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Is digital art real art? The must-know details about Digital Art

Is digital painting real art or not? I’ve been wrestling with this question since I first picked up a tablet and began painting digitally.

I’ve made art over the years by painting real, tangible pieces on canvas that I can hold in my hands. True art could only be created with true art supplies, not pixels, right?

After having done both traditional and digital painting, I believe the answer is that in today’s world, digital painting is “real” art in terms of talent and creating a work of art.

If you only measure digital art by its ability to take on a handcrafted form using a variety of materials, then no, it does not qualify as “real” art.

But, is the second sentence true, or is it merely a perception? To find out, I’ll look at the definition of fine art, art biases, art shaming, and how the art world is responding to digital art.

Digital art is a little bit more forgiving.

  • Mistakes can be undone.
  • Construction lines can be placed and then removed.
  • It’s easier to iterate and refine images made of layers of pixels than it is pencil lines and daubs of pigment.

But a bad digital drawing is still a bad drawing. No amount of digital trickery will fix poor observation, bad proportions or perspective errors.

So good artists become even better digital artists.

Bad artists remain bad artists regardless of medium.

Is it necessary to revise the definition of fine art?

The way we make things has evolved dramatically over the last few decades. What about music and movies? They are now mostly digital. In many cases, are they not considered art? And if that’s the case, why not digital painting?

When I walk through modern art museums, I see digitally created experiential, interactive art. 

Because it is in a museum, it is considered fine art. However, I don’t recall seeing any digital paintings on display that didn’t include some sort of interactive or AI component.

Fine art is defined as “creative art, especially visual art whose products are to be appreciated primarily or solely for their imaginative, aesthetic, or intellectual content” according to Google. 

The digital painting should be right at home. However, Wikipedia notes that historically, it includes the “five main fine arts of painting, sculpture, architecture, music, and poetry, as well as performing arts such as theatre and dance.” Graphics are also mentioned in some definitions of fine art on Wikipedia. 

Digital painting does not appear to be on the list, despite the fact that it fits many definitions of fine art.

Bias Against Digital Art

I’m not sure how I’d react to digital paintings in a museum if I ever saw them because of my own bias.

In previous articles, I admitted that when a colleague first asked me to try painting on the iPad, I felt a lot of snobbish artist resistance. There was no way digital painting could be a viable option.

Sure, you could easily create some graphic pop art using digital means, but that wasn’t “real.” It wasn’t, at least not in my mind. 

After all, when Andy Warhol did it, he used printmaking techniques that are acceptable in the fine art world. 

Furthermore, Photoshop is synonymous with forgery. Any magazine-cover will attest to this. Many people, I’m sure, have a bias against digital art as a result of this forgery.

Changing My Mind About Digital Painting

After much deliberation, I decided to try painting on the iPad. I’d heard nothing but good things about Procreate. A lot of the art looked promising, but it still had a more flat or graphic appearance to it. My colleague did fantastic drawings in the program, but his style is very different from mine. I wanted the feel of paint and canvas, but Procreate never seemed to let me get there.

I became uninspired after attempting a few paintings and gave up. I didn’t understand layer painting, and all of the technical stuff was too complicated and frustrating for me. I’d had enough of that with my work programs. 

When I painted on canvas, all I had to do was load up my brush and start painting. It was a lot easier.

I felt terrible because I had spent a lot of money on an iPad Pro and wasn’t using it.

But then I looked into a few more programs and discovered ArtRage. It was an instant hit with me, and it gave me much more of the look and feel I was going for. It wasn’t exactly like oil painting, but it came close.

Should I Share Digital Paintings?

I approach digital painting in the same way that I do traditional painting. 

Many of my digital step-by-step paintings have been used as tutorials on my website. Younger artists appear to be unconcerned about the fact that the original medium is digital, and they happily follow the tutorials in whatever medium suits them best. 

I enjoy seeing the work they produce. Color pencils, acrylics, oils, graphite, watercolor, and even makeup have been used as mediums by them.

I must admit that when I post digital step-by-step tutorials as opposed to traditional tutorials, I feel very self-conscious. 

This could very well be my mind playing tricks on me, but I know traditional artists scoff at digital work and would dismiss it. 

The thought of it still bothers me. This is a thought that is no longer useful to me and should be abandoned.

Some of my digital paintings are far more difficult to make than traditional paintings. 

I probably wouldn’t paint digitally if it wasn’t so convenient. However, I’ve discovered that painting digitally improves my traditional paintings simply because I practise more.

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Can Digital Painting Ever Be “Real”? Is digital art real art?

Digital painting is a real thing. It takes time, talent, effort, and technical knowledge. 

Who knows if it will ever be accepted and given a place in the art world, thereby becoming officially “real.” 

The art world is a rigid and slow-moving system. Digital painters will have to find a way to market their work in a world that does not yet favor them.

I was hesitant to enter the art world because it seemed complicated, political, and phony.

 There are wonderful aspects of the art world that I have witnessed firsthand, but there is always “behind the scenes” nonsense that makes my skin crawl. 

The artists are fantastic; it’s the operating system that needs to be rebooted.

Can Digital Art (Created By Humans) Be Fine Art?

Some believe it can be a component of fine art, and others believe it is a viable form of printmaking.

I met a printmaker who used digital art as the foundation for a large print on canvas. 

He then painted over it with original artwork. It had the advantage of digital art to begin with, but it quickly became a one-of-a-kind when the artist took it to the next level. This was a mixed media piece that was accepted as modern art.

I must admit that when I first heard about this method, I thought it was a form of deception (I was art-shaming him in my mind).

Is Digital Painting Valuable?

Because digital paintings can be printed an infinite number of times, they are thought to be less valuable. It is less valuable because it does not have the “only one of its kind” factor.

This is ultimately the most significant reason why digital painting is undervalued in comparison to traditional painting. People enjoy knowing they own something unique and are willing to pay a premium for a “one of a kind.”

Is it possible to replace the traditional painting with digital painting?

If we’re only talking about humans, I don’t think digital painting will ever replace traditional painting, and I certainly don’t want it to. 

However, I can see it having a place in the painting process. I’ve used digital painting to assist me in the creation of studies and tutorials. It’s another tool in my artist’s toolbox that I enjoy using.

When I painted this portrait of Maiden, you can see how I incorporated digital painting into my traditional painting process.


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Is Digital Painting Simpler?

I thought painting on the computer would be much easier than painting on canvas when I first started. In some ways, it is, and in others, it isn’t. 

As I previously stated, I now see it as another tool and method for practising my artwork.

How it is easier: Using a tracing feature to draw in your subject may be easier. It is entirely up to the artist to make this decision. 

If you want to improve your drawing skills, turn off the tracing feature and draw freehand. Here’s a portrait I drew in ArtRage using the sight-size method and then painted in.

If you have your subject uploaded as a reference photo, digital painting makes it easier to figure out the color values. 

Color can be obtained by sampling portions of an image. I wouldn’t recommend always using the color sampled by your computer or tablet. 

It is the selection of a color pixel that may be too bright or too dark in comparison to what you should paint. It is, however, an excellent way to train your eye to recognize overall values. When painting representational art, the most important aspect to get right is the values.

It’s not quite as simple: if you’re technically challenged, learning a painting program on top of the fundamentals of painting and drawing could be overwhelming. 

When I paint on the computer, there appears to be an infinite number of features for achieving desired effects and learning these features takes a significant amount of time.

What I’ve discovered works best for me is to keep things simple. If I want to draw or paint on the tablet, I use the same settings for the pencil and paint tools every time and keep my color palette to a minimum.

Final Thoughts

There was a lot more ground to cover on this subject than I originally thought. 

Digital painting should be considered real art when you look at the definition of fine art. However, the art world has not embraced digital painting by human beings. 

It has embraced digital painting by robots though, which is disappointing, to say the least.

If you’re an artist and want to add digital painting to your toolbox, I would say to go for it. 

I’m seeing more and more traditional painters do digital painting. They are mostly using it as part of their practice as I am doing. Who knows, maybe one-day digital painting will get the respect it deserves.

About the Author:

Manny Acharya is the co-founder of Artmellows. Your go-to place for Design, Digital Art, Digital sculpting, Photography, Design Tools and gears Info, and Product Reviews. Manny is a Digital Artist, 3D Sculpt Designer, Ardent Photography, Drone flying Enthusiast, and tech Lover. He supercharges Digital Art and design by crafting memorable 3D sculptures & 2D Design and art. Learn more About Manny:

PS: Manny has created a Beginner Friedly ebook to Learn the Nomad 3D Sculpt App. Know More about the eBook. Know more about Manny

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