I am a digital artist in a digital age. I graduated from crayon, to pencil, to Adobe Photoshop 3.0 at a very young age, and to that end I was one of the first. So naturally I am convinced that generations since have and will continue to immerse themselves in the tools that new technology affords us as we discover ourselves artistically and as people. I do not see the contradiction many of my predecessors see in the term “digital art”. It has been a part of my growing process and my childhood. I am one of the first children of a generation that is already nostalgic for the Internet; “I remember when the Internet used to be simpler/slower/smaller/gentler/etc”. As I came of age and began to develop as an artist, I was obsessed with comic books and movies. I would study panels of SpiderMan with rapt attention as I tried to emulate their style myself. Once I learned that the comic book look of the late 90’s was achieved through the use of a computer program called “Photoshop” (a program my mother happened to have been given by her employers) I raced to the basement to see what I could coax out of the machine. Then the Internet came, and I was introduced to the possibility of looking across the web for images like my own, young artists and seasoned professionals dipping their toes into this new way of imagemaking. What it opened up to me was a whole world of people and art that I had never seen before. With only a novice’s understanding of the computer, I began to download images directly to my home computer and printed them off to be stored in files I would keep around my room. Either I was missing the point, or getting it exactly; but wither way I had the manillafoldersfullofprintouts to prove it.) …(skipping a few paragraphs)… The crux for me was this: while the online community was extremely escapist in nature, the inevitable result was that the life you lived on the Internet inevitably bleeds out past the monitor and into the life you wake to each day. The turning point was when I discovered that I could participate as well. I could take those drawings I had labored over, meticulously copying the artist on the latest issue of SpiderMan, and share them on the Internet with likeminded people for all to see. I began to make art that was informed by that community and that idea. There is something innate in the Internet that is immense, especially to a child of 11. It is like stepping off the bus into New York City for the first time: the feeling of electricity, people flitting to and fro on unknowable business at breakneck speed. It’s exciting. A significant difference is that New York City is a “real” place. With the Internet, the “real” place in question was the desk in my basement. But I have as little affection for my basement as I do for New York City itself: It’s dirty, smelly, too full of too many things, and dark. The thing that pulls people to the neon lights of the city is the same thing that pulled me to the Internet, and it wasn’t the greasy streetside pretzel stand. It’s the energy underneath it all. The feeling of power and possibility is immense. It was the opportunity to make something of yourself. You could split your reality at any given moment: At once, you were an 11 year old clicking the “submit” button on a computer in a dimly lit basement
room, and an unknowable artist, sending out the visage of his passionmadepixels into the world to be received by the teeming mass of an assumed and rapt audience. Whether the “art” in question is an anatomically criminal drawing of Batman on lined Mead notebook paper with the ringbound tatters still uncropped matters very little to an 11 year old. Each pageview could be anybody: the pretty girl from math class, or Stan Lee himself! But it’s the possibility that is so motivating and electric; Anyone could see it and someone, maybe, somewhere, would care. Someone besides Mom. (and, since my mom reads this blog: “hi, mom!” ) (…skipping ahead again…oh, and here’s where I try to explain Rickrolling to someone who probably hasn’t ever heard of it: ) One need only look to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade if one doubts the ability of Internet audiences to influence “real”life situations. A little while back, someone on the Internet decided that the music video to Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” was worth posting on Youtube. Regardless of the poster’s initial intention, the general opinion online was that the late80’s pop song was hilarious and ironically lame enough to become a sensation. It went viral and people began to forward the link to each other. This then resulted in an Internet craze known as “Rickrolling”, where the user would post a link on a forum, blog or other page promising some exciting or enticing content, only to secretly forward the curious clicker to Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” video. Then a peculiar thing happened (that has been occurring more and more frequently in recent months): the “powersthatbe” embraced the bewildering Internet sensation and, in this case, Youtube (for April Fool’s Day this year) decided to Rickroll their entire site. Every video on Youtube promised something different, but upon clicking only offered Rick Astley’s melodious crooning. Stranger still: this Thanksgiving, between tween pop star acts lipsyncing off their DisneyChannel floats, a middleaged man emerged on the Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends float with a microphone. For all America, Rick Astley had come to sing his onehitwonder “Never Gonna Give You Up”. In case there was any confusion as to why, when he finished singing one of the puppets on the float yelled “I love to Rickroll!” It was sublime. I laughed out loud in the living room, while in the kitchen my grandmother spoke to herself as she washed her hands: “I think I remember this song…” As confoundingly stupid as that was, it was kind of a dream coming true for a generation. In fact it is one of the strangest manifestations of the ‘American Dream’ I can point to, but I really think that’s what it is. While admittedly foolish, it is a prime example of how the average person can effect actual change through democratic process. Say what you will about the process, but the fact stands: because of a naturally growing Internet phenomenon, Rick Astley performed at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. And because of shared Internet fandom, now hundreds of people worldwide gather to don their “fursuits” at Anthrocon. It’s the same dream I find I share as well; it’s the same
culture that informs how I understand the power and scope of art in the digital age. Nothing has changed about the nature of what it done with the art at its core than with any kind of publishing, but it is infinitely more customizable and available to almost anyone who wants to do so. It is power in the hands of ordinary people. It is influence in the hands of the audience. The idea of art without an audience seems to me to fall just short of sense. It is like singing to noone. There’s nothing wrong with it, and perhaps it amuses you to do so. Maybe it is even therapeutic and serves a useful purpose, but it would be much better, I think, to sing to someone else or with someone else. Coming from an Illustrative standpoint it is even sillier: it is like talking to yourself. If art (Illustration) is all about communication, then the idea of keeping it to oneself seems like a small kind of lunacy. At that point, the Internet starts to make an immense amount of sense to me. So frequently it has been used for ill, and only few will argue that Rick Astley singing at the parade is in the interest of any kind of “greater good”, but the possibilities are nonetheless exciting.