A Question of Definitions

Okay, so yesterday I was calling myself a Mobile Photography Artist & Designer.  That’s supposed to be a catch-all description of my creative endeavours.  I can’t call myself an iPhoneographer, as I use a Samsung Galaxy S4 now and not an iPhone.  I can’t call myself an Androidographer either, as I use both iOS and Android devices and Apps to create my images.  I can’t call myself just a mobile photographer, as my work contains elements of Art and Design therein. Some of my pieces fall under “Art”, while my designs for CD Album covers and mock-ups fall under “Design”.

Last night, as I was pondering this dilemma, I came across this interesting point of view by one Taylor J.  http://taylorjorjorian.wordpress.com/2013/11/03/the-photography-lie/ Taylor makes a strong argument that if there are elements of photography in a processed image then yes, it can be called photo manipulation.  But if it includes elements of photography and digital art (vector art, clipart, fractals, computer illustrations etc) then it needs to be re-categorised as Mixed Media. I find myself agreeing with Taylor on this point…but as an artist I would add that artists whose work exist as digital files should really call themselves Digital Mixed Media Artists.  Mixed Media in the traditional sense involves physical works i.e on tangible products on physical substrates such as canvas, paper, card, metal etc.  A Digital Mixed Media Artist works on a computer or smartphone or tablet, phablet or any number of devices that use digital technology.

So, perhaps I should be calling myself a Digital Mixed Media Artist then?  That would make Photography purists like Taylor happy, as it means I’ll be off their turf and out of the competition. However, that might make the traditional Mixed Media folk upset, though, as I could then be encroaching on Their territory. And then, what about my work that exists on Print On Demand sites like Society 6, Red Bubble, Zazzle, Fine Art America, Artist Rising, Saatchi Online, etc…when they get printed out onto canvas or paper or metal and delivered to the customer as a tangible object, does that not make me a Mixed Media Artist instead of a Digital Mixed Media Artist?  Also, would it then be even considered Mixed Media, as the medium then is only canvas/paper/metal/etc, and not a combination of different materials, as defined here by DeviantArt:


DeviantArt by the way has an entire forum devoted to this genre, which features debates and feedback from members as to how they should categorise their work on the site.  In a nutshell, this is DeviantArt’s definition of Digital Mixed Media:

What is Digital Mixed Media?

Digital Mixed Media is a visual work of art created using two or more types of digital mediums.

So what exactly does this mean?  Lets break it down.  First lets define “digital.”  When the word digital is used to refer to visual artworks it is referring to the method of creation.  Computers are used to create digital works, and submitting a work of art to one of the Digital Galleries implies that it was created via the use of a program on computer.

There are several basic digital art forms, and they are defined briefly here:

  • Painting/Drawing/Airbrushing: This involves using a mouse or graphics tablet along with a graphics program to create paintings or sketches directly in said program without the use of photographs unless for reference.  Programs used include: Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, the Gimp and others.

  • Photo-manipulation: The use of photographs (in most cases more than one) which are then altered via a graphics program is considered to be Photo-manipulation. Be advised that using filters or plug-ins is not a Photo-manipulation and all deviations altered in that fashion should not be put here or in Photo-manipulation, but in Digital Art > Miscellaneous. Also, using post-processing techniques like photographers would be able to apply in a darkroom is not a Photo-manipulation either but still considered Photography. These techniques include, but are not limited to, changing hue, saturation, color, contrast, levels, desaturating, inverting, etc.  Photo-manipulations can be performed in programs such as Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, the Gimp and others.

  • 3-Dimensional: Scenes or objects created through the means of rendering software that lets you set up the object and its environment (including position of objects and camera, light, atmosphere etc) as a first step. When you are ready, you have the option of rendering the scene in higher resolution for displaying your work. Programs used include: Poser, Maya, Cinema 4D, 3dsMax, Blender, Daz Studio, Terragen and others.

  • Fractals: Fractal images are created using mathematical formulas. Their characteristic features is that it consists of a geometric shape that can be subdivided in parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size copy of the whole (it is self-similar no mater how far you zoom in). Programs used to create fractals include: UltraFractal, Apophysis and others.

  • Vectors/Vexels: The difference between a vector and a vexel lies in their nature: while a vector uses vectors to store the image information, a vexel stores the information in raster format. For the purpose of the Mixed Media gallery, the difference is negligible though. The reason for this is that as soon as you add another art form to vectors, you need to raster the image thus converting it to a vexel basically. Both art forms have in common, that their looks are similar: imagine a picture composed from basic shapes filled with solid color, a gradient or a pattern, that when stacked upon each other form your picture (posterized look).

:star:If you combine two (2) or more of the above digital art forms your work is now classified as Digital Mixed Media and should be submitted to the proper Digital Mixed Media Gallery.:star:

OK.  How about “Digital Art”?  Would that not be a better all-encompassing definition of what I do?  The Free Dictionary defines it as:

Digital art, contemporary art in which computer technology is used in a wide variety of ways to make distinctive works. Digital art was pioneered in the 1970s but only came into its own as a viable art form with the widespread availability of computers, appropriate software, video equipment, sound mixers, and digital cameras toward the end of the 20th cent. and the subsequent development of increasingly sophisticated digital tools. A boundary-shattering style, digital art can combine and transform such elements as painting, filmmaking, photography, digital design, video, installation art, sculpture, animation, and sound.

Presented on video screens, digital works may be created of abstract or figurative forms in the artists’ choice of millions of shades of color, and may be manipulated so that the images appear, combine, morph, and/or disappear. Digital art also includes works, many of them interactive, made to be viewed on the World Wide Web
. Sculpture, too, can be a digital art as a result of rapid prototyping, a technique that “prints out” three-dimensional forms from computer-designed models.


I suspect that might be quite a good fit. Technically speaking, yes, smartphones use similar technology to computers, to the extent that my mobile phone may be considered a mini computer.  However, to label myself a Digital Artist fails to take into account that I create my art using solely Mobile devices.  The only time I use a computer is in rendering images to suit given templates on various sites; any other time and I’m on my smartphone or tablet, which are “mobile” or portable devices. So, maybe “Mobile Digital Artist”? But, although that does take care of the “mobile” part, it doesn’t address the fact that my work often includes elements of Design, including the use of Fractals, Vector Art, Graphic Art, Clipart.  “Mobile Digital Mixed Media Artist” is too much of a mouthful…

I think I’ll stick to “Mobile Photography Art & Design” for now.  At least there, no one will think I’m treading on their toes, stealing their limelight, muddying their waters, dragging down their standards, changing the course of their history.  Because there, the terrain is as yet uncharted and while one may meet fellow mobile photographers, they all have their own definitions of their work, and they all have different views and opinions as to what they are.  It’s like the Tower of Babel, many voices, no leader of the pack.  On sites where I post up my work, I simply have to find the best fit, and sometimes it will fall under Mixed Media, sometimes under Photo Manipulation, sometimes simply Digital Art, even Collage or Design or dare I say it…Photography.  My point is, these days it is nigh on impossible to peg someone neatly into a pigeonhole and make them stay there.  I’m not even sure if I am a pigeon  😉

10 thoughts on “A Question of Definitions

  1. Oh dear, now I don’t know what to call myself, it’s a bit of a minefield Aly. Maybe I’ll just call myself a Digital Mobile Creator or DMC for short 😏

    1. That has a nice ring to it – DMC. Whatever we choose to call ourselves, it all boils down to a few common factors: digital, mobile, photography, art, design, mixed media. All way too much of a mouthful lol.

  2. Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an really long comment but after I clicked
    submit my comment didn’t show up. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again.
    Anyway, just wanted to say fantastic blog!

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