Educating The Public

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I have alluded to this topic before in other columns and others have also given opinions about it. The topic is: How do we explain what we do on the computer. This problem seems to be relatively if not absolutely universal since different readers have expressed how they handle it in reference to other columns. However, I have never devoted a full column to it and I decided it was necessary.

I'll start by using my own work as an example. I was a professional photographer before I started to use the computer. While I have done work that was more symbolic in nature, recently I have enjoyed creating beautiful and tranquil scenery. I use tiny pieces of my photographs and combine them. Then I apply software, filter, etc. to these pictures. I use a lot of masks, selections, and layers. I, also, will make a bird, for example, larger than life or a color very different than one would find it in real life. I am not trying to reproduce nature but to use nature, so to speak. But when people see my work, they invariably ask "Where did you take this picture?" When I try to explain what I do, they ask, "What kind of software do you use to create it?" As if the software without my know-how can build this image. Even non-digital artists, seem to have the same confusion about our work.

In Renderosity, many of you will not have this exact problem because of the type of work you do. However, I am sure you will experience others. Many of you, I am sure, have created scenes in Bryce or Vue d'Esprit and have had the same or a similar question asked. The same is true of Poser figures and characters an objects rendered in 3D programs. From experience, it seems to me, the majority of people want to believe that the individual artist has not created the material. Well, who did then? It didn't happen on its own, and it certainly, can't spring to life when you install a software program.

It all comes back to the question? How do we educate the public to what we do? How do we enter basic shows that accept all media without people misjudging our work? How do we differentiate for the public well printed photographs from fine art digital creations?

I have tried by putting a small movie on my website on each gallery page. I doubt people look at it. I have explanations in my portfolio and try to have a sheet that describes my work when I have a show. Unfortunately, it seems to make little difference. If it is not a photograph, people can't understand it. The only way I have found to educate people is to demonstrate technique on the computer. But that isn't always feasible.

Now I know many of you have excellent ideas for I have read them when you have shared your ideas in other columns that I have written. Please share them with others. Maybe we all can help clarify this problem and, thus, make it easier for us to not only sell but to have others appreciate the type of work we all do. Also, if any of you have stories about "misunderstood work" and would like to share them, please do.

  • As always, I invite you to visit my web site, Perpetual Visions


  • The Paula Sanders Report
    is a regular Renderosity Front Page featured column,
    where Paula investigates and comments on
    graphic software, techniques, and other relevant material
    through her reviews, tutorials, and general articles.

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    Member Opinions:
    By: Mitsukai on 2/17/03
    Excellent article.

    As for me, when I get the chance, I sit someone down and show them, extensively from start to finish, how it's done. Most of the time that happens I get responses like "Wow, I had no idea it took that much effort!" or "Geez, it's more complex than I thought" or words of the like. Even my fiancee, a professional artist herself, had little clue of how involving working with 3D is until I sat her down at the PC.

    Of course, for the mass public out there, it doesn't really help, but if one "non-renderer" sees what blood, sweat and tears (or so to speak) are put into the work, word of mouth should contribute to a greater understanding of what we do.

    By: andix on 2/18/03
    Misunderstood work....every week, we get a handful of e-mails from people asking "can you ship such-and-such to X address" "is your furniture really free?" "whats the catch?"

    Yes, we give away free funiture....3ds furniture...as it says on the top of every free page, click on the thumbnails to download...**shrug**

    By: fathertime on 2/18/03
    I often have people tell me things like, "Isn't that cheating?", or "How much talent can it take if the computer does all the work?".

    After taking a moment to digest the absurdity of such comments, I usually have some success shedding light on the subject of what we do by replying, "Then, by that same logic, Picasso had no talent, because his paintbrush was doing all the work."

    I simply explain to people that my computer can no more "create" artwork on its own than your typewriter can write a novel on its own. I have literally had arguments with some of my artistic friends over this, and I have always won these disputes by sitting these very talented artists in front of my computer, opening Rhino, Poser, Vue, or Photoshop for them, then asking them to "get the computer to make some art". This gets the point across very quickly.

    The other problem I've run into (and I'm sure I'm not the only one) is that in situations such as an art show, as mentioned in the original column, the judges are usually pretentious, classically trained artists or photographers that would not believe the sky was blue if you showed them. I do not believe this is a hurdle digital artists will overcome until the public in general becomes more educated on the fact that computers are nothing more than tools. They are not "magical contraptions" that can turn a dullard into Einstein or a caveman into Monet.

    And, no matter the debate, Color, Contrast, Light, Shadow, Balance, Perspective and especially Concept (to name a few) - are still FAR more important than any amount of technical expertise required to be a digital artist ever will be. The point stands -- An artist is defined by his creations, not his tools.

    Most people seem to be perfectly capable of grasping that logic.

    By: Grimtwist on 2/19/03
    You won't get the correct output from an electronic calculator if you don't know what buttons to press or what information to feed it.

    By: Paula Sanders on 2/19/03
    All of you have given me an idea that has been mulling in what little brain I have left and I think will see if it is feasible. I am part of a two person art show in April, the other person does glass work. I think I will announce a time when I can demonstrate what I do, or actually do that at the opening. Hands on is still probably the best way to have people begin understanding what we do. While I won't let others use my laptop, I can also demonstrate a small Wacom digitizing tablet, etc.

    Thanks for these great comments.

    By: Grimtwist on 2/19/03
    A demonstration is an excellent idea. I think it's the only way, for now.

    By: Claymor on 2/20/03
    Perhaps you and your partner should do a piece together at the show...each demonstrating your work....each doing the same piece...one in glass...the other in 3d

    By: MachineClaw on 2/24/03
    Great article and topic. Recently a friend wanted to know what I did and I tryed to explain. Telling her that the $1200 3d program that I have lets me do stuff like she sees at the movies seemed to apease her. However trying to explain Poser was incredably difficult for me to explain. References to GI Joe, and Barbie and Ken, only proffesional level didn't seem to work. Finally couple of weeks leater she dropped by my house and I showed her a peice I was working on and she started to get that it wasn't all button pushing and instant art. I then showed her some of the Poser stores online, and art galleries of some of my favorite artists and she clearly understood it all better. I recently did a CD cover for a friend's band and he was insulted when I told him that it only took me 1 hour and he accused me of not caring enough to put some effort into his project (band members were blown away btw). From that experience I've learned that sometimes the art work on it's own is enough to explain that I don't "play" on the computer, sometimes I just don't try and explain it anymore. Computers have become such a part of our lives, yet some will never understand what it takes, or what we do. Great subject, perplexing as it always is for me.


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