Cory Arcangel



Artist: Cory Arcangel
Title: Untitled Photoshop CS:84 by 144 inches, 300 DPI, RGB, square pixels, default gradient “Spectrum”, mousedown y=1200 x=20800 mouseup y=24020 x=20800; tool “Wand”, select y=2600 x=20000, tolerance=72, contiguous=off; default gradient “Spectrum”, mousedown y=2480 x=41600, mouseup y=2480 x=1200                                                                                                    Year: 2015
Medium: C-Print, Unique
Dimensions: 214 x 366 cm overall


‘Is it a painting or is it a photograph? Technically it’s a photograph. It’s a photograph because it’s photographic paper. But obviously I think about them as paintings, because they refer to the history of painting right? I also have to think about them as sculptures, because every part of the process is part of the project. They’re sculptures because they play on the idea of what should be hanging in a gallery. In that sense they’re also kind of ready-mades.’ (Cory Arcangel quoted in an interview by Mary Heilmann accessed 09/09/2015)

Cory Arcangel’s computer-generated works explore the infiltration of digital technology in popular culture and challenge the viewer’s preconceptions on its position within the hierarchy spectrum where art dominates the highest status. Creating his Photoshop Gradient Demonstrations series using Photoshop, Arcangel prints his iridescent colour-field works on a scale that emulates Abstract Expressionist paintings by Barnet Newman or Mark Rothko. With canonical art history in mind, Arcangel plays upon nostalgia in an age of perpetual technological regeneration. Though each work Arcangel creates is unique, by offering the Photoshop specifications and mouse positions necessary to create the work as the title, the Gradients become a digital ready-made.


Arcangel is not a painter, and technology lies firmly at the heart, rather than the peripheries, of his practice.

Yet his series of Photoshop Gradient Demonstrations (2008) – each titled according to the specific data required for its recreation – provides a fitting adjunct to any discussion of the infiltration of digital techniques into the field of painting itself.

Works such as Photoshop CS: 84 by 66 inches, 300 DPI, RGB, square pixels, default gradient ‘Spectrum’, mousedown y=22100 x=14050, mouseup y=19700 x=1800(left) focus on the absolute ease of ‘one-click’ production using the simplest of Photoshop’s pre-set gradient tools.

While exhibiting a veneer of distanced neutrality, these digital ‘ready-mades’ are inherently polemic, serving both as potential celebration and indictment of the digital artwork.

Somewhat poorly received by critics initially, most seemed to have missed this point entirely. While Arcangel makes it clear that anyone can produce identical pieces simply by following the instructions embedded in their titles, the implication is that near-automation can stifle creativity as readily as it offers new artistic opportunity.

Routine, glib production is exactly the kind of trap offered by the ‘anyone can do it’ promise of the digital art arena, and Arcangel has further described these works as representative of techniques quickly superceded by newer technologies, tools and trends.

Arcangel’s consciously pedestrian (though nonetheless beguiling) gradients exemplify the danger of assuming that the allure of digital tools and canned effects – however extraordinary in their own right – can ever take the place of thoughtfully crafted practice. With digitisation, the pitfalls of style over substance are more pronounced than ever.