Digital Media Foundations
eBook - ePub

Digital Media Foundations

An Introduction for Artists and Designers

Richard Lewis, James Luciana

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  1. 358 pages
  2. English
  3. ePUB (mobile friendly)
  4. Available on iOS & Android
eBook - ePub

Digital Media Foundations

An Introduction for Artists and Designers

Richard Lewis, James Luciana

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About This Book

This book is a creative and practical introduction to the field of digital media for future designers, artists, and media professionals. It addresses the evolution of the field, its connections with traditional media, up-to-date developments, and possibilities for future directions. Logically organized and thoughtfully illustrated, it provides a welcoming guide to this emerging discipline.

Describing each medium in detail, chapters trace their history, evolution, and potential applications. The book also explains important, relevant technologies—such as digitizing tablets, cloud storage, and 3-D printers—as well as new and emerging media like augmented and virtual reality. With a focus on concepts and creative possibilities, the text's software-neutral exercises provide hands-on experiences with each of the media. The book also examines legal, ethical, and technical issues in digital media, explores career possibilities, and features profiles of pioneers and digital media professionals. Digital Media Foundations is an ideal resource for students, new professionals, and instructors involved in fields of graphic and visual arts, design, and the history of art and design.

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Art General

1 The Artist and the Computer



We are at the beginning of a new age for art. While only a few generations of artists have been given the opportunity to pioneer a new medium, this generation has been blessed with many. The arrival of the digital media, the art forms created with computer technology, offers a wealth of new possibilities whose impact is just starting to be felt in the art world.


For many artists and designers, entering the world of digital art and design is liberating and exciting. While most begin with manipulating a photo, they will soon realize their biggest challenge is choosing which of the digital media to investigate next (see Figure 1.1). From still images to animations to websites to immersive environments, the range of forms and possibilities appears limitless.
The tools for digital artists are unlike any before them. Rather than starting a collage by cutting out a picture from a magazine, you can simply copy several with a few clicks and then rearrange them. Or select a part and paste hundreds of them to form a pattern. Instead of erasing and redrawing a line, you can reshape it with a drag of the mouse or even smudge it with your finger. A color can be changed instantly, and the palette of choices runs into the millions.
The freedom of working in digital media is liberating. When you can undo any experimental action instantly, disaster simply doesn’t lurk in quite the same way as in traditional art. Because a digital artist “works with a net,” the oil painter’s hesitation, fearful about ruining a picture with the next stroke, or the sculptor making too big a chip and ruining a marble statue, are largely things of the past. Even the centuries-old foundations of the art world—its gallery and museum system—can be bypassed entirely since artists can choose to distribute their art electronically around the globe in online galleries, Twitter, or their own websites.
Despite (or because of) its transformative nature, the new media have not been greeted with universal enthusiasm by many of the art world’s institutions. Some question how quality can be determined if every artist has his or her own gallery. Where are the gatekeepers? The ability of even children to tamper with images seems to threaten the nature of truth. Abuse of images, doctored or not, can be used to blackmail or even change the shape of an election. Artists, too, worry that control of an image that took them months to create can be lost as quick as a download (see Box 12.4 on “Copyright and Fair Use”). The impact of games on young people (and not so young) has led to fierce debates, causing some to accuse Game Designers of being responsible for mass shootings or the collapse in values of a whole generation. Because of these controversies, society may consider it not unreasonable to ask today’s digital media artists, like any superheroes, to use their amazing powers for good.


Ours is not the first era where artists have embraced new media and technologies in the face of resistance. It is worth remembering that all of what is today called traditional once did not exist. Many of the artist’s materials we take for granted, even the most basic of art’s tools, had to be invented or discovered. On some morning in prehistory, someone had to reach into the cooling embers of a fire and make some marks on a cave’s wall with a piece of charcoal for the first time.
A discovery for which we have a bit more documentation was that of graphite in the Cumberland mines of England in the late sixteenth century. This material would transform the nature of drawing and cause the fall of metalpoint as the most favored artist’s drawing tool. Just like today, a new medium—in this case, the pencil—was embraced because it offered artists new freedom. Lines were now easily erased. They could vary in thickness from light scratches to bold gestures based on the tilt of a hand and the pressure brought to bear. Two centuries later, the enormous value artists placed in pencils was illustrated during a war between France and England. Because graphite shipments to France had been halted by the war, armed guards were posted around the Cumberland mines after spies heard rumors that desperate French artists were planning a raid.
Art history is filled with examples of a new technology or medium emerging that sent art off in new directions. For centuries, oil paint was considered a poor material for art because of its slow drying time. It took the vision of artists like Leonardo da Vinci to see that this paint’s “worst” characteristic was its best. His Mona Lisa’s success could never have been achieved if he wasn’t able to keep reworking the oil paint for hours at a time and add fresh layers weeks, months, and even years later.
Many other technical innovations have helped change the history of art. The arrival of the printing press ushered in the first age of mechanical reproduction. The invention of metal paint tubes liberated artists from being tied down to the studios where they mixed their paint. For the first time, they could head outdoors and paint directly from nature. This led to the en plein-air techniques of French Impressionists like Claude Monet (whose work was called “an assault on beauty” and “wretched daubs in oil” by critics). The invention of new brighter and more intense pigments led to the wild, colorful pictures of the Fauves and the Expressionists in the early twentieth century.
The assimilation of new materials into art is not just a Western phenomenon. The invention of paper in China around 100 AD was a catalyst for lyrical brush and ink painting. By the 1200s, skill in the “arts of the brush”—calligraphy and brush painting—marked one’s membership in the cultivated, elite class. Even emperors labored to become expert in the application of ink to paper.
When European colonists brought nails, screws, and machine parts to the African Kongo lands, artists and nganga (ritual leaders) stuck them, along with bits of mirrors and glass, in ceremonial figure sculptures designed to hold magical ingredients (see Figure 1.2). Far from rejecting these alien materials, African artists believed it was the act of hammering these bits and pieces into the wood sculptures that activated their power.
In the 1950s, artists discovered industrial paint made of plastic polymers and re-christened it acrylic paint. Fast drying, water-soluble, cheap and available in buckets, it became a favorite material of abstract expressionists like Jackson Pollock and Helen Frankenthaler. Pollock loved to drip long lines of silver paint meant for airplanes with a stick across his revolutionary paintings. Frankenthaler was fascinated by how, when diluted and applied to raw canvas, acrylic paint would soak into the cloth and run—a technique now known as “soak and stain” (see Figure 1.3).
Probably the closest analogy to the arrival and reception of the digital media in our time is the invention of photography in the nineteenth century. It would eventually change how images were perceived and even how time and history were recorded. It was also met with great resistance from the art world and not generally accepted as a medium for fine art until well into the twentieth century (see Box 1.1).

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