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With the advancement in digital technology, various approaches of digital versions in arts have come up. The condition has made different versions of digital art such as online art fairs and Google art among others readily available to art lovers through different art applications such as smart phones.
While a few artefact lovers have shifted to consumption of the digital version, most people still prefer the physical artefacts. However, the debate over the subject of digital versions of art has risen in the recent past among the literary critics and philosophers on whether the digital technology can actually replace the physical artefact. Proponents of digital technology argue that technological revolutionary in the contemporary world is inevitable in every sector of human survival including fine arts.
They argue that digital technology promotes ease and accessibility of the artefacts. Opponents however, assert that digital technology cannot replace physical artefact. Opponents such as Walter Benjamin note that, physical artefacts are unique and any attempt to reproduce or replace using digital technology distorts almost every aspect of it and therefore losing meaning.
In fact, there are physical aspects, which digital technologies cannot display. This debate has left arts consumers puzzled on which style of art to consume. Can the digital version ever replace physical artefact, and should it be our goal in creating digital collection? This question is what separates the opponents and proponents to the digital versions of art.
The purpose of this essay is to argue that digital technology cannot replace the physical artefact. Based on disadvantages presented by the digital versions in support with arguments by opponents to digital version, I will demonstrate that digital version cannot reproduce the physical artefacts. The essay focuses on digital versions of fine arts.
Digital version cannot replace physical artefacts
The aim of fine art is to represent or to display certain information. Creators of physical artefacts do so with a view to display specific information. In such a case, accuracy is very significant. Reproduction of an artefact in any form therefore interferes with the accuracy of the desired information. Digital reproduction cannot achieve the accuracy meant by the artist during the creation of the physical artefact. Physical artefacts in fine arts provide first hand information to the art lovers.
A carving for instance may seek to illustrate the skull of the early man in history. From such fine artefact, the artist focuses on creation of the tangible real picture of the early man. Attempt to reproduce this artefact distorts some of the aspects. First, the digital version cannot provide a tangible impression of the information, thereby distorting the initial meaning of the art. Secondly, digital version cannot provide the authenticity of the original work.
The authority the original work (physical) commands will fade during the reproduction due to the difference between the original and the reproduction process of the artefact. In digital creation, due to versatility of the graphical environment, artists can add some aspects, which are impossible to achieve in manual creation. Addition of such aspects would constitute into inaccurate information by the artefact.
Again, some aspects of the physical fine artefact are difficult to include in the digital version. Size variation of the artefact also contributes to inaccuracies in the displayed information. Since digitalized processes provide for enlargement and reduction on scale of the size of the artefact, it is therefore difficult to give accurate impression as meant by the physical artefact.
In digital version, it is possible to display aspects, which the naked eyes cannot see in the physical artefact. Although this may seem to compliment digital technology, such aspects are not necessary to convey the desired meaning. In any case, it is an additional aspect and therefore compromises the accuracy of the artefact. As Benjamin notes, reproduction “may not touch the actual work of the art”.
It therefore, implies that the quality of the original work depreciates with digital reproduction. Depreciation in quality of the fine art work interferes with the meaning of that work. This in turn results into inaccuracy in the reproduced work. Digital version depreciates quality and hence the accuracy of the artefact. In their article on “Cognitive Artefacts in Complex Work”, Jones and Nemeth established that physical artefacts provide “current and valid” representation of the actual state.
The physical artefacts provide logically true impression to the artefact lovers while digital versions provide ‘invalid’ impressions due to depreciated quality and authenticity of the original work. In fact, digital equipment such computers and cameras aid and improve cognition but such devices do not provide originality.
How could digital versions of art then replace the physical? It is indeed impossible. Apparently, digital versions results into different meaning and style of the art. Since digital versions distort the accuracy of the original meaning of the artefact, it suffices digital reproduction cannot replace the physical artefact.
Digital versions are unreliable forms of artefacts. As aforementioned, fine artefacts aim to display information. Lovers of these artefacts depend on the artefacts for entertainment. Entertainment is information. Others like literary scholars depend on these artefacts to accomplish their researches. Artefacts should be readily available whenever required for the information. As Jones and Nemeth notes, “computer-based displays that go down” prevent access to this information.
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Breakdown of the digital systems in which the artist has reproduced the artefact impedes such people from accessing the artefacts. In fact, the 21st century technological advancement has led to innovation of high destructive software programs to the digital systems. The digital artefact systems are not exceptions of this malice; on attack, these systems or software may alter the nature or destroy the artefact making it unavailable to the users.
On the other hand, physical artefacts are ‘hardware’ and to some extent permanent. Officials preserve them in museums and other places for easy and formal access. To access the preserved artefacts, one has to follow the formal procedures; therefore, the physical artefacts are indeed reliable, that is, available when required. Digital versions cannot replace the physical versions since they cannot actually provide this reliability.
In versions such as Google art, there is extreme degree of unreliability. To explore such works of art, people have to access the internet. It is outright that internet is not yet cheap to all art lovers; most people will contend this assertion but majority living in regions where art appreciation is high, have no access to frequent and cheap internet.
Again, those who have access to the internet lack sufficient skills to manipulate the graphics of the Google project to acquire the required information. In addition, internet speed required to access such high content graphical web pages is not realizable to most people in the world. In fact, only the Western nations and the United States have access to such levels of internet speeds and reliability.
Reliability means available when required to those who require it. With the limitations of internet in terms of speed, accessibility, and cost, digital versions will not replace the physical artefacts on this basis. It is true that the developed countries create most of digital versions of the artefacts; however, art lovers are not confined in these countries. In fact, according to McLuhan, Africa and Asia are the leading regions in creation of fine arts.
This implies that, people in Africa and Asia therefore appreciate fine art more than anywhere in the world; unfortunately, internet availability, access and reliability is low in these regions coupled with biting lack of appropriate computer knowledge. What the developed countries are doing is to reproduce what African and Asian artists have physically created.
These reproductions are not readily available to the said regions due to limitations mentioned earlier. As a result, digital versions of artefacts will not replace physical artefacts particularly in Africa and Asia, where fine art enjoys major appreciation. Therefore, for digital versions to replace physical artefacts in fine arts it should prove reliable to the lovers of the fine arts. Therefore, since this reliability is unrealistic due to the growing destructive technology, digital artefacts cannot replace the physical artefacts.
Digital artefacts cannot replace physical fine artefacts due to the uniqueness and finesse of the physical versions. Benjamin asserts, “A work of art is inseparable from its being imbedded in the fabric of tradition”. Most of the famous fine artworks in human history have had either cultural or religious roots at one time in history.
For instance, the Roman Catholic crucifix and monument of mother of Jesus underscores this assertion. Although the crucifix signifies the Ancient Roman tradition, its meaning has transformed considerably to religious kind. Scholars impute the traditional transformation to the attempts by the Catholic Church to reproduce this fine artefact of Ancient Romans.
Traditions, as per Benjamin’s assertion, are unique to every single group of people. Since artefacts have strong traditional roots, it is justified that every artefact is unique and it is difficult to copy or reproduce traditions. Physical artefacts represent traditions and reproducing traditions borders impossibility.
The same way, it is almost impossible to reproduce a physical artefact through digitalization. The reproduction of Mary’s monument throughout the world has also proved difficult, with major variations on her veil. The way of dressing is a tradition and since traditions vary considerably, creating a similar physical artefact manually has proved impossible. How is it possible with digital technology? A two-fold response will satisfactorily answer this question.
First, since the imitation has been impossible with a similar process, (manual carving of the monument) it is very impossible with different processes. Secondly, fine artefacts illustrate the mind and nature of the artist. In fact, artists express their thoughts through these works.
The generation responsible for digital version of artefacts has limited knowledge of most of the traditions before the 19th century. Therefore, the tradition represented in these artefacts is not in their mind. They cannot therefore reproduce these artefacts. Different traditions have unique materials for creation of these artefacts. In fact, the art is useless with a different material of creation. Others have to conform to specific paintings and decorations.
Although digital versions have successfully imitated the feature of colour and decoration, it cannot reproduce the original material of the artefact. Every physical artefact aims to convey a meaning, may be to certain groups of people. These meanings vary depending on the creator and target group of people. For instance, the famous liberty artefact in the United States aims to unite all the states into one nation, a dream of the American ancestors. Other countries may use this artefact to symbolize unity but in different perspectives.
No matter how people may attempt to reproduce am artefact, it is indeed impossible to retain the uniqueness of the original artefact-tradition. The versatility of the digital graphics during creation of these artefacts introduces changes in several aspects and therefore loses the unique features of the physical fine artefact. Therefore, digital versions cannot reproduce the uniqueness of the physical artefact; hence, they cannot replace the physical artefacts.
Digital versions of artefacts are inefficient. As mentioned, fine arts aim to accomplish certain objectives in the society, it may be traditional, cultural or entertainment, whichever way, it should do so efficiently. To accomplish its objective, an artefact should be easy to ‘use’ by the art lovers. Digital versions of artefacts dictate the use of high tech equipment such smart TV, phones and digital computers.
The use of these gadgets presents complications to most artefact lovers. In order to benefit from the artefacts, users should have capabilities to manipulate such gadgets. To view an artefact in certain plane for instance, one has to zoom and navigate within the graphics carefully.
The implication here is that, those who cannot operate and manipulate these gadgets therefore cannot achieve the intended meaning of the artefact. The problem becomes worse for those who have sight problems. They cannot see and hence cannot manipulate the features of the artefact. In case of physical artefacts, problems associated with technology are not there for art ‘users’.
For the physically challenged people, they can at least have a feel by touching the artefact. These underlying problems contravene the efficiency of the digital artefact. Complications in viewing the artefact are also notable in digital versions. In order to have a view of some planes of the artefact, one has to zoom, revolve, or even move the artefact within the virtual planes. This however, does not provide the required information clearly.
Zooming may only be efficient to certain scale; otherwise, the view becomes blurred. Revolving the artefact sometimes confuses the user and may end up not realizing the desired view. All these processes in digital versions interfere with the meaning of the physical artefact. In fact, the lovers of art cannot realize the actual feeling brought about by the physical fine artefact through digital versions.
Cost of digital version of artefacts significantly impedes the replacement of the physical artefacts with the digital. Although proponents argue that digital versions of artefacts reduce the cost incurred in travelling to museums to view these artefacts, higher costs are involved in the digital versions.
First, creation cost of such artefacts is very high. It requires specialized skills in graphics or technology. If the artefact is corporate, then the owners have to incur high costs to higher the skill. Secondly, the equipment required to create the artefact is also expensive.
It really requires high capacity computer systems to accomplish the reproduction process. Software is another significant aspect of the cost involved. The process requires specialized software to enhance human-machine interface for excellent outcome. This cost translates to the user of the artefact making it expensive to access some of the art projects online. Internet, as mentioned earlier, also constitutes to the cost; users have to access internet, which might not be available in many places as noted earlier.
The above discussion, proves the digital artefact expensive than the physical artefact. Technology focuses on value addition and cost reduction, which is contrary to the digital version of artefacts. The implication is that, lovers of the art will cling to the physical artefact since they pay less than the digital versions. Therefore, as we create digital versions, it is important to comprehend that it cannot surpass the physical artefacts. Cost is a crucial factor in the lives of many people.
People strive to survive at low costs as possible and that is the human nature, which is difficult to change. High costs of accessing digital artefacts therefore mean that very few people will be willing to access them. This renders the digital artefacts useless to the ‘users’ and therefore cannot replace physical fine artefacts in the market. Because of technological advancement, some malicious people are likely to interfere with the software of the digital systems impeding access to the art.
This scenario accounts for more cost of repair of the systems. Digital artefacts cannot therefore replace physical artefacts due to their high costs of maintenance. For the physical artefacts, the only notable cost is that of the initial creation. Its maintenance and repair is relatively negligible. With cost advantage over digital versions, it is therefore impossible for digital versions to replace the physical fine artefacts.
Again, due to the attitude people have towards cost, the digital version will continue to receive high resistance from the art lovers. This means that physical artefact will enjoy support for considerable period in future. In turn, it implies that digital versions of artefacts will remain in the run up position.
As mentioned earlier, reproduction of the environment of original work is impossible. As a result, digital versions are non-informative. According to Jones and Nemeth, physical artefacts “contain information that pertains to interest” of the art lovers. In physical artefact, there is the feeling of the actual environment of the represented scene.
This artefact illustrates the information, as the ‘user’ would need it. However, on reproduction, the artefact loses some of its aspects, which are important sources of information. Since there is no authenticity in reproduction, the original environment, which would have represented the desired information, is difficult to reproduce.
Although, digital versions enhance convenience for museum tour without travelling, lovers do not achieve the information of their interest. The digital version of artefacts provides difficulties in accessing some aspects of the artefacts. As a result, it does not enhance acquisition of the required information. Since it is still a challenge to most of people to manipulate these systems effectively, majority of the artefact lovers cannot achieve their goals.
It is difficult to create the actual environment as it is for the physical artefact. Environment is very important in depicting the traditions and the cultures illustrated by the physical artefact. Therefore, it is impossible to retrieve information from most of the digital versions. Some people acquire satisfaction through touch. Physical artefacts enhance the art lovers to touch them and contemplate on the feeling.
Touching can also provide information to the lovers of the art. However, this aspect lacks conspicuously in digital artefacts, hence proving it as non-informative. The reproduced digital artefact may also be unclear. Due to complexity of the creation, the artist may truncate some of the aspects difficult to include into the artefact. The difficulty may be a result of the technological challenge.
Truncation therefore implies that ‘users’ cannot access the full information as it would have been in the physical artefact. The complex graphics of the digital systems may also result into ambiguity and confusion of the artefact. These, again impede the ‘users’ from acquisition of the information from their points of interest. Simply, reproduction results into unclear and truncated information of the artefact.
Unclear information is a result of difficulties in reproduction. In addition, lack of some aspects of the artefacts resulting into non-informative nature of digital artefacts illustrates how problematic it is to reproduce an artefact with digital systems. As mentioned, technology is challenging to most people than the manual process.
As one these technologies, digital systems offer significant challenges (technologically) to reproduce the physical fine artefacts. It is therefore justified digital version of artefacts cannot replace the physical artefacts.
Digital technology transforms the structure of the physical artefact. In his essay on “from codex to screen”, Chartier posits that, “Digital version does not only modify the text but the structure as well”. In fine arts, slight alterations of the structure of the physical artefact results into different meanings, culture, and art altogether.
Digital versions, as noted, significantly deform the structure of the physical artefact during reproduction. In order for the artefact to fit into the digital environment, artists have to scale it down. Scaling modifies the structure and as Chartier notes, it results into “a totally different form of art”.
Since scaling is inevitable in digitalization, it is difficult to reproduce the physical artefact. Again, some shapes are difficult to illustrate in these digital systems. In order to illustrate them however, artists have to approximate using the possible graphical solutions. Such shapes compromise and alters the structure of the physical artefact.
Due to complexity of the working digital environment, artists may commit unnoticeable errors, which subsequently affect the structure of the artefact. Alteration of the structure of the artefact compromises the originality of the art. If written text with easy codex cannot retain its originality by just copying, what about the complicated art such fine artefacts? It is indeed difficult to reproduce an artefact. Therefore, digital artefact cannot replace the physical artefacts.
Finally, digitalization involves coding and data transformation for the purpose of convenience. Tan and Ong note that these conversions interfere with the originality of the artefacts. The coding involves compression of the size of the original artefact to suit applications for various digital systems. The result is therefore distortion of the physical artefact-what the digital system illustrates is different from what is physically available.
Data transformation of these artefacts, as Basith and Stephen found, further transforms the structure of the artefact. It behaves as series of reproduction such that by the time the internet art lovers view it on the screen it has undergone series of reproduction. As a result, the digital version of the artefact is very far from the original artefact. Therefore, digital version cannot replace the physical artefacts in fine arts.
It is impossible to portray the original version of artefacts in fine art through digital version. Original means the reproduction of the aspects of the physical artefacts to the digital version. Paraphrasing Benjamin’s assertions, transfer of these aspects is indeed difficult. Physical artefacts in fine arts have a meaning, which a successful reproduction should reveal.
Accuracy, efficiency, reliability, informative and clarity, uniqueness, structure and cost evidence the implied meaning here. Reproduction should precisely transfer these aspects to the digital version. However, due to difficulty in reproduction, some of the details disappear resulting into inaccurate meaning of the artefact. The digital systems are subject to invasion by malicious people proving the digital versions unreliable. Unreliability also results from inefficiency of the digital systems.
The complexity of the digital creation environment for the artefacts also presents chances of ambiguity in the information displayed by the digital versions of the artefacts. This complexity may result into truncated details of the original artefact. Since every physical artefact has connections with traditions and culture for the artist who created it, any attempt to reproduce it looses the unique features tied to a given tradition.
It is indeed difficult to copy or reproduce traditions. Reproduction into digital version results into alteration of structure of the original artefact. Structure alteration also occurs because of coding and data transformation within the digital systems to ensure that the artefact various applications. Data transformation results into series of reproduction and hence losing the credibility of the original artefact.
Reproduction should maintain the aspects of the original artefact (physical artefact), which is not the case for digital reproduction of the physical artefact. As a result, it is evident that all the aspects of the physical (original) artefact change on reproduction into digital version. It is therefore justified that reproduction is impossible. In fact, what results as Chartier puts it, is a different kind of art, not fine art, on digital reproduction.
With high costs of internet and the digital systems for creation of the artefacts, it is vivid that digital versions of artefacts are not likely to replace the physical artefacts in fine arts in any near future. Possibly, like Chartier argued, the arts, particularly physical, could in future transform into digital technology. At this point in future history, the artists will communicate with their ‘fans’ through digital graphic in the name of ‘digital artefacts’.
However, literary scholars such as the likes of Roger Chartier and William Benjamin (philosopher) will have to come on board to develop the name to the ‘newborn type of fine art’. At this time of the history, the internet and virtual reality addicts will have dominated the world. At the same time, the idea of physical artefacts will be buried deep down into the minds of the great artists; however, for the time being, physical artefact dominates and digital versions of these artefacts cannot replace the physical artefacts in fine arts.
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- Forbus, K, ‘Towards Construction Kits for Virtual World Artefact’s, Virtual Artefacts,Vol. 8,no. 2, 2002, p. 3.
- Queensberry, L, & S Bruce, ‘Leveraging the Internet to Promote Fine Art: Perspectives of Art Patrons’, The Journal of Arts Management, Law, and Society, Vol. 38, no. 2, 2008, pp. 121-140.
- Benjamin, W, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, The Work of Art in the Age, vol. 7,no. 1, 1935, p.3
- Jones, P, & P Nemeth, ‘Cognitive Artefacts in Complex Work’, Scientific Discovery, 2005, p. 161.
- Fred, I, Media Theory, Blackwell, Oxford, 1990, p. 56
- Jones, & Nemeth, p. 161.
- McLuhan, M, Understanding Media, Rout ledge, London, 2001, p. 34
- Benjamin, W, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, The Work of Art in the Age, vol. 7,no. 1, 1935, p.3
- Jay, D, & R Grusin, Remediation: Understanding New Media, MIT Press, Cambridge, 1998.
- Thompson, J, ‘Mass Communication and Modern Culture: Contribution to a Critical Theory of Ideology’, Sociology, 1988, p. 365.
- Churchill, E, & T Sokoler, ‘Tools that Tell Tales: Bridging Context Seams by Digitally Annotating Physical Artefacts’, Research Centre, 2006, p. 25.
- Murdoch, G, & K Nicholas, ‘mapping physical artefacts to their Web counterparts: A case study with product catalogs’, Computer Science, 2000, pp. 33.
- Jones, P, & P Nemeth, ‘Cognitive Artefacts in Complex Work’, Scientific Discovery, 2005, p 161
- Wellner, P, W MacKay, & R Gold, ‘Computer-Augmented Environments: Back to the Real World’, Communications of the ACM, Vol. 36, no. 7, 1993, p. 25.
- Chartier, R, ‘From Codex to Screen: Trajectories of the Written Word’, Moral and Political Science, 1971, pp. 161-171.
- Chartier, p. 166.
- Tan, L, & K Ong, ‘Artefacts in computed radiography’, Hong Kong Journal of Emergency Medicine, vol. 7,no. 1, 2000, p. 30.