One of the most crucial aspects of today’s post-industrial reality is that fact that, as time goes on; the ongoing progress in the field of digital technology exerts ever more effect on people’s aesthetic perception of the surrounding reality. The validity of this suggestion can illustrated, in regards to the recent emergence of ‘new (digital) media’, which can be defined as, “Analog media converted to a digital representation. In contrast to analog media, which is continuous, digitally encoded media is discrete” (Manovich 2001, p. 49). After all, the mentioned representational format does presuppose the possibility for people to be able to go as far, as altering the qualitative subtleties of their aesthetic experiences.
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Nevertheless, even though there can be only a few doubts about the ‘digitalization’ of art, as such that has been predetermined dialectically, there is a good reason to think that the phenomenon in question signifies the decline of art, as a genre, due to the process of its agents/affiliates growing perceptually decadent. In this paper, I will explore the validity of the above-stated at length, in regards to what can be considered the discursive significance of the digitally created special effects in films and the rise of ‘digitalized’ visual arts.
Nowadays, it would prove rather challengeable to pin point at any recently released Hollywood film with the complete absence of special effects – especially if we talk about the action-packed blockbusters. This situation is fully explainable – the very availability of digital technologies, designed to be used by moviemakers, determine the sheer objectivity of the described state of affairs. As Bishop pointed out, “When we examine these dominant forms of contemporary art more closely, their operational logic and systems of spectatorship prove intimately connected to the technological revolution we are undergoing” (2012, p. 436). There is, however, even a stronger force, behind the process of the contemporary works of cinematography growing progressively ‘digitalized’ – the objective demands of the market.
As Belton noted, “The digital revolution (in moviemaking) is being driven by home theater and home entertainment software and hardware technologies, and by corporate interests in marketing… (It) is part of a new corporate synergy within Hollywood, driven by the lucrative home entertainment market” (2002, p. 100). In other words, it is specifically viewing audiences, which create demand for today’s movies to grow increasingly packed with the digitally created special effects.
What these effects are all about? As practice indicates, they are mostly about: 1) helping viewers to become fully submerged in the computer-generated virtual reality, to which they are being exposed on the screen, 2) providing them with the opportunity to ‘savor’ the digitally created realness of the film’s most graphic scenes. Because cinematography is being defined as art, the mentioned effects stand in striking opposition to the term’s discursive significance, as such that implies that the process of enjoying a particular piece of art is essentially concerned with the rationale-based cognition. After all, as Rowe pointed out, “The aesthetic attitude is not a feeling or an emotion (although it might give rise to either of these) but is rather a mode of attention or contemplation of an object of sight” (1991, p. 272). The reason for this is apparent – neither of the described type of effects has to do with the notion of cognition/rationale, in the first place.
The first of them is essentially about helping moviegoers to adopt nothing short of the hallucinogenic state of mind, which in turn prompts them to believe in the realness of the digitally created special effects. This, of course, has nothing to do with the conventional view on art, as the mean of encouraging one to become a ‘better man’. The rationale behind this suggestion is that the mentioned process of ‘bettering’ is about the affiliated person growing increasingly detached from its animalistic anxieties. In this respect, people’s taste for special effects in movies, can be well described as being ‘animalistic’, because it reflects their deep-seated anxiety to be spared from the necessity to lead a thoroughly conscious/responsible existence, so that they would be in the position to preoccupy themselves with experiencing sensual pleasures.
There is one more reason to think that the ‘digitalization’ of moviemaking cannot be considered beneficial the affected films’ artistic value, as it results in the simplification of cinematography, as a representational medium. According to Manovich, “Cinema can no longer be clearly distinguished from animation. It is no longer an indexical media technology but, rather, a sub-genre of painting” (1995, p. 3). Yet, one of the foremost features of art has always been the fact that it never ceases to undergo a qualitative refinement, which in turn suggests that, as time goes on, it should grow increasingly complex, in the representational sense of this word. Thus, there is indeed a certain rationale in referring to how digital technologies are being integrated within the conceptual framework of modern cinematography, as yet an additional indication of the concerned artistic medium’s overall degradation. The validity of this suggestion can also be illustrated, in regards to the well-known tendency of the highly ‘digitalized’ films to feature utterly simplified dialogues between the characters.
In light of the earlier mentioned fact that this type of films often uses special effects, as the instrument of exposing viewers to the most graphic emanations of physical violence, we can also speculate that the ongoing ‘digitalization’ of films indicates that, as of today, the concept of art grows increasingly synonymous with the notion of experiencing cheap emotional thrills. This simply could not otherwise, because as the relevant studies suggest, it is specifically the graphically ‘digitalized’ cinematographic accounts, which attract the majority of the thrill-seeking moviegoers.
One of the reasons for this is that the concerned individuals tend to regard special effects, as such that represent the value of a ‘thing in itself’. However, as it was noted earlier, the very concept of art presupposes that the artistic piece’s emotional appeal cannot be discussed outside of how this piece inspires people to operate with the highly abstract cognitive categories. Evidently enough, one’s exposure to the digitally mastered scenes of destruction/violence, which especially appeal to the movie-going seekers of cheap thrills, cannot possibly result in the concerned individual’s decision to reflect upon the surrounding reality in terms of these categories.
The validity of the idea that the ongoing incorporation of digital technologies, as the integral part of many artistic pursuits, does not necessarily need to be welcomed, can also be explored, in regards to what are the qualitative specifics of the concerned process in the field modernist visual art. One of these specifics relates to the fact that, due to the mentioned ‘digitalization’, art becomes an increasingly ‘theoretical’ pursuit, which only formally relates to the notion of creativeness.
To exemplify this suggestion, we can well refer to the 1974 exhibition installation TV Buddha by Nam June Paik
While describing the installation’s spatially-representational subtleties, Smith states, “The basic set up is extremely simple — a statue of the Buddha placed before a video monitor. Embedded within an earthen mound, the monitor bears the Buddha’s own image, which is being transmitted to the monitor by a camera placed behind the mound” (2000, p. 359). It is understood, of course, that without the author’s decision to utilize the technology of TV, this particular artistic piece would not come into being. The installation’s artistic value is believed to do with the fact that it dichotomizes Western and Oriental existential values against each other, which supposedly produces a strong artistic effect. According to the same author, “TV Buddha representing… a blending or confrontation of Eastern tradition and Western technology” (Smith, 2000, p. 362). What it means is that, in order to be able to appreciate TV Buddha, one must be aware of what accounts for the proper theoretical/discursive framework for interpreting it. However, the outlined interpretation of what kind of message TV Buddha really conveys is not only the available one – the installation’s aesthetic significance can be discussed from a variety of different perspectives.
The consequential implication of this quite apparent – those who did not happen to know what Paik had in mind, while creating his artistic installation, would not be able to enjoy it as art. However, it is specifically the measure of a particular artistic piece’s ‘aesthetic universality’, which is being usually seen, as such that reflects its de facto value. Consequently, TV Buddha cannot be referred to as being particularly valuable, in the conventional sense of this word, because only a few individuals would be able to appreciate it fully. That is, of course, unless there is a strong element of interactivity to how people experience an aesthetic please, while exposed to the artistic installation in question.
Based upon what has been said earlier, we can suggest that the phenomenon of digital technologies being used for creating visual art may be considered reflective of the fact that, as time goes on, the very concept of art becomes progressively detached from the notion of ‘creativity’, while being increasingly looked upon, as such that implies ‘interactivity’. In its turn, this creates the objective preconditions for the ‘digitalized’ representations of art to be thought in terms of a process, rather than in terms of the spatially ‘petrified’ and physically embodied emanations of one’s creative genius. In this respect, we can only agree with Broeckmann, who suggested that, “The digital communication technologies of the last decade have created a historical situation in which communication and connectivity have taken on a new social and artistic significance” (2007, p. 202). Even though there is no good reason in referring this state of affairs as being either beneficial or counterproductive to art, in the discursive sense of this word, there can be very little doubt that in the near future, the utilization of digital technologies by artists may bring about the complete overhaul of the notion of art, as we know it.
The main ideas (in regards to the effects of ‘digitalization’ on moviemaking and visual arts), promoted throughout this paper’s entirety, can be summarized as follows:
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- The implementation of digital technologies in movies encourages people to choose in favor of the socially alienated lifestyles. The reason for this is that one’s prolonged submergence in the digitally constructed cinematic reality invariantly causes the concerned individual to be willing to remain closely affiliated with it – often at the expense of being unable to act as the society’s productive member.
- As a result of being exposed to the special-effect-rich films, people naturally begin to associate the concept of aesthetics with the activity of experiencing the emotionally-charged thrills, which can hardly be considered beneficial to these people’s ability to appreciate art – at least in the traditional sense of this word.
- The presence of digital technologies in the representations of contemporary visual art, often contribute to the process of these representations turning into nothing short of the abstract theories of art, which in turn can be seen as something that helps to reduce the amount of actual art (not artistic theories) in the world.
I believe that these ideas resonate perfectly well with the paper’s initial thesis. After all, one can well refer to them as such that justify the assumption that, as of today, art remains in the state of decline. In its turn, this can be interpreted as the indication of the process of the affiliated individuals growing existentially decadent to an extent. This interpretation, however, does not claim to be the only appropriate one, as there is also a possibility for the continual ‘digitalization’ of art to be indicative that humanity may soon need to reassess the actual meaning of the term in question.
Belton, J. (2002). Digital cinema: A false revolution, Obsolescence, 100, 98-114.
Bishop, C. (2012). Digital divide: Claire Bishop on contemporary art and new media, Art Forum International, 51(1), 435-441.
Broeckmann, A. (2007). Image, process, performance, machine: Aspects of an aesthetics of the machine. In O. Grau (Ed.), Media art histories (pp.193-205). Cambridge, MIT Press.
Manovich, L. (1995). What is digital cinema? Web.
Manovich, L. (2001). What is new media?’, in L. Manovich (Ed.), The language of new media (pp. 18-61). Cambridge, MIT Press.
Rowe, M. (1991). The definition of ‘art’, The Philosophical Quarterly, 41(164), 271-286.
Smith, W. (2000). Nam June Paik’s TV Buddha as Buddhist art, Religion & the Arts, 4(3), 359-373.