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Computer Art and craft


The sidelining of Computer Art by the mainstream art world results in its continued obscurity, a situation exacerbated by the tendency to view “Computer Art” as a unified artistic entity, rather than a group of divergent artistic practices.

Martin Kemp believes this reaction stems in part from the assumption that the computer does all the “work”, in terms of rendering and effects. With Photorealists like Estes and Morley, the intriguing quality was that their “photographic” work had been executed by hand. The opposite, however, is true of computers:

The down-side of this […] is that people assume that wonderful effects in Computer Art are somehow to be credited to the machine – as if it makes everything easy.[1]

Because the computer augments the artist’s range of possible techniques and realisations, it is therefore assumed to be easier and more tractable than traditional media. Skill is associated with handicraft and machines are supposed to grant anyone the power to become an “artist”. Yet this demonstrates the lack of appreciation of artistic technique on the computer, and the ways in which it can be manifested. Indeed, Kemp remarks that because the appreciation of the skills involved is only found in specialist circles, this misapprehension is widely believed.[2]

However, Malcolm McCullough considers that the act of skilled work within a Graphical User Interface might be termed “craft”. McCullough broadly defines “craft” as: “habitual skilled practice with particular tools, materials or media, for the purpose of making increasingly well executed artefacts.”[3] He sees computer graphics developing its own references and techniques in which the subtleties of manual dexterity strongly influence the overall process, albeit at one remove.[4]

[1] Correspondence with Catherine McIntyre

[2] Email to Catherine Macintyre, November 2001

[3] McCullough, ibid

[4] McCullough, ibid