(Smith Rocks Nocturne. Open Edition on metal or paper. Various sizes.)
Advancements in technology bring changes in the way we make things, and the influence of one advancement on the next illustrates the interconnected nature of discovery. The invention of the daguerreotype in 1839 France, for example, led to the invention of the photograph not many years later, the latter of which brought with it the ability to document reality like never before (daguerreobase.org). Prior to this technological innovation, the visual depiction of people, places, things and events both real and fantastic was left to artists in the mediums of painting, drawing and printmaking.
For the French Impressionist painters (roughly 1870-1890), the photograph was both a blessing and a curse. Its immediate positive ramifications illustrated to them the value in depicting moments of the everyday and, in many ways, liberated painting from the representation of historical and mythological subject matter. In its more oppressive guise, photography presented a means of accurately capturing reality in ways with which the painters could not compete, forcing their hand in devising different modes of expression.
As Impressionism — The Influence of Photography explains, “…rather than compete with the ability of the photograph to record ‘a moment of truth’, the Impressionists, such as Monet, felt free to represent what they saw in an entirely different way — focusing more on light, colour and movement in a way that was not possible with photography. Over time, these subjective observations became much more widely accepted as works of art, although initially they were thought to be ‘sketchy’ or ‘unfinished’” (kiamaartgallery.wordpress.com). The subjectivity of the painter also extends to the photographer, however, for she, too, selects a view and possibly alters it, manipulates it (either in the dark room or on a screen), crops it to her liking, and is similarly influenced by culture and ideology. All this is to say that the “moment of truth” a photograph was believed to depict has never quite been the case.
Digital photography has solidified this observation as editing programs such as Photoshop allow users to manipulate images like never before. Such manipulation has transformed the original photo from an index of “reality” into something quite different, a base from which infinite variations on a theme can be explored in combination with various media. Lacking in materiality, digital media’s ease of use may irk some traditionalists who believe such “doctoring” of a photo is simply a craft made by a savvy computer user rather than a work of art made by an artist. Providing personal insight into the matter is “digital alchemist” Dorothy Freudenberg, a Bend maker who transforms “the visual elements of texture, shape, pattern and color into new forms of imagery” (tumaloartco.com/collective-artists/dorothy-freudenberg).
ME: Thank you for joining me, Dorothy, and offering your take on the art or craft question with respect to digital mixed-media. To begin, please describe your art / craft.
DOROTHY: Many years ago I became involved in adventures on a motorcycle accompanied by a camera, and soon I was engulfed in the darkroom experience as well. Even when I understood the process, it still felt like magic, seeing images appear on film and on a sheet of photographic paper. In reflection, this immersion and fascination was probably the result of having a degree in music, where individual creativity was an aspect that was never discussed. When a camera came into my hands, it was part of a journey of discovery, and I took to it intensely, learning from the masters, enjoying learning the rules and then breaking them all on my own. I was not trying to reproduce the work of others, only to learn from their accomplishments. Of course, after that, it took a long time before I could develop a personal point-of-view. However, photography is limited to viewing the external world, as opposed to the inner world, and when I transferred my efforts to the computer (which is a logical extension of the old, “wet darkroom”), it wasn’t very long before I discovered ways in which to bridge the gap between photography and painting. Truly this becomes a form of mixed media as it incorporates photography, painting, collage and possibly more. I simply use the term digital media, which has an extremely wide range.
ME: What is your opinion on the arts / crafts distinction?
DOROTHY: I think the arts/craft distinction is arbitrary, to say the least. It didn’t even exist until the Renaissance, and in some parts of the world, it is still non-existent. But for means of discussion, I feel that something that is done over and over again, for more or less utilitarian purposes probably comes under the heading of craft. It is a skill that can be passed on to another, with a modicum of ability most likely. For example, I can craft a simple tune for a student, but I am unlikely to compose the equivalent of Beethoven’s 5th. That requires a level of inspiration that is above the norm.
My art is not a thought process but emanates from a place beyond me, an instinct abetted by hours of practice on my part. We become a tool of creation with the results filtered through our individual sensibilities and beliefs. And function? Well, in its highest forms we would like its function to be the upliftment of the human spirit, to reveal the hidden and expose the dark to light. There are so many ways to express this. Of course, these distinctions are arbitrary and slippery and we must point out that a craft can be elevated to an art form, and much so-called art seems more like craft. When I do a portrait sitting, I am using more craft than art, but sometimes the lines are crossed. Should you only be using art to decorate your home and fit above your couch (in the right color), then that somewhat misses the point. It should speak to you in an intense and meaningful way. And for everyone this is different.
ME: How does your work address artistic concerns, like those that a painter or sculptor considers (form, composition, color, value, texture)?
DOROTHY: In all those ways. There is absolutely no difference. I feel like what I do is a marriage between visuals arts, say painting and photography. Of course, photography went through its own period of establishing itself as an art form. We’re past that now, for the most part. I like that while using the photographic process, I can also bring in the internal imagination, the highly intuitive aspect. Any art that does not effectively address composition, color, value and texture is not likely to grasp the viewer. And all of those alone will not engage if the work does not have a viable emotional impact. You cannot produce thoughtful, delicious art if those qualities do not live within you. We cultivate our inner dimensions, and the work always reflects that. Because there’s so much superficiality in our culture today, producing meaningful expression is especially imperative and relevant.
ME: I couldn’t agree more! Thank you, Dorothy.
To view the exquisite work of Dorothy Freudenberg, please visit the Tumalo Art Co. in Bend’s Old Mill District or her page on its website at tumaloartco.com/collective-artists/dorothy-freudenberg