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What is Art?

There’s a saying between 3D veterans which says, “there’s no make pretty picture button.” If there was, a lot of us would be out of work and business. Many people tend to have different opinions as to what “art” actually is. Many years ago, my impression of 3D work was very similar to an average person’s general understanding of the 3D field – that is to say, not very understanding at all. As I became more involved in the field, my opinion eventually changed.

I was going through some social networking posts I had made a while back with my architectural rendering company LunarStudio, and noticed some comments. While most of them were pretty flattering, one stood out:

great photorealistic renderings are not creative in my opinion, Im getting kind of sick of seeing them, and less artistic/conceptual perspective

I replied:

Anyone that knows how to do this type of work would disagree with you. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not a “simple press of the button” – otherwise everyone would be doing it.

This is actually my work. I modeled and textured all the furniture and hardware by hand. It’s not much different than sculpting. On top of all that, you have to know how to operate the rendering applications.

It’s a mix between art, technology, and science. If you think it is easy, you’re more than welcome to try your hand at it. ;)

Yes – I do get defensive about all the time and effort I put into my work. I think rightfully so. If you just sit back, take the punches, and don’t try to at least make an attempt to put things into their proper perspective, others (including some clients) tend to take your work for granted. I’ve seen it happen time and time again in almost all of my conversations with clients at some point or another. It sometimes gets to the point where they don’t realize the time and skill involved and their expectations are set unrealistically high. This really brings about a much deeper question – “what is art?”

The best thing I could possibly do here is to give some examples. When photography first came around, I’m sure that most people were completely amazed (if not a little frightened.) But over time, cameras become commonplace to the point where now everyone who has a cellphone probably has a camera built-in. Just because we all have cameras on our phones, does that automatically make one a photographer? No. I think most of us agree that good photography requires a level of skill that most of us do not possess – proper light balance, framing, color-usage, contrast, etc. It’s a skill that takes time to develop and not necessarily something that “comes natural.”

Let’s take the example of landscape paintings. I’m certain there were people who first saw them and thought, “that’s not art, that’s just trying to recreate what already exists.” Perhaps you fall into that same camp of opinion, but there is a certain quality which makes a Monet a Monet. Not everyone can be Monet.

I used to have a friend that would bash Photoshop artwork back in the late 90’s. He would tell me that it “didn’t take any skill to use a mouse and the eraser.” Well, fortunately with the modern-age, he eventually changed his opinion. Would you still be of that opinion today? Just about every commercial, movie, magazine, billboard, poster, package, and album cover has been run through some post-processing application such as Photoshop. By saying that you “cannot create art with Photoshop”, it would be tantamount to turning a complete blind-eye to the entire world around you.

So what is the definition of “art” exactly? Here’s Merriam-Webster’s take on the definition:

Art:

1 : skill acquired by experience, study, or observation <the art of making friends>
2 a : a branch of learning: (1) : one of the humanities (2) plural : liberal arts b archaic : learning, scholarship
3 : an occupation requiring knowledge or skill <the art of organ building>
4 a : the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects; also : works so produced b (1) : fine arts (2) : one of the fine arts (3) : a graphic art
5 a archaic : a skillful plan b : the quality or state of being artful
6 : decorative or illustrative elements in printed matter

The key point to the definition is that art involves “requiring knowledge or skill.” To an average observer who doesn’t think something is “art”, they may not realize the amount of work or understanding involved to get to a certain point. As I mentioned earlier, a lot of people automatically assume that my work (as well as that of others) is a “push of the button.” When I first started in my field, I had found this to be an insult but over time my own view had changed to become one of tolerance and education.  It actually has less to do with their subjective opinion as to what art actually is, but more to do with a lack of understanding of what goes into the process itself.