Alexander Heilner, associate dean for design and media at the Maryland Institute College of Art, dismisses the argument that because McClintock uses computer technology, his creations shouldn't be considered works of art.

"Of course they're art," he says.

"He starts with an original photograph that he took himself, and instead of sketching on paper, he sketches on a digital tablet. That's the only difference. But whether he's creating art is a separate question from whether he's creating good art."

Heilner says that some of the questions being raised now about digital imagery mirror the objections raised historically to photography, which once was derided as merely a passive reconstruction of reality. It wasn't until the 1970s, Heilner says, that the visual-arts establishment began to treat photography as an art form that is just as valid as painting or sculpture.

"I happen to like bright colors in art, and I would consider hanging one of Robert McClintock's prints in my house," Heilner says. "But I wouldn't expect to engage with it on a conceptual level in the same way that I might engage with other artwork."

Still, there's a lot to be said for mass appeal. Smithsonian curator Shannon Perich, who purchased one of McClintock's portraits of black cats for her home, says she urged the National Museum of American History to obtain four McClintock prints because of his technological innovations.

"In about 2008, we first began seeing a market for digital photographs that didn't look like digital photographs," she says.

"Robert's prints were some of the first works that I saw that really pushed that concept. We decided to obtain some of his pieces because of the role they're playing historically. We're not saying that it's good art or bad art. But clearly, it has to have some merit, because it's marketable."

McClintock takes pride in being entirely self-taught.

He was born in Brattleboro, Vt., to a family that was both artistic and firmly rooted in the commercial world. His father was a hairdresser, his mother an Arthur Murray ballroom dance teacher, and two aunts were fashion photo stylists.

He remembers hanging around community theaters (as a teen, he took publicity photos of an up-and-coming actor named Chris Noth), and tagging along on lingerie shoots for department stores and magazines.

"It was exciting," he says. "There were all these pretty girls, and everyone was laughing and having fun. Plus, they paid me."

McClintock says he dropped out of the University of Vermont "after attending for literally 10 minutes" in 1976. He spent much of the next two decades knocking around Colorado and Vermont, first as a waiter and bartender, and later as a commercial photographer.

It wasn't until around the turn of the century, after McClintock and his wife moved to Baltimore to be closer to her family, that he began experimenting with digital photography.

"The stars all came into alignment," he says. "I just took to it."

One of McClintock's landscapes of the Inner Harbor hangs in the lobby of the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts, the organization that operates Artscape.

Each year, an independent jury decides which 100 to 125 visual artists will be permitted to sell their work at what is frequently described as America's largest free outdoor art festival. For many years, McClintock was among that group.

But he was turned down in 2008, 2009 and again in 2011.

"I'm a local taxpayer trying to make a living," he says.

"I did very well at Artscape. When they take money out of my pocket, that hurts. I don't think they should be inviting artists from all over the country to participate, artists who make no difference to Baltimore. Why not keep the money inside state lines?"