Essay: Does Fabrication change the aura of a digital piece?

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  • Subject area(s): Photography and arts essays
  • Reading time: 18 minutes
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  • Published on: August 10, 2018
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In the turn of the century, there has been an advancement in technology that has shaped the way creatives go about making work, distributing it and presenting themselves. With the development of technology, it has a caused a friction between two ways of working – those being digital and analogue ways. Though an artist will use both digital and analogue, both will end up side by side on the same platform – the internet. Regardless of how the image was made, the original will ultimately be shared online among peers. The idea of the original, is still a term that is used in regards to artwork, but becomes polarising when discussing digital art working. A solely digital illustrator makes a piece that is created and displayed in an online space, sometimes printed. Is printed matter, or tangibility relevant in the age of the digital? An artist may work in an analogue medium and share this online, thus displaying and archiving it digitally, instead of appreciating its value as an original drawing. Though only one exists, it’s digital counterpart is available to everyone who can access it. In this essay, the discussion is whether fabricating something into a tangible object, such as print, makes it better. The term better has potency in an age where iProducts and those alike are consistently upgraded and made to make the digital native work more seamlessly and fluently. A true representation of the original is when an artist makes one object or drawing that is unique; in terms of a multiple, one of two hundred (Arday. D, 2012). However, for it to exist outside of where it was made and for it to be seen by others is at the hands of social media. Instagram provides a vital service in networking and displaying work, especially the difficult. Concerning this contrast what constitutes whether something is better? Is it its cult value or exhibition value? (Balsam. E, 2015). Walter Benjamin’s essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction resonates now in the 21st century more than ever. His argument that mechanical reproduction destroys the aura of an object relates indefinitely to how creatives make and display their work online; an artist makes an original, shares it online, communicates in a fast metabolism process and repeats. The aura of an object is defined by its distinct quality that gives it a certain atmosphere or feeling to its viewer (Benjamin.W, 1935). Pertaining to how Benjamin’s essay relates to this argument, is whether a piece that exists in an online space, where reproduction is champion can have an aura. To interrogate this question, the chapters are summarised to particular themes: Fabricate, Display, Preserve. Fabrication is an important part of discussion due to the over arching theme of the physical object and how the consumer interacts with it. For an object to have physicality and be original, or of an edition, is to give it an aura. This leads to Display, which addresses the way an artist presents their work and themselves online. The online persona is an increasingly pertinent to an artist now more than ever, with opportunities spreading outside of the artist’s native country. Many artists approach social media accounts, such as Instagram, as a way to curate their best work in an online gallery style. This is crucial to the discussion due to physical spaces becoming limited in their affordability and accessibility for new artists. Finally, the preservation of the fabricated. With the aura being a quality the object holds, its critical to understand how to preserve an object, or sometimes not. The preservation of an object is integral to the survival of its aura. However, it could be argued that an artefact damaged by the result of conflict has an aura that has been re-contextualised.

An artist now moves through a different climate in the online space where their work is able to be viewed and shared all around the world by the consumer. At the click of an application someone, somewhere is able to access the profile of an artist. Once the original image is shared, it becomes one of an infinite amount of images as its existence on a public domain allows it to. A work of art that is posted is now able to be re-contextualised by the online space it resides on; an image anarchist removes the need for artist authorship as the work is spread across the internet. This poses the question: is the unique quality of the original is lost in the digital cloud? and will fabrication of the digital bring back the aura of an object?


To Fabricate is to construct or manufacture a product from different components. In regards to my essay, to Fabricate is to give life and physicality to something which only exists in a digital cloud or on a digital platform. A digital Illustration is created in a computer, by the artist. Using the computer to create illustrations and graphics is now a vastly diverse and ever evolving practice. The artist is able to embrace the aesthetic of computer based graphics, using 3D rendering programmes to give the appearance of a physical object, such as Cinema 4D. In other instances, digital illustration can replicate physical media through the use of brush tools, to create illustrations that appear aesthetically like a screen print, or a pencil drawn piece. So when fabricating a digital illustration, created on photoshop with digital brushes, into screen print or digital print, does this give it greater value, or potentially make it better? Or is value disregarded due to the synthetic process of how the illustration was made?

Digital artwork has seen a great development in past years through constant progression and innovation from artists, but also the development of the platforms we are able to share images on. Where prior to platforms like Instagram, an image based sharing platform, digital illustrations would be viewed on the artist’s website, in a Newspaper, or in a publication like Pen and Mouse: Commercial Art and Digital Illustration, which showcased illustrators and their work and spoke about their practice. However, in contemporary culture with the advance of how the artist shares work and communicates with others, its easy for the artist to become complacent in creating, posting and sharing. Where Digital Illustrations and Digital platforms allow instantaneous and infinite uploading, the work is shown parallel to the vast amount of other images that are uploaded by other users too. With Instagram effectively being a gallery platform of the artist’s work, it is a gallery of work displayed digitally to the consumer.

With the internet containing such a vast realm of information to consume from photos, films and other forms of media, its easy to approach it in a hedonic way. As we read through endless timelines of information on various social media sites, its effortless to continue a process of scroll, consume, scroll; yet, as Charles Spurgeon, a great English preacher said, it is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy. (positive psychology)

Understandably, the digital platform has aided in bringing a community of strangers closer together through conversation and mutual enjoyment of particular images. The seamless structure of Instagram promotes further use and consumption of images, however, it does not give the artist true authorship of how they would present their work physically. The solely digital process allows perfectionism, rather than embracing the tactile and sometimes unpredictable nature of some analogue mediums.

When approaching a screen print of a digital drawing, the artist is required to understand the complete process of the particular type of printmaking they are going to use, which then informs them better how to approach the digital art working process. The same can be said for most analogue mediums and how they translate to digital drawing. Though replicas of the original, analogue mark making, they still translate closely to how the material reacts in a physical form.

To Fabricate the digital piece is to give the artwork its place in the physical world, where it can be enjoyed by others through display and preserved through ongoing conversation.

In Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, he critiques the

technological advancement of reproducing artwork regarding art and design. Benjamin was a German literary critic actively writing during the first half of the 20th century. His work looks at issues in society, particularly in mass reproduction during the 20th century and it’s affect on the work of art. His work is particularly critical of reproduction due to the progression of printing, then to chemical photography which both lose the essence of the original through mass production (Brittanica). The reproduction of artwork has been existent for as long as the art itself has existed, whether master or pupil creating or copying, the concept of reproduction has been integral to development in art (benjamin). Printmaking as a form of reproduction is addressed heavily in Benjamin’s essay and up until Lithography’s replacement of photography, is considered fondly by him. With printmaking existing from early as the 8th Century in Japan(Met Museum), Benjamin discusses the importance of reproducing artwork to reach the masses but its contrasting effect on the aura of the original. The aura, by Benjamin’s terms, means the atmosphere and quality that the original creates. The original being a shadow casted by a tree on the beholder in a mountain range, or the distinct qualities of an object from the 18th century. In short, an aura is found in small moments, or physical things that we interact with. The idea of the authentic in Printmaking is different to that of a painting displayed in the National Gallery, for example. Where as the original painting is singular and is only viewed in one place at one time, to own the original of a screen print would be to own the positive/negative sheets for a screen print; This also applies to woodblock printing, where the block of wood that a woodcut print was made from is the original. Though these individual components integral to the print reproduction can be regarded as unique, they embody the process of reproduction as they create individual prints – each with their own authorship from the artist. Benjamin writes permitting the reproduction to meet the beholder… reactivates the object reproduced, which can relate to using Printmaking as a medium to realise work. Printing a run of 50 screen printed images retain the aura of an object with each individual print being unique, though one of 50. An aura is experienced from the original, where the print made with ink and the artist’s hands were ultimately the artists intention. The aura is then experienced by those who consume the piece in the physical surrounding of where the print is shown. (Benjamin)

Arguably, in regards to digital Illustration, the idea of reactivating the object reproduced comes in a different format. With Digital Illustration becoming an easier and more efficient way to work professionally as an illustrator, the concept of the aura that Benjamin speaks of, is lost in the digital cloud. To create a digital drawing is still creating an original, however, how this original is shared or spread can contradict this. With digital prints and digital files of the artist’s work being being widely available online to buy, display and preserve, Benjamin’s words mechanical reproduction withers the aura of the work of art come to mind (benjamin). With the original being shared and multiplied in a Copy and Paste nature, the digital artwork begins to lose its aura as it lacks the artist’s authorship. This is a term known as Image Anarchism, where the work of art is shared, reblogged and reformatted, effectively reproducing it repeatedly, so its original location and meaning becomes unknown. A “work of visual art” is defined by its singularity, or plurality of 200 for it to exist as original art (informed illustrator). With various social media sites allowing creatives to share their work and discuss with their followers, the “original” is now a transitory product that exists in an online space for others to consume and critique.

With this in mind, it is worth comparing artwork shared through the screen of a phone/tablet to how it would be displayed in a Gallery. Benjamin argues the aura of an object is dependent on its existence in a space. Though the idea of visiting fantastic outdoor spaces around the world are seeded in the likes of National Geographic Magazine, Benjamin’s understanding of the desire in contemporary culture to bring things ‘closer’ spatially & humanely shows clear relevance to today’s culture. The high gloss finish of a National Geographic magazine, filled with high resolution images of wonderful places and creatures from all around the world, is at the hands of many people who can appreciate the fabricated image. With a focus on the tangible being important to the aura, the magazine as an object is a transitory object that exists to display a monthly supplement of images and provides a short term idea of what the original is like. Though the aura of the place is captured through photograph, the concept of the original is on the very grounds that the photo was taken on.

David Hockney is an painter, draughtsman, printmaker, stage designer and photographer, and has created work throughout his illustrious career that is conscientious of the discomfort and harmony between the digital and analogue. (Tate) He has achieved an understanding through working with mechanical reproduction (the xerox photocopier) during the 80s, but also creating digital paintings on an iPad. In Hockney Printmaker, by Richard Lloyd, Hockney’s Home-made prints have a place among his etchings and lithographs. Lloyd curated an exhibition of Hockney’s prints from his career at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in 2014. Hockney realised that the Xerox printer was “a camera as well as a printing press” (Hockney). He went on to explore this medium through collage and photography to create vibrant prints. Shown above is an example of Hockney’s methodology to create interesting prints exploiting the use of photograph, drawn media and ink. Relating to Benjamin’s quote permitting reproduction to meet the beholder, Hockney achieves this idea through creating artwork, with artist authorship, through his own mark-making and understanding of how to reproduce it into something accessible to everyone. The print by Hockney, see Fig 1, is an edition of 60 all created by him in 1986 on the Xerox printer. For Hockney, the famed painter, to make artwork on a photocopier comes as a surprise, but is an important piece of work to address with its interdisciplinary context. It is a mark made as an original in a dark colour which is then reproduced by copying and printing to make something completely different. The colour is different to the original and the ink reacting to the paper is different to how the pencil reacts.

This means that the print itself is exists as an original instead of a copy of the original mark made and, therefore, has an aura. Hockney then went on to send these original artworks to his friend’s faxes, making artwork for the many; theoretically, the art could be spread anywhere someone had a fax. This exploitation and challenge to Benjamin’s assumptions about the reproducible object is what makes Hockney’s Home-Made Prints polarising to the analogue/digital debate.


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