Does Digital Distort Art?

I recently saw something my friend and mentor posted about the fact that writing long hand uses different parts of your brain than typing.  The theory was that if you wrote a story using a word processor, then because you were thinking in a fundamentally different way, the imprint found its way into your art, as changes in how your story was structured and told.  There’s something to this, I think.

So many authors write longhand, because it takes away the temptation to format, spell check, rewrite obsessively and mess about with things that really don’t matter (fonts, colours, indentations), in the telling of a good tale.  If you write longhand, you more or less get one continuous flow, without stops for prettiness or indecision in your wording.  You’re more or less stuck with the limitations, but also the freshness and spontaneity, of that first draft.  You’re not distracted by the endless red squiggly line spell check interruptions or the need to remove the third “e” you accidentally just typed into the word “need” (or the exclamation mark you typed inside the quotation marks and had to erase).  It’s a higher fidelity, albeit slower, way of capturing your first thoughts, as freshly formed in your mind.

Recognising these temptations, many digital writing tools now remove the formatting options and the temptations.  Scrivener is a good example.  Write first, format later.  Microsoft Word is anathema to authors that want a clutter-free word processor.

I’ve previously written that DAWs might not be the best song writing tool.  What I had neglected to recognise is that writing a song in a DAW fundamentally changes the nature and character of the music you create.  Your brain is using different brain cells, in different ways.  The consequence is music that sounds markedly different to what you would come up with around a campfire, with just a harmonica or acoustic guitar to hand.  Composers, similarly, create entirely different music, when writing on score paper with a pen, than they do when sitting in front of a scoring programme, such as Sibelius.  You get different music entirely.

My friend is a professional artist, renowned for his video art and for large scale artworks created in meticulous and minute detail in Photoshop, then printed in high resolution to massive boards.  His acrylic paintings look nothing like his digital works.  Which is better?  It depends on what you like.  Both have excellent qualities.

Does this mean analogue is good and digital is bad?  No, I don’t think so.  Digitally produced art is different.  It’s different because it exercises your brain in different ways, so that some things that would appear in a more organic method of creation are missing in the digital creation (and vice versa).  They both have their place.

However, I think we are sometimes too quick to abandon old, analogue techniques, in favour of digital ones.  Changing the medium changes the message.  If you’re an artist, experiment with digital and non-digital creation tools.  You might be surprised.

Nothing stops you from drafting using one tool, but finishing in another, either.  If you write a song on paper, with a kazoo, what’s to stop you from taking the tune and lyrics and producing the hell out of it in a layered, looped, multi-track, MIDI-laden extravaganza?  If you have a synthetic drum loop, what stops you from recording a rendition of it played by hand, on the bongos?  Sketch in oils, but paint in pixels.  Draw in the computer with a tablet device, but render the finished work by hand, in pencil.  Why not?

Digital tools and media almost certainly do distort art, but if you can use them only when it suits you and retain skills in older, non-digital techniques, you can arrive at some pretty interesting and original results.  Don’t be a slave to digital, but don’t get caught up in the Mojo-seeking hype of analogue, either.


About tropicaltheartist

You can find out more about me here: There aren’t many people that exist in that conjunction of art, design, science and engineering, but this is where I live. I am an artist, a musician, a designer, a creator, a scientist, a technologist, an innovator and an engineer and I have a genuine, deep passion for each field. Most importantly, I am able to see the connections and similarities between each field of intellectual endeavour and apply the lessons I learn in one discipline to my other disciplines. To me, they are all part of the same continuum of creativity. I write about what I know, through my blogs, in the hope that something I write will resonate with a reader and help them enjoy their own creative life more fully. I am, in summary, a highly creative individual, but with the ability to get things done efficiently. Not all of these skills are valued by the world at large, but I am who I am and this is me. The opinions stated here are my own and not necessarily the opinion or position of my employer.
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2 Responses to Does Digital Distort Art?

  1. toby says:

    This is the right blog for anyone who wants to find out about this topic. You realize so much its almost hard to argue with you (not that I actually would wantHaHa). You definitely put a new spin on a topic thats been written about for years. Great stuff, just great!

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