Atrophy in the Arts (plus rants)

traditional-art vs digital-art by chukadrawer
traditional-art vs digital-art by chukadrawer

My wife and I had an artist friend over for dinner last night. In between horror movie discussions, we talked a bit of shop. He mentioned that another artist he knows recently did a guest lesson at a school. The students were amazed that he was using paper to draw.

“What? Come on…” I said.

“No, really! A lot of them honestly had never drawn on paper before. They’ve used drawing tablets their entire education.” he replied.

I was floored. Not for the reasons you think, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

First: I have a few points/rants I’d like to make…

1. I’ve met a few non-artists, and some “purely traditional” snobs who say idiotic things like “Oh, you use a computer for your art? So it just does all the work for you.”

Um, no. That’s like thinking that a car with power steering drives itself. Digital allows you to be faster and increases convenience. That is all. It brings NOTHING else to the table. Using the most expensive drawing tablet in existence will not make you a better artist. Only practice can do that.

2. On that point, I’ve been asked on multiple occasions: “My son/daughter wants to learn to draw. What software do you recommend?”

Paper and pencil. Seriously. The benefits of drawing digitally are lost on someone who doesn’t even understand the fundamentals. I use digital because I have deadlines. If you’re just starting out, use whatever medium you want to scratch marks on paper. What’s the advice I give when someone tells me they want to learn how to draw? Simple:




Learn how to draw even when you don’t want to. Force yourself to draw. Draw things you want to. Draw things you’d rather not. THAT is how you learn. It is a muscle, and it needs to be used to stay strong. What you use to create your art is secondary.

3. So even though I hate people that think using digital tools are some kind of ‘easy way’ (ugh), I will say this: using only digital tools will at some point make your skills regress.

Digital, for all of its benefits, also robs you of one of the most important things an artist needs to learn:


Make your marks count. Put intent behind every line. Every movement. Commit to your mistakes, and learn to overcome them. Living above the safety net of ‘Undo’ robs you of this. Knowing the sweet sting of completely ruining a piece in the final stages of completion is a right of passage. Holding yourself accountable during the entire process is important. Learning how to use ‘happy mistakes’ is equally important.

So back to those students from earlier…

I wasn’t floored because ‘they should be using pencils’ or anything like that. Rather, it was because they’ve been convinced that to be a professional, you NEED to use digital tools.

Thankfully, that isn’t actually the case (yet). But I fear that these students aren’t being given the opportunity to explore the amazing variety of workflows that can exist these days. I’m not bemoaning the ‘death of traditional media’, but I am fearful that an entire generation of artists are being taught that professional art can only be created in the confines of their computers. Art is fundamentally about expression. And so often, fulfillment is found in the process used to give that expression form. The final outcome is quite often secondary to the path taken. Exposing students to the various mediums at their disposal, and letting them find the paths that work best for them fosters this. It saddens me to think that future artists aren’t being given the chance to explore.

I hope, for their sake, that I am mistaken.