Beyond the Bubble: Dealing with the Digital

by Andrea Nease | 3/30/15 5:46pm

We live in a screen-centric society. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that these screens have become the canvases of our future. Maybe these digital creations will not diminish the value of traditional art, but what if the diminishment of the traditional canvas is where we are headed?

In 1958, John Whitney Sr. used an analog computer to create the first instance of computer-generated animated art. One of the first computer art exhibitions was held in 1965 in Stuttgart, Germany, and 1988 brought with it the introduction of Adobe Photoshop, developed by Thomas and John Knoll. By the 1990s, virtual museums displayed art online.

Digital art is in its infancy in comparison to traditional fine art, but even so, digital art has captured mass attention and developed a hold on people the world over in the last 60 years. Its speedy development in conjunction with its widespread popularity have raised questions of whether or not it can compete with the traditional fine arts such as painting and sculpture or not.

As much as I feel inclined to look at digital art in opposition to the fine arts — as sabotaging their relevance and success in the 21st century — I must force myself to realize that this is not the first time a new medium has been introduced to the art world.

Surprisingly enough, when photography was first invented it was not very well-received within the arts community. If you look at the status of photography just around two hundred years after its inception, however, you can see that it has been integrated with the traditional fine arts. Museums now seamlessly include photography in their exhibitions and their collections at large, and in the same way, museums are beginning to include digital art within their collections as well.

On the surface, digital art may look like an artistic development that could only have a negative impact on the state of traditional art, but in reality, it is just another form of art — another medium to be used. Just as some artists choose to work with sculpture and three-dimensional objects over two-dimensional canvas-based works, there are artists who choose to use a computer as their canvas.

It is important for us to realize that as technology develops, the evolution of tradition and, more specifically of art, is inevitable. While there are people and artists who feel that the evolution of digital art is “cheating,” can’t we interpret digital art as just a modern adaptation of traditional creativity?

It is as Aaron Koblin, a digital artist and creative director of Google’s Data Arts Team, said in Forbes Magazine, “We live in an exciting time where technologists and artists are increasingly coming together in a new creative age. Together they’re helping to define a new digital world.”

If artists “wake us up to all that happens in the world” as Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web said, then the development and definition of a new digital world can only portend improvement on our relationship with art as a society. If digital art increases the amount of individual exposure people have with art, then why can’t it be viewed as a solution rather than a problem?

There is, however, a caveat regarding digital art’s positive influence as a new and alternative medium — namely the question of its originality. While art has been reproducible in the past, the digital arts have taken it to a new extreme. Now, this is where the lines blur and the digital art world loses its clarity, because how do you determine the value of a creation that has been printed a thousand times over, each operating as an identical copy of another?

Instead of the misguided criticism, which suggests that digital art cheats the traditional guidelines of artistic creation, there is criticism to be made of its reproducibility. Although I view digital art as a progressive innovation that in the long run will increase the volume of art distribution, its lack of controlled distribution in terms of quantity troubles me.

If digital art is to remain as a concrete medium in the arts, artists need to make an effort to operate under the same physical circulation practices that constrain traditional artists. Not only does mass print production devalue each individual work, it leaves art collectors at a loss due to the unoriginal nature of countless giclee reproductions floating around the art world.

The rise of digital art itself is not what is working against traditional artists and art forms — it is the circulation and distribution of digital art that is undermining the values of traditional art. This is not to say that all digital artists are offenders, but the portion who are give the medium a bad name. Fortunately there are artists, organizations and various acts in existence that currently monitor both the distribution and reproduction processes regarding digital art.

As long as digital art begins to function as a traditional art medium and less like a print production frenzy, I think both traditional art and digital art can coexist with minimal competition. Technology has made the digital era unavoidable, so we might as well appreciate the amazing creations resulting from the cultivation of digital art.

If you are interested in looking at new digital innovations and the kinds of pieces the digital world has brought us, be sure to check out Dartmouth’s own Digital Art Exhibition, scheduled for 7 to 10 p.m. on Tuesday, April 28. We should all appreciate the vast world of digital art that has been made possible by the numerous technological advancements of the past century and of our own generation, because we are possibly witnessing history in the making. Despite the troubling nature of copyrights and reproductions, digital art will only enhance our current relationship with traditional art in the end.