Saturday, December 29, 2018

Is it cheating to base my art on computer-generated images?

Artistic-looking mages created by computers
courtesy Medium essay "What are Creative Adversarial Networks?" 
Barrett asks "I've seen these new CGI tools that can generate any kind of scene in any artistic style, and it makes me wonder: Is it OK for a painter to use computer-generated imagery for reference and inspiration? Sometimes it seems like the computer is doing the artistic work for me, and making aesthetic decisions, and I wonder if it's cheating for me to use them?" 

My answer: Like photography, these new computer techniques merely present us with another way of seeing.

Artists have always been sponges for new imagery. You can see the effect of photography on painting over the last 150 years. There are so many types of lenses, films, and processes before you even get into digital manipulation and CGI. Photography lets us freeze action, see through things with x-rays, and witness wildlife action up close. Photography has given us new eyes.

That doesn't mean we have to project and copy the random detail of a single given photo, though that's OK, too, if that's what you want to do (as long as you take the photos yourself or you have cleared the copyrights, of course).

The more we understand how cameras see, and now how computers can generate images, the more we appreciate the little "meat cameras" we were born with. And the more we learn about technologically-derived imagery, the more we realize our eyes and our visual brains behave very differently.

In my case, I'm usually trying to interpret my experience of reality directly into a sketchbook, or I'm trying to visualize a scene from the ancient past or from a science fiction future. I often think about photos I've seen and the effects they create, and I'm influenced by those images.

In some cases I want my paintings to look like photos so that they can fit into a magazine presentation that's mostly comprised of nature photos. To get those effects, I try to learn the theory behind photography, and I also surround my easel with a lot of different reference photos, taking a little from one and a little from another to make something new.

I don't know how the CGI technology will influence me, but I welcome it and am not threatened by it. Some CGI video imagery blends abstraction with reality in ways that resemble hallucinations or hypnagogic dreaming.

So I would say, embrace it all, vacuum it up into your eyes and see where it takes you. But don't forget to develop your skills, and to trust your own imagination and memory. It's essential to get beyond style and technique, beneath the surface, and dig down to an authentic expression that belongs to you. To get there, sometimes you have to unplug from all references and tunnel inside your own mind.

In the end, whatever tools you use, as long as your work is original and it communicates your own experience, it's not cheating.


Timothy Bollenbaugh said...


James answer is apt and his blog contains a wealth of pertinent posts throughout. Students also find this helpful: your tools are at digital speed. Your learning and development are on human time. And learn to observe, develop your senses and motor skills. Learn the pre-set characteristics of the CG program and how to respond yea or nay.

MervB said...

I use the computer a lot of the time to generate visual references, my works aren't copies just the starting point, often my finished works bear reflect the reference.

Mel Gibsokarton said...
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Glen Moyes said...

I'm going to take the original question further because I know what I'm about to mention happens a lot, and I get questions about "is THAT cheating" quite a bit.

Is it okay to PAINT OVER your own computer-generated imagery? And I'd say yes, it's totally okay and not cheating. It's no different than someone who is purely a CG artist creating art. I consider painting over CG renderings as "mixed media."

Of course I say it's okay because I do it a lot. I use in the same way you may create a maquette to determine form and lighting before painting it. I frequently mock up architecture in 3D so I can get the vanishing points down and have a good starting point in the lighting of the scene. Is it cheating? It's a tool. And I have a better intuitive understanding of light and perspective precisely because I used this as part of my process. I don't need computer-generated scenes to get good lighting or good perspective, but it helps make the process go a lot faster.

Talos said...

Well I ve been a graphic designer for the last 16 years. If we count in art school, 20. Everytime i heard about a magic new program ability, or plug in, i came to realise that usually they were not that magical after all. The result still had to be tweeked manually, at best you would get a decent starting point. So I think that there always going to be the need for human intervention and involvement. The advertising brochures can claim what they want. At best the examples are set up in a way that will make the new features look most effective but in real use, in real conditions, thats another story. I remember photoshop adverising magical image extraction tools for at keast 15 years now. Well... Its 2018 and they still havent got there.

hanysayed said...