Constance Mettler

Call for Artists, Making Money at Juried Art Fairs, Craft Shows and Festivals

Digital Art vs. Photography Categories

Is the digital art vs. photography line moving and isn’t it time the shows updated their categories?  I do heavily digitally modified photography.  Recently I was faced with this choice:

Digital art - Two-dimensional work created by the artist using computer technologies. May include scanned images, from the artist or other sources that have been non-trivially modified through the use of computer programs.

Photography - Two-dimensional work created by the artist that includes digital and film photography that has not been manipulated to achieve results beyond what could be produced in a traditional dark room. Hand-colored photography and emulsion transfers are accepted in this category. 

I applied in digital art and the show disagreed.  On one of our emails back and forth the show person put forth this description – “ I personally feel that you should enter under photography since your work takes a photograph and enhances it through digital means but does not totally create a new image from the photograph.  I see the digital category as taking parts and pieces from different sources and creating something new with them, or creating an image using only digital programs from scratch.”  What a wonderful clear description that puts me into photography which I ultimately applied in.

When I first started applying to shows, digital photography was brand new and most shows didn’t really recognize it.  In fact, to a lot of them, digital was a bad word.  There was certainly no digital art category.  Photographers who heavily manipulated were placed into categories like print making or lumped in with photographers

Then shows started adding a digital art category which in the vast majority of shows looks like this – “Any original work for which the original image, or the manipulation of other source material, was executed by the artist using a computer.  Work in this category must be in limited editions, signed and numbered on archival quality materials.  Traditional photographs taken with digital media should apply in the photography category.”  In my opinion this puts me in digital art, which I usually apply in because I am manipulating source material with a computer.  But that word “traditional” can go either way so I am always questioning if it is the right category for me.

At that time (8 or 9 years ago) I don’t know of anybody who was doing pure digital art not involving photography of any kind.  But – the tools are better now, art that is being created today with computers and no photographs at all is very impressive.  And I believe that most photographers, even if their images look completely unmodified, are making use of techniques that could not be done in the darkroom. 

The line is moving and I think shows need to take a good look at their categories and make that division more distinct.

Tell me what you think that description should be.

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Comment by Larry Berman on September 7, 2015 at 10:21pm
That will confuse the jurors. You're being juried on your images, not how the art is created.

Larry Berman
Comment by Robert Wallis on September 7, 2015 at 10:08pm

I'm also finding out that not all shows are reading the process and materials statements provided by the artist. Is it too far out of line then to include a word or two of text such as "four color gum bichromate" in the 1920x1920 image block, sort of like a title beneath the image? If the shows are ignoring the application statement then we're screwed trying to find that differentiation from the rest of the pack. 

Comment by Larry Berman on September 7, 2015 at 12:46pm

Bromoil, silver halide, selenium toning, ‎albumen, ‎cyanotype. All alternate photographic printing or toning processes.

Larry Berman

Comment by Amy Fletcher on September 7, 2015 at 12:42pm

Really, Larry? Wow! I would think that if the artist created their drawing on a computer then it should be digital... don't you? If there is no "digital" category then I guess the artist would have to apply in the "drawing" category. I would think that a digital drawing should absolutely be n the digital category (if there is one). You can "back step" with digital and be very, very precise. You will never accidentally smudge your drawing with your hand or erase more than you intended with digital...

Comment by Robert Wallis on September 7, 2015 at 11:39am

I'm seeing a lot of renewed interest in bromoil printing. While that starts off as a photo image, it's a hand pulled process using graphic arts printing methods with a printing matrix or plate. Would that be traditional print making or still in photography?

Comment by Larry Berman on September 7, 2015 at 10:59am

That's another can of worms because they are not looking at the artist's intension in why they are doing the work. I know an artist who is master at drawing and for the past 15 years, has been using the computer to create drawings. You can't tell the difference between hand drawn and stylus drawn except with a magnifying glass. Sometimes the artist applies in drawing and sometimes in digital art depending on whether the show has a drawing category among other factors.

Larry Berman

Comment by Amy Fletcher on September 7, 2015 at 10:46am

Actually, Richard Eskin, last year there was a show that distinguished between oil and acrylic (I work in both and sometimes combined), and all other painting media and this year, thank you, they have combined oil and acrylic. I'm sure there are a few more out there!

As for digital, I have begun working in digital painting, so if I were to apply to shows, I would have to apply as digital and use limited number edition prints I suppose.

It's definitely an interesting subject.

Comment by Larry Berman on September 7, 2015 at 10:34am

The definition of digital art from Glossary of Digital Art and Printmaking (a committee I was asked to take part in back in 2004) is "Art created with one or more digital processes or technologies."

Just saying created on the computer is too simplistic. True digital art, when it involves using photographs, is a creation that's taken past the point of what can be done in the traditional darkroom. And a lot can be done in the darkroom by a skilled technician if you study Jerry Uelsmann's work. When Adobe first purchased Photoshop, they asked Jerry Uelsmann if they could use his images in describing what Photoshop was capable of. He declined to let them use the images.

On the art show circuit, it's easy to say what the definitions are. The problem is that an artist can apply in any category they choose, and unless the show director is doing due diligence and recategorizes the application, or asks the artist to change the category, it screws up the jurors understanding of what they are looking for.

Larry Berman

Comment by Robert Wallis on September 7, 2015 at 10:18am

The distinction I've read that makes sense is that work created from scratch in the computer is digital art and work originally created in camera is photography. That still doesn't address work that utilizes elements of both and my own feel for that is work of that sort should be either in mixed media or a graphics category. I'm still struggling on how to submit works that incorporate an image and accompanying text or verse.

Comment by Alison Thomas on September 7, 2015 at 10:02am

The problem is not what we think, it is what the show thinks.  Yes, I have been asked to apply in mixed media for a show that did not have a photography or digital art category.  Makes no sense to me but it is their opinion that counts in the jury room.  What do you all think would be a good description for photography and digital art that makes a clear distinction between the two?  I don't believe more categories are needed, just that some categories need clearer distinctions.

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