SVA’s David Ross Answers a Seventh-grader: Is Digital Art a True Art Form?

November 13, 2013

To whom it may concern,

I am a 7th-grade student at Westwood Regional Middle School in New Jersey. I’m doing a research writing report on digital art vs. traditional art. I was wondering if one of your professors could answer a couple questions to help my research, if they have the time. I have two questions: What is your opinion on digital art as a true art form? Why do you feel this way? Thank you for considering my request.

Sincerely,

Amanda Perrone

ross200Dear Amanda,

Thanks for asking such a straightforward question about digital art. Let me try to answer it in a way that may be useful for your research.

First of all, the question you are asking is

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philosophical. That is to say, it has to do with the field of philosophy known as aesthetics, in which questions about why something might be art and something might not. The specific question of whether some digital produced image can be seen as art has to be answered by defining for your own satisfaction, what art is.

For example, in the 20th century there was considerable debate about whether a photograph could be considered art since it was made by a machine (the camera). Slowly it was understood that there was considerable art to making art with photographs, as well as serious craft involved in the actual production of the photograph. Now photography is widely considered art—though there are still some conservative critics who feel that only work made purely by hand can

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be art.

A great critic named Walter Benjamin, writing in the 1930s, made the provocative statement that the real question was not whether or not photography was art, but how had the invention of photography created profound changes to the way we live and learn, so that the question is now how do we re-define the idea of art.

Well, as to whether the invention and proliferation of photography changed the idea of art, imagine what the implications of the new digital world might be. The Internet, mobile smart phones, all sorts of digital devices and cheap computers have created a wholly new culture. This is the world that your generation will help define.

So the question is digital art a “true” art form is tricky. Short answer: yes, some of it is. But the real question is not whether one form of digital art is truly worthy of the term “art,” but how are we to judge the qualities of this or any new medium in relation to life in the digital era? As to why I feel this way, I suppose it is because the greatest role for art is to provoke useful questions, rather than provide simple answers.

Again, thanks for asking such an important question. Let me know if I can be of any further assistance.

Yours truly,

David Ross
Chair, MFA Art Practice Department

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