kuba Tatarkiewicz’s text presented all the paradoxical misunderstandings about the subject – art and computer. The problem is that the subject – what is art? – is as wide as the ocean and I could write dozens of texts about it. I do not know (I rather doubt) whether “DIGIT” would be interested in such texts. The question of the existence and definition of computer art is a simple problem, and I could settle it with a single assertion that “for today” it is not possible to create art on the computer at all. Unless, of course, one would be talking about conceptual art – if one is still seriously concerned with it. So-called computer art is just like socialist democracy. From the moment democracy becomes socialist it ceases to be democracy, so art gaining the term that it is computer-based loses its meaning. On the computer everything is virtual and art on the computer can only exist if it gets there through a scanner or a camera, but even in this case it will only be a reproduction or a copy. I will try to justify this statement of mine, perhaps controversial to many. One of the fundamental characteristics of art is that it is unique and undefinable. Art, in its essence, is the same as other creations of nature – such as trees and stones or as man himself. When we enter the virtual world of the computer we find ourselves in a pattern of programmes and definitions. Every most complicated graphic made on a computer can be expressed in the form of mathematical algorithms and is repeatable; also the whole process of its creation. Let us try to do this with the simplest Dürer drawing. Not only the drawing, but even a simple pencil line made by one artist is not reproducible by anyone else. Only a mediocre copy will result. Trying to do it on a computer is even worse. Even the most sophisticated painting programs, such as Painter, for example, look like a toy for preschoolers to any painter. I once watched an exhibition of work by students from the computer graphics studio at one of the academies of fine arts; to my horror, all the “paintings” in the exhibition looked like one man’s work, even though there were about 30 students who showed more than

100 works. Every other exhibition of students from painting or graphic arts studios presented a multitude of different styles and artistic individualities. The computer kills any chance of originality and individuality. A good graphics programme gives millions of possibilities for creating and transforming an image, but these are possibilities defined by the creators of that programme. An artist using traditional tools is free – he is subject only to the laws of nature and his imagination.

laws of nature and his or her imagination. When I stand in front of a computer screen, I can at most tap on it – the world behind the glass is false, virtual – certainly not mine. When I take a real piece of paper in my hand, I can feel its roughness and smell its fragrance, infinite possibilities open up before me with trillions of effects resulting from the use of various pencils, crayons, paints and brushes.

Mr Tatarkiewicz himself noted this when looking at prints by Dürer (an outstanding artist) next to copies by other artists, that in art, trying to imitate or copy something always ends badly. I don’t know why he writes immediately afterwards that nowadays it is possible to achieve with the computer such or even better graphic and artistic effects surpassing even Dürer’s work. I repeat again: no artistic effects can be achieved with the computer. And here we come to the problem of the definition of art – when is an artistic effect real and when is it just a trick or a gimmick? Ridiculous, based on social and political contexts, or provocations and scandals, so-called contemporary art actually produces a mainly commercial media market. This gives rise to a longing for something real, for a painting or sculpture that bears the stamp of the artist’s mastery and brilliant individuality. This fundamentally positive trend, like the desire to return to nature, brings with it a mass of pitfalls and misunderstandings. It seems that someone who can paint realistically, for example, a horse on the run or skulls swimming in a sea of blood, can be

considered an artist’. These skills can be acquired by anyone if they want to, without needing any talent, let alone genius. This can be achieved even faster and better on a computer. These are the “magic” tricks that can simply be learned.

One of the most famous paintings of 20th century art, Malevich’s “Black Square”, shows a black square on a white background and nothing else. Anyone can paint a black square. Another example: In the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, there is a room where 10 huge paintings hang – collective portraits of city guards. All the paintings are masterfully painted by the most outstanding Dutch painters of the 16th and 17th centuries. One shines like a star and pushes the rest of these excellent paintings into artistic obscurity. It is a work by Rembrandt rejected by the client – a paradox? -no. The other paintings were just wonderful portraits. We fully meet the client’s expectations. To say that a Rembrandt painting is a portrait is far too little, It is first and foremost the work of a genius – his vision and style.

So, in art, it is not important whether someone paints a black square or a portrait or a crucifixion or apples on a plate. What is important is who paints it and how; his personality and character. Everything else is just ways and tricks. This also applies to theatre, music and film. The computer is a phenomenal aid in all these fields, yet any attempt to create an artistic phenomenon from scratch on a computer produces bland, ‘plastic’ and impersonal results.

My text is not a polemic; I very much appreciate the fact that Mr Kuba Tatarkiewicz has dealt with this subject at all, and I am close to his point of view on many issues, which he presented not only in this one text. I am only trying to show what it looks like from the point of view of a painter who has also been involved in computer graphics for many years.

Jan Niksiński – painter

This text can now be easily adapted, as we now have not only computer art created by artists, but also by artificial intelligence. This has similar effects to those I described in the text above – 11.03.2024