Hot Debate: Is Digital Art Real Art?

With new artists on iPads emerging every day, there is some upheaval in the art community about whether digital art should be considered true art or not. The debate is threatening the livelihood of artists who sell their skills as digital artists, and the stigma is real. However, the clear answer isn’t as easy as one might think. So, let’s try to answer the question: Is digital art real art?

Yes, digital art is real art. While digital art might be considered cheating by some artists, the truth is that to create a unique piece of art by digital means requires just as much thought, skill, and effort as traditional art. An artist’s tools must be learned and mastered regardless of the medium.

The debate over whether digital art is real art is more straightforward when you look at it from several different perspectives. Read on to learn more about the debate surrounding digital art.

Is digital art, real art?

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Is Digital Art Easier?

In the world of art, digital art is seen as the easier option when compared to traditional art. The fact that digital art is so popular nowadays and used practically everywhere, however, doesn’t mean that just anyone can do it. Digital art has aspects that are easier than traditional art, but there are some downsides, as well.

The only way to truly compare how easy digital art is compared to traditional art is to take a closer look at some of the different components of each. If you think digital art is easy to learn and create, you may be surprised by just how difficult digital art can be to master.

When considering if digital art is “too easy to be real art”, compared to work created by traditional means, we’ll need to consider and compare the materials, training and skills involved in creating a digital work of art versus a traditional art piece. First, let’s take a look at some of the advantages of creating art digitally.

Advantages of Digital Art

Let’s face it, digital art is exceptionally convenient. This aspect of working digitally is one of the things that quickly becomes obvious to artists who switch over.

Here are just a few of the reasons why digital art is so convenient:

  • You can take it with you anywhere: Since digital art lives on your laptop or tablet, you can work on your artwork everywhere and anywhere, even while traveling.
  • You can correct mistakes quickly: Unlike traditional art, mistakes created while producing digital art are easy to correct. All you need to do is use the undo button!
  • Your tools are infinite: There is a digital tool available for almost every need. Any type of artistic software tool you can think of can be quickly downloaded and made ready for use instantly. Plus new software tools are being created all the time.
  • Digital art takes less time to complete: On average, digital artwork gets completed much faster than traditional artwork. A big part of this reason is that artwork, once created, can be manipulated and changed into something unique, so you don’t have to start every new idea from scratch.
  • Beginning with digital art is easier: Since there is little to set up or maintain with digital art, anyone can give it a try and create something reasonably quickly. The learning curve is long but not too steep at the start for beginners.
  • Save space: Many artists need entire work spaces dedicated to their artwork, frames, canvases, sculptures, etc. However, digital art takes up very little storage space, saving you time and money while still giving you the tools needed to produce quality art pieces using your digital canvas.
  • Save time: Most digital art gets created in less time than traditional art. Digital art taking less time for creation is due to several factors, including the short set up time of the physical materials.
  • Less mess: Digital art is contained on your hard drive, so there is virtually nothing to clean up in between sessions or when you are all done with a piece. Traditional media is messy, while digital art creates no physical clutter (ie. traditional painting vs. digital painting).
  • Durable: Digital art lives on your hard drive, and this means that it is not subject to the elements. Traditional art may get damaged by sun, water, or heat exposure. But, if you have your digital art backed up on the cloud, your work is almost bulletproof.
  • You might find more work: Depending on the type of art you produce, you may find a lot more work as a digital artist than a traditional artist. The reality is that there are many more avenues and platforms in need of digital art than there are those in need of traditional art. Digital art could be a smart career choice.
  • Working with others is effortless: If you want to collaborate on an artistic project with others, digital art is much easier to share. Even if you only want feedback on your work, sharing digital art is as easy as sending an email. In contrast, you may need someone physically there to view your traditional art.
  • There is an international market: Digital artists regularly sell their art to an international market. Selling digital art quickly online is possible because digital art is so easy to share across the web.
  • You can work from home exclusively: Working from home has so many benefits that we won’t list them all here. However, you do not need studio space or time, and you don’t need an office for your work for showcasing. Digital art gets showcased in digital curations all across the web.
  • Endless copies available: With art produced digitally, once complete, an endless number of copies can be made. As opposed to creating a single traditional illustration, you can print as many identical copies of a digital file as you require.
Is digital art real art?

Is Digital Art Cheating?

With all the benefits of becoming a digital artist compared to a traditional artist, there may be questions about its legitimacy. Digital art has been called fake or cheating art compared to the historically significant and more well-known traditional art methods such as painting, drawing, sculpting, and even cinematography.

The most common reason why digital art is considered cheating is that some “artists” will take a photograph or another artwork and then manipulate it using software to create new art. So in this case, not 100% of the work is original, it has been incorporated and transformed into a new form.

There is also the manipulation of photography into cartoons, anime, or drawings, which relies heavily on the artist’s software’s artificial intelligence to morph the photo into a different medium altogether. This can be seen frequently by non-artists on social media.

Note: If a person is merely taking an image and applying a digital filter to it to make it look arty, I’d have to agree that this is not art in its true form. A quick application of a software filter can make for a cool looking image but if a user hasn’t put any of themselves into the outcome, it isn’t real art.

In order to be a true digital artist, you must learn the same types of skills to perform digital artwork that you would for traditional artwork. The training for a digital artist can be much the same as for a traditional artist.

(Source: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Common Skills Between Traditional and Digital Art

There are many commonalities between the training and skills needed for digital artists, that are similar, if not the same, as for traditional artists. No one would say that traditional art is easy. So, by looking at the similarities between the two disciplines, it is easier to see that digital art is not cheating.

The skills needed for creating a traditional drawing include:

  • Hand held pencil or pen
  • Precision movements across a page or canvas
  • Correct pressure on the page that varies
  • Control of the direction that lines go and the overall flow of your strokes

When you look at the skills and techniques above, they can be easily compared with the skills and techniques needed for digital drawing, which require:

  • Hand held stylus
  • Precision movements across a graphic tablet or screen
  • Achieving varied amounts of pressure on the screen
  • Control of the direction that lines go and overall flow of your strokes on the screen

Although made with different tools, the above comparison shows that digital art is very similar to traditional art in many aspects. So, when considering whether it is cheating to use a digital art process compared to a traditional art process, the answer is no.

Traditional Art vs. Digital Art

Disadvantages of Digital Art

Even though popularity of digital art is on the rise, particularly in the business world, there are some disadvantages that people tend to overlook. You may make more money as a digital artist, but the job can be less fulfilling, require more demanding education, and can even be more easily stolen from you!

  • Not as fluid as traditional art: The “lag” of digital art can be off-putting for some. If you are a traditional artist like a painter who transitions to the medium of digital art on a tablet or laptop, the tools’ latency may be discouraging. When you move your hand with the stylus, the strokes on the screen lag a little behind.
  • Your art is dependent on your computer: If you don’t have a fabulous computer, it will be difficult to produce high-quality work. You are bound to the processing speed and quality of the digital technology and software that your computer is running.
  • The undo feature can make you lazy: Having the ability to press the undo button and correct mistakes tends to make you less careful than you would if you were drawing or painting with traditional art.
  • Finding digital art tools is a rabbit hole: Lots of time gets wasted if you keep searching for new, different, or improved digital art tools. Since there are so many options, you may fall down a rabbit hole and waste a lot of time and energy finding the perfect tool.
  • Your digital art isn’t safe from thieves: Sure, most of your art won’t get stolen, but digital art is much easier to replicate, copy, and use without your permission. As a digital artist, your work needs safeguarding, or you may lose out on potential clients.
  • You may have to pay for ongoing software subscriptions: It makes sense that the tools you use as an artist cost some money. However, some digital art software is on a subscription-based platform. You pay a monthly fee to keep using it. Paying monthly fees for tools is slightly different from the artist who buys only the materials they need and then produces art.
  • You miss out on some skills: The techniques of illustration may be similar between traditional and digital art, but there are skills like mixing color, blending, and texturing that you may never learn as a digital artist.
  • You could ruin your posture: Creating digital art is usually done hunched over a laptop or tablet and done sitting down at a desk. Many traditional artists like painters may like to stand and create. Although you can get a standing desk, digital art is notoriously bad for your posture.
Pros and Cons of digital art creation.

Why Choose Traditional Art Over Digital Art?

Digital art has many more benefits than it has disadvantages. However, the debate over whether digital art is real or not wouldn’t be complete without a full rundown of the advantages and disadvantages of traditional art as well.

Just because digital art is becoming so much more popular and well known when compared to traditional art doesn’t mean that traditional art isn’t fun, creative, productive, and worthy of your attention. Read on to find out more about the advantages and disadvantages of practicing traditional art.

Advantages of Traditional Art

The advantages of traditional art are numerous. Since traditional art is much more well-known and studied, there are a lot of reasons why you may want to look into and compare it with digital art.

Some of the advantages of choosing traditional art as your primary practice are:

  • You can feel it: Traditional art gets done in the physical world. The canvas’s fiber, the brush’s bristles, and the palette’s colors are all physical and respond immediately to your manipulations, giving you a complete sensory experience.
  • It is simpler: Traditional art only requires the physical tools of color and lines that the artwork requires and a canvas of some type to place the materials. There is no software to learn. Getting started is cheaper than digital art.
  • Your work is hard to copy: Traditional art exists in the living, breathing world, so making an exact copy of it isn’t easy unless you have physical access to it. Having a physical copy is much different from digital art, which can get copied with the click of a button.
  • Your work is unique: Physical art is unique and is therefore worth more for those willing to pay for it. Creative and unique pieces of art are one of a kind.
  • You must be more careful: Unlike digital art, where making corrections is as simple as clicking the ‘undo’ button, traditional art forces the artist to practice patience, control, and oversight of where the piece is going to completion.
  • The environment of traditional art is more important and useful: The workspace, the physical tools, and the tactility of traditional art all lend themselves to immersing the artist in the world of their art. Getting immersed in your art gets artists in what is called the ‘flow’ of their work.
Digital vs Traditional Art?

Disadvantages of Traditional Art

The arguments for becoming a traditional artist before becoming a digital artist are compelling. However, digital artistry’s sheer popularity points towards the fact that traditional art has its limitations and disadvantages.

Read on to find out more about the disadvantages of traditional art:

  • Planning is crucial: If you are a person who likes to create things on the spur of the moment, without planning ahead, traditional art is challenging. Not only do you need to have available the appropriate physical space for working (one that may need to accommodate paint speckles, graphite dust, etc.), but you also may need to plan your creativity ahead of time, especially if you need to rent or borrow studio space.
  • Mistakes can be costly: Creating art in traditional forms like painting and even drawing does not lend itself to mistakes. Mistakes are difficult, if not impossible, to eliminate from your final product. If you are not careful, you may have to restart several drafts of a project before finishing mistake-free.
  • Stocking tools can be a pain: With traditional and physical artwork, you need the physical art tools and materials on hand for your creations. If you don’t, it’s not like you can download what you need. You’ll have to run down to the local art store or order some online and have them delivered to your studio. Stocking tools inefficiently can limit your creativity.
  • Mobile art it is not: Unlike digital art, you need to have space dedicated to your art as a traditional artist. Space where you work could be as little as a drawing nook or as large as a painting studio. Whichever traditional art form and medium you engage in, it is likely to require more space than a digital artist needs.
  • Hard to represent online: Some traditional art may photograph well. However, many paintings, drawings, and even sculptures are not easy to photograph well. Without high quality and engaging photographs, your art won’t be accessible online, and it will be hard to represent, sell, and promote.

Digital Art Will Probably Not Replace Traditional Art Completely

Now that we have seen the list of both positives and negatives of digital art, it should be clear that digital art is here to stay. Although digitally produced art is growing exponentially, and there are many benefits, this art medium will probably never wholly replace traditional art and artists.

Traditional art is unlike many other forms of creation that are mass-produced today. The fact is that people still appreciate traditional, unique art work for their homes, offices, businesses, and projects.

Digital art may have changed the landscape of artistry to include many more artists and to skew artists more towards their computer than their easel. Still, traditional art will always have a market and niche that is valued by true art lovers.

Start with Traditional Art Before Digital Art

Most people with experience tell aspiring artists that the first step of becoming a digital artist is becoming a traditional artist. Many of the techniques, tools, skills, and ideas transfer well from traditional art to digital art. You also get a physical and tactile love of the artwork before moving over to the colder and sometimes less fulfilling digital art world.

With the easy access to so many tools online for digital artists, many novices and beginning artists ask which form of artwork they should pursue. Both traditional art and digital art have their advantages and difficulties. However, it would be best if you gain some experience as a traditional artist before becoming a digital artist.

The mere facts that traditional art is cheaper, simpler, and forces the artist to have more focus, all prove that traditional art is better for beginning artists.

Some of the key reasons why becoming a traditional artist is a good idea before becoming a digital artist are:

  • Most animation studios (like Pixar) acknowledge and require their artists to have a traditional art background.
  • Most artistic schools require training in traditional art mediums such as painting, sculpting, drawing, or cinematography.
  • Digital art programs get designed around the real features of artistic medium and expression such as drawing, color, composition, lighting, and motion study.
  • More of a focus on anatomy, science, and how things move in the real world
  • There is long history in traditional art that you’ll want to immerse yourself in.
  • Traditional art skills are always in demand for the right market, and they can pay better too.

(Source: Informit)

Is it better to learn art digitally or traditionally?

How Long Does It Take to Become a Digital Artist?

While some might tell you that they use Photoshop and are now a digital artist, a true professional is highly trained and has honed their skills over years of schooling, apprenticeships, and side gigs before getting their foot in the door at an animation studio or as a popular online artistic content creator.

Becoming a digital artist takes perseverance and is not easy for making a living. However, with the right training, hard work, and a bit of luck, becoming a digital artist is possible. The journey from total novice to professional digital artist usually takes anywhere from three to five years.

Digital Art School

Although you could probably start playing around with digital art software and create some decent artwork, your usually expected to complete some art schooling if you are working towards a career as a professional digital artist.

(Find out how much art school costs and why it’s so expensive in my article here)

The necessary degree for professional digital artists is usually a bachelor’s degree in visual or commercial art. These degrees include both traditional and digital art medium classes. You also get introductory business classes.

Especially important for digital artists is taking classes that reinforce the most contemporary art and computer software that studios are using to create, design, and render their artistic projects.

(Source: Study)

Apprenticeships in Digital Art

Before you start a job at a studio or as a professional digital artist, you need to develop some well-rounded digital artistry skills. The best way of creating these skills for yourself is through apprenticeships. Most schools offer partnerships with firms, studios, and professional artists who accept work traded for knowledge apprenticeships.

Some of the most common skills that digital artists need to master during their apprenticeships are:

  • Computer design
  • Software architecture
  • Marketing
  • Web design
  • Rendering

Professional Digital Artist Careers

The elusive career as a professional digital artist is possible after years of hard work and determination. The average salary for a digital or multimedia artist is around $75,000. Some may even earn as much as six-figure salaries if they are lead artists. Plus, you get credit for your contributions to large projects like films.

The two most popular jobs as digital artists are web developer and graphic designer. Each of these jobs has enormous growth potential and pays pretty well compared to the rest of the digital art world.

Digital artwork is continuously growing in popularity and demand. There is an estimated four percent growth probability each year for the foreseeable future. The digital art field’s popularity and growth mean that digital artists have never seen a better time to build their skills and career paths.

(Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Web Developers

As a professional web developer, you use digital art skills in the design and layout of entire presentations and websites. You might work with a team or alone by creating and designing the architecture, design, and website layout. You can also work your way up and direct a team to run website design and function, including social media, landing pages, and contests.

Graphic Artists

As a graphic artist, you use digital and physical artistic methods to create models, designs, and layouts of advertisements, reports, and publications. The tools you use depend on the part of the graphic design project you’re working on. Graphic artists involved in the early stages of an artistic project may use traditional art to design, and then digital art for final products.

Many jobs use graphic artists on retainer or for the design of customized products and graphics. Some graphic artists are lucky enough to work in 3D animation and work for multimillion-dollar movie studios.

13 ways to earn money as a digital artist.

Final Thoughts

It’s a fact that digital art is real art. The skills, techniques, and training required are similar, if not the same in many cases, to traditional art. Many wonderful works of art can and are being created using digital means.

Digitally created art has a wider scope and acceptance in the business world, and there are many jobs available, while traditional art holds the edge when it comes to fine art presentations and gallery shows.

In addition, traditional art training lends itself very well to the realm of digital art. Many digital art schools teach traditional art methods first before teaching digital art tools and techniques.

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