Digital Art - A Whole New World

Posted by Sam Siegel on

The invention of digital technologies has had one of the most far-reaching impacts on society, since, perhaps, the invention of electricity. Nowadays, computerized digital technology is the most common medium in photography, music, film, literature, architecture, and graphic arts.

The term 'digital art' refers to any artistic work that uses digital technology. This very broad definition includes artworks where the final product is a digital file (ie., jpg, mp3, doc, etc.). It also refers to artworks that are themselves fashioned from digital components. Within that very broad spectrum, here are a few examples of this new kind of 'museum' art in today's 'digital world'...

Digital Sculptures

Digital art may, in some cases, take on a 'physical' form. For example, there's Nam June Paik's collection of televisions in his 1995 Smithsonian exhibit, the 'Electronic Superhighway'. Each state is represented by a collection of digital TVs, tuned to one of 51 channels on closed circuit.

Another interesting example, Trevor Paglen and Jacob Appelbaum's Autonomy Cube (2014), straddles the artistic line between form and function. On the one hand, it's a beautifully sculptured object, quite similar to the Apple 'cube computer'. But it was created to function as an open-access Wi-Fi hotspot. In a sense, its very function could be viewed as a kind of interactive 'performance art'.

Perhaps stretching the boundaries of 'what is art' more than any other, the images produced by Maurizio Bolognini's Programmed Machines (1992) are never meant to be displayed. This forces the viewer to consider not just the physical machines themselves, but also the function of their networked software programs, also unseen, of course. Bolognini once commented, "My installations serve to generate out-of-control infinities."

Digitally Displayed Art

Still, most digitally-produced graphic art is meant to be displayed in the traditional sense, that is, on a screen or monitor. For example, Nam June Paik's Good Morning, Mr. Orwell (1984) was a one-hour television event broadcast one time only (but now available on You Tube). 'Good Morning Mr. Orwell' implores us to consider the effect that digital media, propagated around the world in real time, can have on world consciousness. One can't help but be reminded of Marshall Macluhan's famous statement, "the medium is the message". We begin to understand, in a visceral sort of way, how our culture is defined mostly by the art we make.

Petra Cortright makes no distinction between her 'real' paintings, and her digital artworks, including her videos, that she creates on a computer. To her, one is as legitimate as the other... it's all part of her body of artwork.

Another example is Ryan Trecartin, whose work may be classified in the 'art film' genre. His campy 'A Family Finds Entertainment' (2004) takes his prototypical gallery video installation onto the web for all to see. "A wonder of Trecartin's videos is that his approach seems as intuitive and driven by a mad scientist-style tunnel vision as it is rigorous and sophisticated, grounded in his expert editing and inordinate gift for constructing complex avant-garde narratives." - Electronic Art Intermix

Interactive Installations

Interactive installations are a kind of performance art where the viewer is also the performer. Yoko Ono's 1965 performance art, 'Cut Piece', though conceived long before the invention of digital technology, is one of the early precursors to today's 'digital' art installations. For example, in 2012, the artist collective, Random International, produced Rain Room. In this installation, water falls from the ceiling of a room. Visitors are followed by 3D trackers, programmed to stop the fall of rain wherever the visitor was standing. The viewer is able to experience a rainstorm without getting wet; an experience that would otherwise have been impossible without the assistance of digital technology.

The invention of digital media has greatly expanded the artist's toolbox, once limited to traditional raw materials of paint and clay, for example. Now, the progressive new realm of electronic technologies has blurred the line between the various art mediums. No longer limited to oils and acrylic, today's artists can now paint with light, sound, and pixels. It's a whole new world!

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