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American Women's Club of Hamburg

Art in a Computer Age

  A few issues ago, you might have read my column and come upon my theory that everyone is born creative, yet as adults feel they do not have the adequate talents to express it. The desire to produce magnificent art gets stuffed deep down in our internal cellar, forgotten next to the box labeled “write a book” or “climb Mt. Everest”.

  Then, along comes the great equalizer…computers. How lucky we are to receive this ultimate gift in our lifetime! We can draw, paint, copy, paste, cut, pattern, dimensionalize and wallpaper to our hearts’ content, without one ounce of illustrative education. You may not be able to sketch like Da Vinci, but you certainly can knock out one hell of a Christmas card thanks to software and a little patience. Move over, Leonardo.

  That being said, some may have definite opinions whether computer graphics are actually considered “art.” True, unless you are using a stylus, you are not drawing in the classic sense, but does that make it less of an art? See if you agree with me that working with computer programs is a combination of all of these definitions.

  art: (ärt) n 1. human creativity 2. skill 3. any specific skill or its application 4. any craft or its principles 5. creative work or its principles 6. any branch of creative work, as painting and sculpture 7. products of this, as paintings or statues 8. a branch of learning 9. cunning 10. a sly trick; wile.

  Art or not, the first step is to find yourself a good graphics program, such as the ever popular Adobe Photoshop. Originally designed to manipulate and enhance photography, Photoshop has a multitude of uses for the patient student. To become proficient, you simply have to use it often and become familiar with the tools at your disposal. A tutorial or a weekend class is a good way to introduce yourself to the program and learn the wonders of your toolbar. The magic wand tool could probably be compared to the importance of the opposable thumb, which in theory raised humans higher than apes on the evolutionary ladder. The magic wand is your key to selecting what areas will be blown up, filled in, patterned, reduced, enhanced, or any other distortion you may have in mind. With the wand, you might be hard pressed to say if you are actually using the right or left side of your brain: is it a creative process, or a calculation?

  Let me give you a visual aid here in case I lost you. Imagine you are Jennifer Lopez and have pulled up a picture of yourself on Photoshop that you want to adjust for your website. (she probably has a whole staff for this in real life…this is just a fantasy scenario.) You want to reduce your butt size a bit, whiten your teeth and add a pattern to your top.

  The magic wand will enable you to click on your derriere based on similar color pixels, with the range determined by numbers (right brain). Once you have your butt selected, you can tweak the size smaller either aesthetically (left brain) or with a percentage panel (right brain), or both. Select the blouse, and fill it in with a floral pattern, adjusting the shadows and highlights. Move up to the face, select the teeth and use the color balancer to remove yellow tinges and brighten that smile. Done! Who needs a fairy godmother in this century? We all have our Photoshop wands at our fingertips.

  Photo adjustment is just a scratch in the surface of computer graphics. Most programs have text enhancers, graphic importers and scores of filters. I can easily convert a picture of my house to look like a watercolor in about two seconds with Photoshop. Other filters will give you effects of charcoal drawings, psychedelic twisters, glass mosaics or 3-D relief. The beauty of the right-click for PC users will make light work of snatching Internet images or clip-art and pasting them onto your creations.

  You, who could never draw much more than a stick figure for most of your life, are suddenly creating complex designs without lifting a pencil from your desk. When you have finished your masterpieces, consider the fact that millions of people can see your efforts in a few seconds should you decide to post your efforts in a public domain.

  The doors of the art world have been flung wide open and the potential is limitless for anyone to master. Never again must you feel hindered by fear of not being able to achieve. By unlocking your creativity with technology, you might even get the courage to try painting the old-fashioned way. And, although I’m a practical fan of computer art, nothing can bring home the feeling of expressive joy like the smell of linseed oil and gesso in the studio.

originally published in Currents Oct/Nov 2008

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