On our desks sits a new gray box, the inconspicuous herald of the great revolution that is sweeping our world. Times Magazine's 1985 Man of Year, " King Computer " is everywhere now. Was this just a machine that was good for science, for business? A sightless screen, a plastic hull hiding a silicon-based memory? Indeed, but this machine opened a new era of self-aware machines, and the opaque curtain of a technological revolution that could not hold artists at bay for long. The artists-heroes of this revolution, clad in the "traje de luces", the bullfighters' "suit of light", soon went down to challenge the Minotaur Computer in its mathematical, maze-like arena. Condottieri, conquistadores, pioneers, all migrants of the imagination, found that behind the glassy eye of the computer lay another world of infinite mental and physical landscapes, a treasure trove of emotions waiting to be felt.
Digital art may be the new frontier. This is uncharted territory, the wild digital west. Its first strength stems from the simple fact that it encompasses most of the existing techniques, blurring the edges between them. Artists, who have been trained for centuries to express their sensitivity through the few techniques they were able to master within a lifetime, have now a prodigious range of tools at their immediate disposal, right on their desktop, to be picked, experienced and mixed. The pixel soup tastes like freedom ! We can do, undo and redo. We can cut the thread of the creative process as we like it, without having to wait for the canvas to dry. Digital artists play, frolic, even fool around, enjoying the near limitless riches the technology offers, transmuting them into visions.
Nobody, in fact, wants traditional arts to be replaced by their digital counterparts, as photography did not replace painting. Many artists will still be using charcoal, as they did 25,000 years ago. But digital technology slightly shifts the balance in favor of the artist's spirit, freeing it from a few earth-bound liabilities.
The digital tools and media are not the chemically unstable,
decay-prone, slow-moving atoms and molecules, but flickers of
light, immaterial bits of information. And if art is, above all,
a matter of human emotions, digital technology enables us to
convey these emotions at the speed of light, from our brain (some
would say our heart) to the virtual canvas, and then to the entire
world, to be felt and experienced. Far from being the alienating,
insensitive, threatening process that a few people still denounce,
we consider the digital approach to be deeply humanistic: human
beings stand at its very core, and have their powers magically
enhanced. The machines are nothing but our faithful instruments
(and somewhat self-conscious too : after all, hardware and software
also reflect the personality of the people who created them),
our own obedient but perfidious Icarus' wings that we fly up,
higher and higher, to our burning
Now that we have entered the digital territories, we may ask
ourselves the same questions that all artists have asked for
so long. What is it all about? What are we looking for? Is this
a new aesthetic we are unveiling, one without the usual restrictions
of styles or influences, tapping directly, through the ever-expanding
digital channels, the incommensurable repositories of human experiences
and emotions ? It may be the case, or it may be too soon to tell.
Many present-day computer artists have been trained in traditional
media, and their roots go centuries deep. They may belong to
different schools and may have chosen different paths. But their
talent and visions have made digital art what it is now : youthful,
but already rich in content, visual refinements, and history.
Its digital nature enables it to be enjoyed by a growing number
of people, who accept it as part of their culture. The pioneers'
wagons, loaded with the fertile memories of the past,