Photographers went through the same fight for legitimacy 50 years ago, before the booming voice of the art world declared it acceptable.
Now digital art must pass through the same gauntlet of skeptics.
Each new medium begs a thousand questions as the world makes sure boundaries are drawn and corners are named. Every arm-crossed gallery visitor must first ask, "Is it art?"
But entities such as the Whitney Museum and the Dia Art Foundation now have digital art in their permanent collections -- answering the question. Digital art is fashionable and taking its first steps toward the mainstream.
And the medium that has been causing ripples through the art world for more than a decade finally has made it over Rabbit Ears Pass and into the Depot's gallery.
"Digital Fine Art 2003" opens tonight as the first show of its kind in the valley. For space and utility reasons, the Steamboat Springs Arts Council chose not to show video or Internet art in this first show, sticking to two-dimensional electronically generated work.
"Digital Fine Art 2003" is a pretty safe way to introduce Steamboat to the new media, because they left out video and Internet art, said show judge Angela Forster, assistant professor in Electronic Media Arts Design at the University of Denver. "Through this show, they can push into more exploration."
Forster will be giving a Gallery Talk on Saturday to answer questions about the work in the main gallery and to explain her own work, a series called "Quantification," displayed in the Small Works Gallery.
For "Quantification," Forster took a digital video of water -- reflections of light on water in a pool -- at 30 frames per second. She then separated the video into individual frames on the computer and traced the lines between light and dark in Illustrator.
"Because it was printed from a computer, it does not have the same sense of touch, but it is still about drawing and mark making," Forster said.
In terms of process, the way digital artists are using the computer is not that much different from the way artists such as Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp were using photography, she said. "The computer just provides a seamless environment."
On Osvaldo Gonzalez's piece, "Rebirth," the materials list reads, "PC, mouse, Umax Astra 2200 Scanner, Casio QV 3000 EX Digital Cam, Epson Stylus Photo EX Printer."
"Rebirth" was created with digital photos and objects, found and scanned. Gonzalez layered the elements with mouse clicks, composing them into a complex and disturbing womblike seascape.
Above water and central to the composition is a buoy of sorts connected by wires to a half man/half fish under the water. He seems to be gasping for air. A series of scratches incorporated into the piece gives it an aged and painterly feel.
Digital pieces, usually labeled "new media," have appeared in previous Depot shows, but never has an entire show been dedicated to work such as Gonzalez's.
The idea for the show came from artist Robert Dieckhoff.
"I see (digital art) not as much as a new media, but as a new technique," Dieckhoff said. "It has the same requirements of art. The artist must still pay attention to composition, use of space and color. The aesthetic values are the same. Emotional values are still required."
Hanging the show gives credibility to digital art as fine art, he said. "A lot of room for growth in digital art exists in Steamboat Springs. There are places to learn Photoshop, for example. The opportunity is here.
"I see this as the first step."
The show encouraged artist Rob Williams to experiment with his computer. The baggage room of the Depot will be filled with a one-man show of Williams' more traditional work -- paintings and monotypes -- called "Fear No Art." But he also has four digital pieces included in the main gallery.
When he saw the call for entries for a "Digital Fine Art 2003," Williams decided to try processing his paintings through a computer.
He makes a living as a graphic artist, so the crossover was not a difficult one, he said.
Williams chose a section of a painting, scanned it into his computer and manipulated it in Photoshop.
He also created a digital collage called "Thought for the Day," designed to show "what's in my head on a 30-second basis," Williams said. The digital layering of scanned wood, magazine clippings and color swatches looks like a busy inner monologue.
"It's about all those things that I'm always thinking of -- the reason I don't go to sleep on some nights," he said. "There is so much in there."
Digital art is not new, Williams said, but it's new to Steamboat.
"I'm not sure if there is an audience for this kind of work, but I think it's brave for the Depot to put it out there."