Author Archives: Webmaster K

What is Art?

Category : Art is everywhere

Rembrandt's 'Belshazzar's Feast' (1635)
The writing’s on the wall for old views…

…Or more precisely, what is Visual Art? My definition has changed considerably since high school. I once thought that only realistic painting was “true art”. Having studied graphic design, I now realize that the same principles of design that make paintings memorable are also what graphic designers, photographers, cinematographers, and digital sculptors use to make their work memorable. I have since expanded my definition of art to include many mediums and many forms (e.g. Abstract Expressionist paintings). This definition may be too broad for some critics but I will attempt to justify it.

“Modern Art” has had a profound effect on the development of modern graphic design; for example the treatment of shape and color in much of graphic design can be traced to the work of Abstract artists such as László Moholy-Nagy, El Lissitzky, Piet Mondrian, and Wassily Kandinsky. Moholy-Nahy and Lissitzky were particularly influential in the development of typography. Graphic design/Commercial Art has also influenced “Modern Art”. Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein copied the work of comic book artists and graphic designers; they were praised for their “originality”. Graphic Design IS Art. Just as Roman statues inspired the artists of the Renaissance to create art, “Modern artists” have been inspired by commercial art to create their own art. Unfortunately, some critics still assert that graphic art is not “real art”. These critics equate profitability with inauthenticity; artists who profit from their work are “Selling out”.

This view of “true art” as a non-profitable venture is completely wrong and goes against much of the history of art. Da Vinci worked for some of the wealthiest families in Italy. He was not a poor man. Michelangelo didn’t paint the Sistine Chapel just because “he felt like it”; the Pope paid him large sums of money for his work. Prior to the 20th Century, Art was a profit making venture for artists.

The notion that “True artists” suffer and live in poverty while creating masterpieces is an invention of the Impressionists. Because so few of them were able to find patrons (customers), the Impressionists made a virtue out of not selling their work. Many of the great artists of the past (Titian, Peter Paul Rubens, and Rembrandt van Rijn to name a few) were well-paid during their lifetimes for their work. Art critics still point to the work of these wealthy successful artists as examples of what great art can be.

I began by saying my definition of art was very limited in high school. Now I would consider 3-D animation, photography, comic book illustration, and abstract expressionist painting as forms of art. Anytime the human mind considers where to put a mark on page, a canvas, a computer screen or a home, I would consider that art. That is not to say all art is great art. But then for me, Art is Everywhere.

The Sticking Point

Category : Art is everywhere

Sesame Street
picture from WQPT TV, a PBS Affiliate

Communication requires retention. When presenting new ideas to students, how much information is retained can often influence the success or failure of the idea. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point – How Little Things Can make a Big Difference, he points to 3 things that make for effective communications: the Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor (Retention), and the Power of Context. In both visual communication and education, the Stickiness Factor (making a message memorable) is probably the most important. Advertisers want their messages to be remembered (buy my product!) and Educators want their lessons to be remembered (pass my test!). The book details the level of research that went into giving Sesame Street the Stickiness Factor. In the new field of computer-based learning or E-Learning, there is convergence between visual communication and education. Gladwell’s ground-breaking ideas can help guide the artists who develop E-learning modules.

According to Gladwell, Critics of Television argue that:

…what’s dangerous about TV is that it is addictive, that children and even adults watch it like zombies… [It is the] violence, bright lights, loud, and funny noises, quick editing cuts, zooming in and out, [and] exaggerated action… that hold our attention.

Gladwell p100

Some of the same criticism has been leveled at E-learning. People do not absorb the information displayed by technology; they only watch mindlessly and uncritically because of its flashiness. Contradicting this view, the primary finding which guided the development of Sesame Street is that children tune out when a TV program is confusing and tune in when it makes sense. “Flash and dash” is not the only reason they watch. Extrapolating from this finding it is not just the flashiness of a presentation that engages learners, it is whether learners can make sense of the presentation. Fancy graphics are not sufficient for teaching; the fancy parts must be combined with a narrative that makes sense.

Unlike TV, computer based-learning has the potential to be more interactive; imagine if Big Bird or Oscar stopped what they were doing when they saw a little girl or boy could not understand. This would be impossible to do with TV but quite possible to do with an interactive computer program. The potential for innovation is great. The tipping point for effective learning involves skillful use of both graphics and narrative, a blend which shows once again that Art is everywhere.


Category : Ethics

Is the Mac Dead?

“Why support the mac anyway? There are so few mac users and the platform is dying… in a few years there won’t be any mac users at all.”

Question: When did I first hear the statement above?

The answer is 1991.

That’s right, 16 years ago.

As someone who prefers using a mac I tire of hearing this argument over and over again. When I purchase a product that can be used on multiple platforms (Windows and Mac or even better Windows, Mac, and Linux), I have greater confidence in that product because I know the manufacturer has spent the time to test it thoroughly! I can’t say that about Windows-only or even Mac-only products.

I think PC-users benefit from cross-platform products. Windows is unfairly branded as an insecure platform when really its the software running on Windows that is the source of insecurity. If a program is designed to work on multiple platforms, it tends to be designed better (i.e. fewer security flaws). Developers don’t want to repeat the building of the wheel (time is money) so they tend to develop more robust software. When they encounter a problem on a Mac they might investigate whether the same problem occurs on a PC thus benefiting Windows users. The same can happen in reverse. This results in better software all around for everyone.

Mighty Morphin’ Mac

Category : 3-D Modeling

DazStudio from Daz Productions

When I first started creating my own 3-D Models, I found the most popular online resources — Morph Manager, UV Mapper Pro, and Cr2Editor — are all PC-Only. With patience and perseverance I discovered some alternatives to these programs that work on the Mac!

Shade is an excellent tool for building 3-D Models from scratch that is produced by E-Frontier and is available for both the Mac and the PC. 3-D objects are designed in Shade using splines, curves that can be re-shaped by moving a small set of control points; this is the same method used to create shapes in Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator. In building my own models, I learned that Shade has UV Mapping capabilities equivalent to UV Mapper Pro. Although Shade has a steep learning curve, it is well worth the time and monetary investment.

DAZStudio created by DAZ Productions is quickly becoming a powerful alternative to Poser. The cost of entry is much less than Poser (DAZStudio is free) although it lacks some of the capabilities of Poser. There are many plug-ins available, some free and some for sale, that increase its functionality to the level of Poser. One very useful free plug-in to get for DAZStudio is Inj / Rem Export, a tool for creating Morph Injection files.

Xcode, Apple’s Development Program, is available on the OS X installer disc. This is the closest thing to a CR2 Editor available for the Mac. XCode won’t add extra-formating to a file unlike TextEdit. It is a powerful tool but it seems like a waste to use it for something as trivial as editing a text file.

Tech Bad

Category : 3-D Modeling , Ethics

3D Print from the University of Alberta
3D Print from the University of Alberta

I was trained as a graphic designer and have watched as technology has transformed the graphic design industry. In school, our instructors insisted students do everything by hand. In contrast, during my practicum almost nothing was done by hand. The computer reigned supreme. Even the old PMT (Photo-Mechanical Transfer) machine we used for our school projects wasn’t used in the print shops anymore. I saw the trends and after graduation enrolled in computer courses. Since that time, many graphic design jobs have faded away. No more typesetters or pre-press production workers. Businesses closed. Now anyone with a computer can do graphic design. I see the potential for similar things to happen in construction.

Right now, a 3D Model can be designed on computer and then turned into a physical sculpture using so-called “3D Printers”. [Update Dec. 7, 2007: 3-D printing currently involves taking plaster or sand and using computer guided manufacturing tools to fuse these materials into a specific shape, as was the case with the picture above.] This technology is in its infancy and it is far too expensive for large-scale applications. With improvements however, I foresee that a plan drawn on computer could be “printed” without the use of construction workers. More jobs lost. I am usually very positive about technology but this prospect of job-loss is hard to reconcile with progress.

The Principles of Design

Category : Art is everywhere

Sculpture of Two-Face by Tim Bruckner
Sculpture of Two-Face by Tim Bruckner

Why are symmetrical faces considered more attractive than less symmetrical faces? What makes Macs so appealing to some consumers? Why do some homes sell fast and others take a long time to sell in the same area? Balance, Rhythm, Emphasis, Unity, Movement, Pattern, and Contrast. These design principles are everywhere. Design makes the difference.

According to the BBC (Nov 18, 2004), symmetrical balance in a face is more appealing to a potential mate than asymmetry. Comic books, cartoons and movies often portray unbalanced villains as ugly (unbalanced faces to match their character). In pursuit of beauty, plastic surgery "re-designs" the human form so that it is more symmetrical and balanced. One can argue about the right or wrong of these judgments but it seems that people have an in-born desire for balanced design which influences how they perceive others and themselves.

Macs appeal to some consumers because of how they adhere to certain design principles: balance, rhythm, and unity. Apple uses a similar design theme from their smallest machines (iPod) to their desktop machines (iMac). The Mac Pro is a bit of an aberration. Having sold electronics in another life, I know some consumers find the Mac unappealing for the same reason others are so attached to it; it doesn’t look like a typical computer. In this sense, Macs do not unify with other computers. They create a feeling of imbalance which leads some consumers to reject them as unusual.

In watching “Sell this House” on A&E, again and again Roger Hazard and Tanya Memme fix hard to sell houses by applying the Principles of Design; creating unity between rooms, balancing out elements, and emphasizing important features through contrasting colors. My old art college instructors would be proud. He applies everything that I learned in a practical way to sell a product. I am always amazed at how a dull house is transformed into a desirable product simply by applying a few basic design rules.

The Principles of Design influence choices in mates, consumer items, and houses. These choices may be unconscious but Art is Everywhere.

How real is reality?

Category : Ethics , Photoshop

3D Wine Glasses
picture from wikipedia

I teach Photoshop tutorials in a Post-Secondary setting. As part of my tutorials, I regularly show my students the excellent work of Greg Apodaca (see his digital portfolio). Any woman who has compared herself unfavorably to a model in a magazine can feel much better knowing how heavily edited such images are (see blonde and bikini). Greg’s Digital Portfolio showcases his amazing skill as a digital retoucher but it also brings up an ethical question: how much of what we see in the media is real? Court cases, scientific experiments, articles in the news and young girls self-esteems often depend upon visual evidence. Digital art technology (Photoshop, Poser, etc.) makes it possible to alter visual evidence in significant yet convincing ways. I have seen incredible work by 3D artists that could be passed off as legitimate photos (see these artist created wine glasses). Not to sound paranoid but digital art has now become so realistic, can we completely trust everything we see? Just a thought.