Sunday, 4 August 2013

Definitely Photoshopped: Beauty and Photoshop Get a Bad Rap.

     Photoshop is getting a bad rap.
     The Apple Adobe Photoshop program is an amazing technological feat that can be used by artists and the public in so many ways it boggles the mind. It’s incredibly useful and easy to use, but often we refer to images that advertisers create in order to sell us products as “Photoshopped,” meaning we know the photographic image has been ridiculously altered.
     In the world of fashion where self-esteem issues have become a big problem for young women especially, and young men too, the term “Photoshopped” is our easiest method of referring to the creation of unrealistic representations of people.
     Twenty years ago it was harder to work an image of a person. An artist had a very hard time trying to match the skin colour to paint or airbrush on just the right amount to get rid of a blemish, or to collage an image by cutting out a section of a photo with a pair of scissors and mount it to a different background using Elmer’s glue. But now any advertising agency or magazine has the resources to manufacture a professional look and squish, cut, bend, blend, extended, erase, “heal,” and retouch to create unblemished youthful faces and mannequin smooth bodies on to any background you could imagine in order to market some kind of near useless product.
     We aren’t yet numb to the overuse of Photoshop. “Definitely Photoshopped!” we cry.
     Historically, portraits of Kings, Queens, and Emperors were also “Photoshopped” in their own time, but with paint. Surprisingly, despite painter’s abilities, quite a few paintings reveal how ugly some members of royalty really were. So they, both artists and royalty, were at times sensible.  
     Sadly, the word Beauty already has a bad rap. At least it does more so in the art world. And when you combine an intolerance or misunderstanding of Beauty with our knowledge of how much an image can be altered with Photoshop, you get a double evil, and lots of confusion about what is legitimate art and what is not.
     For centuries artist’s primary function was beautification. They created it and they defended it and they tried to explain it. With the changes and discoveries of the last 150 years, such as the Darwinian discovery of evolution, Freud’s revelations of the psychological, Karl Marx’s political theory, Science’s ability to see into space and into the inner workings of cells and atoms, the only way you could become a Great Man was to discover, to search, to reveal, to be the Indiana Jones of… anything. In the Art World, the same bug to discover, to reveal something new, to be part of Progress, was overpowering. Beautification simply wasn’t enough. So a few artists jumped on the one big opening of discovery that was left. The Truth. And it didn’t help that the discovery of photography happened at the same time, stealing work from painters. So today the modern/contemporary artist’s primary function is the search for truth. Top that.
      Beautification for many contemporary artists is seen as false, a gimmick, an unnecessary expense, waste of time and an outright lie used as a means of distorting reality for another’s benefit. The arguments against beautification have been going on for a solid hundred years.
     Some artists are so hostile of beauty that the word itself offends them, as revealed by an artist showing at the Definitely Superior Art Gallery a couple years ago. As a professor of the Emily Carr University of Art, she accused the provincial government of B.C. of creating “fascist style propaganda” with the use of the phrase “Beautiful British Columbia” stamped on every B.C. license plate.
     Oh no. The fascists are coming.
     The two ways of thinking about the value of beauty in the arts is becoming more and more similar to the political divide between left and right thinking in politics. So much so, that it’s creating a divide between artists, making them hostile towards one another. A Classical premise for a function of art was that art should and must bring people closer together. It doesn’t seem to be working.
     And when a modern/contemporary artist cries, “definitely Photoshopped” they’re saying this with the added authority and venom of contemporary art ideology that questions the value of beauty and often inverts beauty for shock value. And although the ideology often veers towards nihilism, there is value in being critical. However, the same artist who cries fowl might hop on their computer the next day and Photoshop images for their own art work.
     There are lots of reasons why some art today doesn’t bring us closer together, but the next time we use terms like Beauty and Photoshopped, we need to keep in mind that current issues although important are not the end all and be all of what is behind the incredible opportunities that come from their beneficial uses in the right hands where the intentions really are to bring people together and not divide.

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