The tools have changed and the ways of exploring visual things have expanded. But it’s not a paradigm shift, it’s the same old paradigm.17
In recent years, Christopher Wool has been exploring the potential of digital technology to help him revisit and transform his paintings in new ways. After experimenting with photographing his paintings and then using their digital images to create a silkscreened version of each piece, he extended this process by using Photoshop to dissect, combine, and recolor the paintings. Now, he often crops elements of the photographed paintings and alters their depth, contrast, and registration. He also draws on the photographs digitally to create lines that are only distinguishable from the actual spray-painted lines of the painting in that they have no drips or smudges.
While Photoshop is traditionally used to smooth out imperfections in an image, Wool’s methods reveal flaws such as disintegrating image-resolution. He uses the possibilities of digital technology to revisit his own works, to alter them, and, thus, to continue to engage with his process. He also has used Photoshop to experiment with scale, enlarging passages from works on paper, digitally manipulating them, and then transforming them into 10-foot-tall canvases using silkscreen.
In Untitled (2009), he synthesizes traces of many of his earlier paintings. A forceful black hooked line from a gray painting (Untitled, 2007), for instance, reappears, this time weaker, a shadow of its former self.
Show: Untitled (2009)
- Ask students if they’ve ever created a work of art digitally, such as with a digital camera, a mouse, or Photoshop. How was this experience different than creating art in a more traditional way (i.e., drawing with a mouse versus drawing with a pencil)?
- Ask students to list words that come to mind when they see this image.
- Wool makes digital images of his paintings so that he can experiment with them in Photoshop. He then combines elements from several of his paintings to make new ones. He even adds layers to these images using drawing functions in Photoshop. Thus, these paintings are made with a combination of traditional studio painting and digital manipulation. Can students see evidence in the painting of its multilayered process— specifically, of the parts created digitally versus the parts made with spray paint?
- Ask students if they have ever edited an image digitally. (If necessary, point out to students that programs like Instagram and Facebook allow for quick editing, such as cropping and adding filters.) Compare this process to when they have made “edits” to drawings, paintings, or other artworks.
- Discuss Wool’s quote at the beginning of this section (after making sure students are clear on the meaning of the word “paradigm”). How much do students think digital editing such as on Instagram, Facebook, and Photoshop changes the world, or more specifically, “visual things”?
- Some of Wool’s images began by “drawing” with spray paint on canvas and were then manipulated and added to in a digital format. Assign every student to make an abstract drawing. Then, scan in all of their drawings. Challenge students to create a digitally manipulated version of their drawing using a program such as Photoshop. Then, tell every student that in addition to their drawing they will have access to the other students’ drawings. They can pull marks or gestures from any of these drawings into their new works of art. They also can add new marks using Photoshop’s drawing tools. How was the process of making these “mash-ups” different than the process of drawing a brand-new artwork? Which process did students prefer and why?
- For a more traditional version of the above activity, you can assign students to cut up their abstract drawings and exchange pieces with other students. With a new piece of paper and glue, students can then make new mash-up collages of original marks from their own drawings and from their classmates’ drawings. Finally, students can add new marks on top of their collages. (As an alternative to cutting and pasting, students can use tracing paper to “borrow” marks from their original drawings and their classmates’ drawings.) Ask the same reflection questions as above.