According to Lev Manovich “to understand media today we need to understand media software – its genealogy (where it comes from), its anatomy (interfaces and operations), and its practical and theoretical effects.” While Manovich dives into the detail of Photoshop to explain his theory, Patrick Davison uses the same approach to examine MS Paint.
Manovich and Davison explain the background of both Photoshop and MS Paint, though from slightly angles. The authors describe how both applications have an attachment to the traditional, analog form of making art based on the tools they provide. Photoshop and MS Paint contain pencil and paintbrush tools – items that anybody would inherently understand.
The authors diverge a bit in how they describe the history and development of both applications. Manovich looks more at the history of traditional media and computer programming in general. Using the example of layers in Photoshop, Manovich explains how the idea of multiple tracks, channels and layers always existed in traditional forms of film, audio recording, and animation. He explains further how two computer scientists working on special effects for Star Trek II wrote a paper comparing the layering technique used for a digital composite in the movie to putting together separate code modules in a computer program. Davison examines the economic and political factors at Microsoft, which effected the development of MS Paint. He also considers how the growth of the Internet affected the use of the software during this time period.
Anatomy (Interfaces and Operations)
Davison goes into detail describing the difference between a raster bitmap image of a MS Paint file and a vector based file for a program like Illustrator. The bitmapped MS Paint file contained jagged edges due to the fact it was being drawn with a mouse and anti-aliasing was not available to smooth out the edges. The rough artwork of MS Paint reinforced the idea that painting programs were for the general public, while drawing programs that produced more accurate images were meant for professionals.
Throughout Inside Photoshop Manovich describes the menus and tools available to a user – there are in fact thousands of commands available. One area of commands he explores in depth however, are the filters. Many of these are based on traditional forms of producing art, but others are often based off ideas from the physical world, like wind and waves. One conclusion he reaches is that the filters based on traditional art allow a user much more control whereas those based on the physical world are more automated and generated through algorithms.
Practical and Theoretical Effects
Both Manovich and Davison express the idea that Photoshop and MS Paint certainly draw from traditional media, but that they are also completely different. Manovich writes “ . . . all media techniques and tools available in software applications are ‘new media’- regardless of whether a particular technique or program refers to previous media, physical phenomena, or a common task that existed before it was turned into software, or not.” Despite Microsoft generally ignoring MS Paint, the software still holds importance and Davison theorizes that the timing of the Internet with the marketing of MS Paint to the general public lead to its popularity online. Davison explains how “analyzing MS Paint’s ‘authentic digital aesthetics’ is valuable because it enables a consideration of digital media as an autonomous sphere of production and value.” The art director and illustrator John Huang seems to be in agreement with Davison’s assessment of digital media when he argues that using the software is not a cop out and is just as valid as traditional means of producing art.
Personally, I am struck by how prevalent software like Photoshop and other media applications are, but then you tack on all the social media sites like Facebook and Instagram, and you start to realize the sheer number of images out there in the world. Good’s blog post and Marshall’s article explore these topics, which seem to be the more practical effects of media software that Manovich and Davison introduce.
Using photography as an example, an analog-based art, which has only been around since the 1820s (the Harry Ransom Center actually holds what is considered to be the first photograph by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce) and you consider how the digitization of the medium has impacted culture today – it is a pretty impressive amount of change in what I would consider a short period of time.
Everyone has a digital camera today and everybody’s images are passing through applications like Photoshop, or the filters on Hipstamatic (do people still use this?) and Instagram, in order to post them to a whole host of social media sites or personal websites. Marshall examines the idea of versions, or rather, versions, variations, and derived forms. Considering all these factors, as an archivist, makes your head hurt right? Good points out how more images are on Facebook, Flickr and Instagram than are in the Library of Congress, so what do we do about all these images being produced? Can they be preserved? How? Or would we even want to preserve it all and how would you go about selecting what you wanted? And how do you even begin to approach copyright and privacy concerns?