There is an interesting trend developing in the art world, that of debating ‘digital versus traditional’ artwork and techniques. Some believe that digital art is not ‘real art’, and many digital artists feel that traditional art is ‘outdated’ or becoming unnecessary. Well, we all know that art has long not been seen as ‘necessary’ but that is a case of semantics.
Both traditional and digital art have been used to change African art in the eyes of the Western art community, and these African artists have not forgotten the importance of traditional art in a digital world.
Traditional art builds a deep understanding
While digital art requires no less skill than traditional art, when one learns traditional techniques you will be given a deeper understanding of your materials and what you can do with them. You are able to experiment easily, such as rubbing a pencil on a unique paper surface to see how it looks or mix colours from your paint box to create something new and exciting.
You will learn what ‘green’ truly means if you have to mix it yourself, combining just the right amount of yellow and blue together to create the perfect hue. You will also be working based on the idea of ‘one layer’, meaning that you will not be able to change your brushstrokes easily. This can be unforgiving, but the harsh nature of this technique allows you to learn from your mistakes faster, build your problem-solving abilities and understand your craft in a unique way.
Digital is only one medium
Yes, there are several unique digital art software programs out there but it is essentially only one medium. The outcome of much digital art is a ‘digital’ look. It is very hard to replicate the look and feel of a painting or create a sketch that looks genuine by using digital tools, as you are not using the ‘real’ tools to create the art.
With programs such as Photoshop, ArtWeaver and Adobe Illustrator, artists can use shortcuts such as ‘CTRL+Z’ (undo) to undo mistakes, while traditional artists have to think of creative ways to rectify mistakes. Because digital is only one medium, these artists will not likely learn how to paint or draw with ‘real’ tools and their skills will never improve in either medium.
Traditional art is unique
Traditional art, such as the sculptures produced by South African-born Mary Sibande, are unique and one-of-a-kind pieces. This means that they cannot easily be copied, you would have to go through the same artistic process as the artist in order to replicate it. If you want to change African art in the eyes of the world, traditional art techniques are the way to go.
Because of this uniqueness, traditional art has more value attached to it than digital art. Another aspect of paintings, drawings and sculptures that affects the distinction of traditional art is that it is seen by reflection and not by emission. This means that it is changed by the light in the room where it is placed, making the paint or clay look alive as you move around the room. Digital art, unfortunately, can sometimes feel flat and ‘manufactured’ in comparison.
Digital art software and hardware can be expensive
While professional traditional art tools can be expensive, many of the digital software and hardware products are almost prohibitively expensive in their costs. You will need a computer such as an Apple Mac, a tablet that connects to this computer which allows you to ‘draw’ effectively and digital art software to create your art with.
For artists who are just starting out, this could significantly drain their savings account and make life difficult to live until they sell a piece of artwork to make up the cost of the computer parts. Traditional art equipment can be as simple as a pencil, an eraser and a piece of sketchbook paper. Digital art also requires some form of computer literacy, which not everyone has, especially those living in more rural communities or who do not have access to computers on a daily basis.
Traditional art can be created anywhere...with anything
Traditional art does not rely on electricity or modern technology, which means that you can paint, draw or sculpt anywhere, and at any time. Because it does not rely on these modern technologies or electrical outputs, traditional art can also be created with anything. You can sculpt with clay or wood, and paint with watercolour, oils or even create art with food.
This makes the traditional art process more natural and personal, allowing artists to truly connect with their work and immerse themselves in it. With digital artwork, you are staring at a monitor all day, which can be highly damaging to your eyes, posture and mental health. You can carry a sketchbook with you to wherever you may be going and sit down in a quiet spot to draw once inspiration hits you. You do not have to connect to any WiFi or plug into any electrical units.