But is it Art?

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There is a very cool grassroots art show in Rochester, NY, called ArtAwake.  It originated in 2007 as a student-driven initiative whose purpose is to strengthen the community (and, presumably, showcase art).  It has become an annual one-day festival of creativity taking over a vacant urban space and transforming it for the occasion.  ArtAwake is organized by a team of students from the University of Rochester‘s Urban Exploring Club, but involves collaboration between many local organizations. For the past three years, ArtAwake has transformed three vacant buildings in Rochester through the participation of hundreds of local artists and musicians.

Alliance Building in downtown Rochester, NY, built in 1926

Next Saturday, April 16, will be the fourth annual ArtAwake event.  ArtAwake 2011 will feature over 150 works by local artists, from paintings to sculptures and architecture to fashion, plus 22 musical artists, catering by Lento (a popular locavore restaurant), and a wine tasting.  This year the festival will take place in the old Alliance Building in downtown Rochester.  Built in 1926, the Alliance Building is a 15-story, 167,000 sq ft neoclassical style high-rise in the heart of what’s somewhat grandiosely called the Central Business District.

Now in general, downtown Rochester is not a particularly happy place these days, but strides are being made — restaurants and clubs are opening, loft conversions are happening, and big plans are being discussed.  And events like ArtAwake are part of what’s driving renewed interest in downtown.

Well, OK, that’s all very interesting, you say, but what does it have to do with 3D design?  The answer is that for the first time this year, I submitted some of my 3D renderings to ArtAwake.  Here is one I submitted which I called “Chopping Tomatoes.”  (Hey, it needed a title!)

Chopping_Tomatoes, A 3D Rendering by CastleView3D.com

3D rendering rejected by ArtAwake

My renderings were not accepted for the show.  And no comment or reason was offered regarding why.  But I was curious (and a tiny bit suspicious), so I pressed for further explanation, and received a very interesting email from the show’s directors:

“CAD renderings are difficult, and we had quite a bit of discussion about how your works might fit into the show.  In the end we felt the viewers would have a hard time understanding them and how they related to the rest of the works. We appreciate and understand the time and effort that goes into a CAD rendering, but unless the images are unusually striking we did not feel the average viewer would take the time to consider the interesting intersection of art as utility and vice versa.”

In my reply, I thanked them for taking the time to explain their decision, and offered the following:

“A great deal of time and artistic talent go into creating photorealistic renderings, in addition to technical skill.  The computer is simply a tool used to generate the final product — it doesn’t create the scene.  I’m sure you must have other examples of computer-generated art in the show — photos that have been photoshopped for example, or digitally manipulated.  And I’m pretty sure you’ve seen examples of advertising art, which is certainly the intersection of art and utility, that people don’t seem to have a problem understanding.  So I have to key in on your phrase ‘unless the images are unusually striking’ as being the deciding factor.  What you’re saying is that my art just didn’t grab you.  Which is OK.  Perhaps next time I’ll try to create images that are more ‘unusually striking.’ “

I offer all of this because I’m still struggling with the question of whether 3D renderings can be considered “art.”  Obviously “Chopping Tomatoes” isn’t the Mona Lisa — I have no delusions about that.  But is it art at all?  Can CAD-modeled pretty pixel pictures be considered art?  Do the kinds of images I create have any rightful place in an art show?  How much more “unusually striking” would this particular image have had to be to engage the average viewer in the same way that a painting or sculpture or photograph would engage them?

Are 3D renderings merely “utilitarian”?  Or was I the victim of “art-ism” — discrimination against the type of art I create merely because it’s different and non-traditional?

I would really love to hear opinions about this so I hope you’ll share your ideas in the Comments.


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2 responses to “But is it Art?

  1. What an interesting topic!
    I have always viewed art as something that someone presents with the intention of eliciting an emotional response from the viewer. (These are my words here, I’m not quoting anyone else.)
    That being said, I think you’re right on the money in your response – your art didn’t ‘grab them’. So perhaps all it would take for them to accept it as ‘art’ is to change the perspective to something engaging.
    Right now, while it is a very realistic representation of a kitchen, it is very antiseptic, and would be better suited for a real estate ad than an art gallery. However, if you build on your title “Chopping Tomatoes”, you could change the view… just focus on the counter with the cutting board, one tomato and a knife stabbed down into it, and viola!, it becomes art.
    Not that I’m an artist… I wish I could do that!
    Another thing that might add to the ‘art’ value of the 3d model is a video clip of a tour through the room, ending with the focus on the tomatoes.
    It might be just enough to take your model from a beautiful rendering to what some might call ‘art’.
    I think you might be onto something here…?
    Either way, kudos… wonderful model!
    Al

  2. Thanks, Al — I think you’re right about the emotional response idea. But then I think about a lot of modern art that just leaves me going “meh.” Is “meh” an emotional reaction? But no one would argue that it wasn’t art.

    Perhaps creating more of a feeling of tension and mystery in the images might make them art. So in addition to some tomatoes on the counter, abandoned mid-chop, perhaps an open door, a dropped towel, and a broken glass, all hinting at some sort of “storyline.” But would that really make it more interesting or art-y?

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