Next Degas May Hail From the Digital Demimonde

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Next Degas May Hail From the Digital Demimonde

Proponents and Critics of Computer Art Revive Debate: What is Art?

For a generation brought up on computers capable of generating rapid-fire images, speed is everything. Fast-moving images have allowed young people to express themselves in ways previous generations could never have dreamed of.

It should come as no surprise then that this same generation has embraced a wide range of high-tech entertainment, such as "damagochi" - a digitized game that allows users to rear cyber-animals as if they were actual domestic pets.

Advances in digital game technology and lightening-fast Internet connections have spawned a sub-culture more fond of the confines of dark, cluttered PC rooms, than the singing parlors of their parents' generation. The introduction of high technology into one's private sphere, some anthropologists argue, has even mechanized human senses.

A dramatic shift in how art is perceived has occurred in tandem with the advance of computer technology. Overexposure to surreal, computer-generated environments has, in some cases, numbed the viewers' senses and supplanted the pleasure of viewing "static" works of art.

Digital art satisfies the high-tech generations craving for speed. It is often as fast-paced and hip as the images that appear in pop culture. If digital art has failed to attain the credibility of traditional art, it is because in this cutting-edge medium, on can choose to ignore the artists' critical purpose or higher meaning and view the work as pure entertainment.

The Painter's Eye - - is a Web-based gallery dealing exclusively in "digital paintings." The gallery is at the forefront of the digital art movement. The site consists of paintings that are digitally manipulated or juxtaposed on scanned images. Lee Jeong-wha, the site's webmaster, argues that digital artists use the computer as an artistic tool, no different than a painter's brush or photographer's camera.

Not surprisingly, digital art does have its detractors. Some critics note the absence of labor - where, they ask, is Michelangelo's chisel? In digital art, the critics protest, the absence of an artist's tactile involvement with tangible materials leads to a loss of creative tension that occurs in the moments painters go through before they make their mark on the canvas. The originality of digital art, they maintain, is more readily called into question.

There are some works of digital art that have won praise in art critic circles. "Wow Project - Culture in Motion" and "Blind Love" are two examples. Rather than using computer software solely for aesthetic purposes, these projects are communicative works, which exploit the Internet as a device to interact with a larger audience.

Based in Seoul, "Wow Project - Culture in Motion" is a public art project that transforms Seoul's subway into a venue for a cultural celebration. The title of the project, "Wow" represents the outcry provoked by unexpected situations. Organized by the Seoul Metropolitan Transportation agency, the exhibition consists of eight train cars, each transformed into a separate themed exhibition. The web site project, which takes place in alliance with an off-line event, aims to raise public awareness about ecological and environmental issues.

Similarly, "Blindlove" is a networking project, aimed at the international arts community, which strives to transcend the boundaries imposed on artists by language and cultural differences. "Blindlove" is concerned with basic questions about art and communication.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of these exhibitions is their interactivity. Whether physically or conceptually, the projects encourage the viewers' involvement as an inseparable part of the work. They invite viewers to participate, and encourage them to "play" with art.

The home page for one of the artists' sites asks, "Is a happy marriage between art and the computer possible?"

Paik Nam-june broke new territory when he introduced his first video art. And Digital art has certainly served to advance the ongoing debate between the traditionalists and those who take a broader view of what constitutes art.

by Park Soo-mee

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