Can fine art be digital?

Embracing digital art is a rite of passage


Turquoise Default No. 5 by Paul-Émile Rioux 

If there is one entity that has defied every boundary, broken out of every box, and bulldozed every expectation it is digital fine art. 

Digital art has been bold despite opposition attempting to minimize it as a lesser art form. It dominates now more than ever despite even the artist communities bullying.

Fine art and especially digital fine art, are denoted as imaginative right? Asking if digital art can be fine art is also asking, is the art imaginative? Most of the time the answer is yes, as to create any form of art one must see it as an image in the mind first. Edward Hopper reminds us, “No amount of skillful invention can replace the essential element of imagination”. 

Wherever there is imagination, there is art. Others say, focus on what the piece says about the essence of what is being presented. Whether it’s a budding flower or the gritty side of a building. 

If it speaks, it is art. 

Digital fine art amplifies analog art forms

Digital copies of an original work stand as the echos of the first piece, causing it to speak even louder throughout the annals of history. 

If we’re using perspective here, digital art has actually made it possible for a piece of artwork, to stay with us throughout the centuries. It has increased our ability to preserve. We know of the greatest works of fine artists because digital technology made it so.

To deny digital fine art is to deny our forefathers and mothers–is to deny our children some of the most radical artists to create.

And the nature of fine art as a whole makes it one not privy to predictability. It is a waxing, waning, growing resource that seeks to meet the needs of the people, needs, many of which they do not know they have. 

So, can fine art be digital? in a word, the answer is yes. As the culture demands the digitization of art and falls in and out of love with new technology, fine art will birth digital art. Of course, it will not do this without a preface or disclaimer. In order for it to exist, the analog and the original cannot be made extinct. And in essence digital art, when done skillfully and wholly, will mirror the mediums it portrays so much you have to wonder if it’s digital at all.

Digital fine art as a hybrid 

The advent of digital fine art has made it an elemental use for many artists. The use of the digital does not overcome the work of the artist but is a tool in the creative process to create an enduring, complete, and innovative fine art piece. 

A Cornell University article on Digital Entanglements by Cheatle & Jackson, cites the collaborative marriage of the digital and the contemporary in a “postdigital” era. The piece implies that artists ought to be the purveyors of these new technological realities. And looking deeper at the profundity of the union is how the digital has superimposed its identity onto all aspects of human life such that art will not and cannot be exempt. The way that human beings relate to the world around them and the artist to the materials at his or her disposal will be retooled.

As early as 1901 Frank Lloyd Wright knew this and saw the digital as a grand fortune than a misstep, when he said, “…in the Machine lies the only future of art and craft – as I believe, a glorious future; that the machine is, in fact, the metamorphosis of ancient art and craft; that we are at last face to face with the machine – the modern Sphinx-whose riddle the artist must solve if he would that art live….” It is then how are will continue on, to live an abundant life as the digital has made it so. 

Computers, tablets, 3D printers, and scanners have all become vital tools in structuring the art we see today. Enabling works to be printed on giclee canvas, wood, blankets, pillows, and wall hangings/tapestries, mugs, stickers, clothing, glass–basically, every material possible. If it can accept the digital it can be used for the purpose of conveyance. 

Cheatle & Jackon’s study of fine art furniture maker Wendell Castle identifies him as an example of an artist as a “creative and critical user of computational tools” as their use creates new and deeper insights and theory from which human beings and computers collide and expand, but also the artist and the computer. For instance, the 3D printer and scanner as a form of robotics creates possibilities for our physical world and allows artists to broaden their scope of work. We see this happen in bionics. 

The fusion of computer and human, further allows for the imagination to be ripped from its bounds. Castle a 40+ year veteran of the digital-traditional art era is said to inhabit a studio space, happily balanced by the contemporary-digital, and the enduring traditional techniques of woodwork. He welcomes the myriad of interdisciplinary channels that actually fortify his woodwork craft by the use of the industrial, sculpture, and fine art furniture production (Cheatle & Jackson).

By and large, the digital is the passage to the innovative, is synonymous with innovation.


Locus 2 by Paul-Émile Rioux 

Digital fine art is limitless

Digital fine art has a limitless unbounded ability to create worlds or reflect back to us the world we live in. Sometimes it can do both in the same piece of art. Digital art was always going to come, how far it has gone has everything to do with art itself. It has always stood as a vessel of creation, birthing what is necessary for the time, using what may seem inconsequential to stitch together what we would rather not do without. 

Consider MAC digital artist Paul-Emile Rioux. All of his work is done digitally. If you did not know it you might question what kind of brushes he used or what angle of a building he photographed.  The digital is the door to the unseen with the ability to create from a perception that must push past the knowable and the foreseeable. Art that leaves us with critical thought and evolutionary ideas is fine.

And of course, not all fine art is formed in the womb of the abstract. But what Rioux has managed to do is definitive of the virtuoso abstract-figurative-digital fine artist.


Miami Planet by Ramon Espantaleon

Some disown and deny digital art as the illegitimate child of fine art. Noting that because it can be reproduced and printed so rapidly it must be losing its vitality or depth somehow. But to deny any form of art and the advances it has taken in its growth is to deny all art as from digital art renderings pours fine art elements.  It denies art an opportunity to grow as all things must.

Ramon Espantaleon and his passion for vibrant colors enchant the forbidden. The above piece,  Miami Planet was printed on plexiglass. Looking closely one might see the top of a human head, the outlines of ears, and a nose. It’s as if Espantaleon takes us inside the head of the creative colorful, city that is Miami, that is the Miamian. His digital plexiglass piece may not have been conveyed quite the same without the digital. 

Mixed medium fine art is how Espanaleon created his series titled “One” where a 3D printer was used to create a model of Manhattan, Deconstruction Manhattan.  The way he was able to show the gravelly heart and soul of the city, with the use of bronze material and his 3D printer not only bears the mark of posterity for this city but leaves you wanting more of what the digital has to offer.   


Deconstruction Manhattan by Ramon Espantaleon 

With the many forms of digital fine art, there are so many ways to share a message. The techniques, software, and hardware that make these art forms possible create an enumerable amount of digital art forms. 

Forms of digital fine art 

Here are some forms of digital art but definitely not an exhaustive list: 

Expressionism Digital Art is a style of fine art that is also related to digital fine art and focuses on emotion and the expression of it through feeling. The goal is to take the viewer somewhere emotionally–to mood set. Expressionism also often plays with color and may utilize words.  When you leave the piece feeling like you’ve had an experience and have been transported to an empathetic space the art may be indeed expressionism.  

Impressionism Digital Art is an art form that literally relies on the viewer to impress upon the piece the ultimate meaning of it. Impressionism first begins with what the artist saw in the objects or forms they painted. It will often resemble real-world forms and may be distorted but still very much true to the object it is depicting as far as a general structure. Monet is cited as one of the best impressionist painters and certainly one of the most imitated even in digital art. Impressionism and expressionism often come together with one piece, evoking the full stream of human emotion.   

Digital Photography is one of the more commonly referenced digital forms of art that truly took off with the advance of the Polaroid camera to the disposable camera to the digital point and shoots with this same if not only smaller and sometimes sharper depending on the maker, cell phone cameras. All of these evolutions in cameras are in large part thanks to the ability to harness light with the lens and guide it to a silicone-based sensor.  These are then translated to the pixels in the photosite. Technology has so advanced it is now possible to shoot full videos, films, vlogs with a camera phone. These extraordinary tiny pieces of tech today, produce some of the sharpest HD results to date.