A senior at Plainfield Central High School in Chicago’s western suburbs has won a scholarship to a fine arts college in Chicago, Plainfield School District 202 announced.
The scholarship, won by Gillian Bambule in a drawing contest in which she had to draw a black-and-white portrait, shown at right, and a still-life, will cover her first year of study at the American Academy of Art in Chicago. The annual tuition at the proprietary college, which is accredited to grant bachelor of fine arts degrees in about 10 different areas, is more than $30,000, according to the school’s website. Only five students received a full year’s tuition as part of the school’s Senior Scholarship Competition.
Gillian has been drawing since she was 10, the school said in a press release. Her big art interest, as of now, is the Japanese art of anime, and she especially enjoys working in digital media. She won an Award of Excellence for a digital drawing in the 2016 Joliet Junior College Area High School Art Exhibition and several regional honors in the 2017 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.
But what she had to do to win this scholarship was sit down in a room and, in just a few hours, complete the two works shown above. No computer was involved. “I was very surprised and very proud,” the school quoted Lindsay Brown, Gillian’s art teacher, as saying. “She has really come into her own this year.”
Which brings me to the point of this story: Is digital art really art?
We know that under President Donald Trump, nonprofits and other non-governmental organizations are worried that funding from the federal government for artistic endeavors could dry up soon. “The National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting have long been in the cross hairs of conservative critics,” writes Graham Bowley in the New York Times.
Unconfirmed reports from the White House suggest that cuts to these organizations might be part of a larger budget-cutting process being undertaken at the federal level right now.
So will digital art continue to be worthy, despite more limited funding? we need to ask.
Digital art is like other media, but questions remain
There’s little doubt that art expressed on a computer is the artistic output of an “artist.” But who is the “creator” of the art? Is it the manufacturer of the software who wrote the toolbar button that draws a spiral or a perfect arc? Is it the architect of the software program which actually coded the 1’s and 0’s into a JPG file?
No more than Microsoft is the creator of a book written using the Microsoft Word word processor, I say, but others disagree. As word processors did for writing, screens could bring a total democratization of art to the world—making art accessible to all the people.
Still, digital art differs from art in more traditional media in that the notion of an “art collection,” often housed in museums that people have to travel to or in mansions of collectors, doesn’t really have any meaning. With digital art as well, the notion of “forgery” kind of blends into the notion of “piracy.” Digital art can be displayed anywhere you can find a screen that can receive a stream of 1’s and 0’s over a WiFi connection.
On the other hand, screens are becoming more ubiquitous every day, the Huffington Post says. “We spend more time engaging with screens than we devote to sleeping,” writes Tamara Sword. “Thanks in no small part to the rapid emergence of mobile, the screen has become our significant other, our primary lens on the world.”
As our primary lens on the world, then, has digital art made art more accessible? People no longer have a need to live in a mansion to “collect” works in digital media. So in that sense, digital art is more powerful than the more traditional media in that people can bring it with them and make it a part of their daily lives. Isn’t that what artists are going for?
Sure, they don’t make any real money this way—the College Scorecard from the US Department of Education, I’m obliged to point out, shows that graduates of the American Academy of Art make, on average, four or five thousand dollars less annually than the school costs to attend—but many artists I know list money as a secondary concern with their art.