The rise of digital art

Branding VS. Marketing

Evidence of visual art goes back at least 40,000 years with depictions of game animals in caves in France, Spain, and Indonesia . Wonderfully inspiring, even to the modern eye these drawings resonate with our senses, emotions, and intellect. Art is interpretive, reflecting an inner vision of the creator intended to resonate with the viewer’s senses, feelings, and mind. Visual art is constantly evolving. For example, there was a time when oil easel painting was a new, transformational medium. In the coming years, we’ll see the unleashing of the digital artistic potential of Virtual Reality. This article, however, is all about contemporary digital art.

art-revolution

Good art always inspires. Cave art from 30,000 BCE and before like the above can put ‘modern art’ to shame for its transcendent vision.

Since the birth of advertising in modern times, marketing has used art to solidify brand identity and motivate people to purchase goods and services, as with the captivating 19th -century French ad below.

19th-century French ad

The genesis of digital art

The digital age (aka, the information age) began between 1950 and 1970. As with all new mediums, artists slowly began to apply digital art techniques to television, personal computers, and other mediums.

Digital art can be defined as “contemporary art that uses mass-production methods via digital media.” This has expanded the definition of art, increasing its availability to the world via the internet, social media, motion pictures, and television. It has had an enormous impact not only on painting and drawing but also on sculpture, music, movies, and video. We can find digital art in advertising websites, logos, brochures, roadside billboards, illustrations (books, comics, and websites), 3D models (movies, animations, and video games), and digital photo artwork (ads, posters, and video games), as well as digital photo artwork.

Most online images have been aesthetically enhanced one way or another. Many online images were initially created by an artist working in a different medium but are now widely disseminated digitally. Original online imagery, by contrast, is generated by computer graphics software that uses a virtual canvas and a ‘painting box’ of brushes, colors, and other tools. Many of these instruments only exist in the digital realm, giving computer-generated artwork an often multi-layered complexity that is surprisingly easy to master with experience.

Digital Art in 2022

In simple terms, digital art can be defined as anything of a visual nature that artists created with the aid of a computer. In today’s society, everything is digital and computerized. We check our email, read the newspaper online, and talk and text each other on our cell phones. And we now routinely take pictures and make videos with our phones. Bottom line–digital art uses digital technology in the presentation process to advance art with computers in combination with both new and traditional tools. Knowledge of visual design and digital technologies to manipulate multimedia is now essential for artists, marketers, and IT professionals like web designers.

Digital art is also revolutionary in expediting a blurring of the boundaries between mediums. This has dramatically increased the accessibility of art to anyone with internet access anywhere in the world. –It continues to evolve with exciting future potential for virtual reality and other technical applications, including three-dimensional television and AI (Artificial Intelligence) immersive environments. Wireless technology has played a critical role in expanding and experiencing digital art forms. The smartphone, in particular, provides a surprising array of tools for the resourceful digital artist. Digital technology and artistic expression are now inextricably linked.

With digital art now gaining reputability, there are even museums solely dedicated to showcasing its different forms. Some are three-dimensional graphic works for viewing on a screen, often enhanced by multimedia projection. On a deeper level, this breakthrough integration of art, computers, and design has been made possible by a brilliant synergy between art, math, science, and technology.

Though at first glance, digital art may be indistinguishable from non-digital paintings, the process is entirely different, with distinctive challenges and benefits. Choosing the tools best adapted to creating a digital art piece requires expertise and ingenuity. Many artists are intrigued that the final version of digital artwork can be hard to predict when the process includes multiple software applications. Variations from the original conception can range from excellent to abysmal. Fortunately, the digital creation process can be reversed, step-by-step, if the product doesn’t meet expectations. This makes it easier for digital artists to create memorable images that genuinely touch the viewer’s feelings and intrigue their intellect.

Digital artists have innovated funding sources to democratize the creation and availability of art and music via a wide array of streaming platforms. This has opened the door for creating and experiencing unique cultural innovations from any computer on the planet. –The pandemic has accelerated this paradigm shift because museums, art fairs, and other venues have had to migrate to Zoom and similar platforms to reach the public. This allows them to provide virtual guided tours of their galleries while at the same time helping artists sell their digital art offerings.

Bottom line: there is a wide array of new art forms created with digital tech tools (e.g., computer-generated images and video) – while others are enhanced by or made more accessible with computer technology (e.g., new, expanded distribution media for music, e-books, and performing arts). Overall, digital art is efficient, cost-effective, versatile, permanent, 100% replicable, and has a strong impact with minimal on a radically expanded audience.

Digital video vs. traditional film production

Digital video is gaining ground over standard film production because it allows better workflow, is cheaper and is more easily reproduced. Also, video can be reversed to alter images, sound, color and integrate with special effects (e.g., CGI–computer-generated imagery). This even gives viewers the option of choosing different end scenarios for videos and films they’re watching.

Digital art is becoming increasingly interactive, allowing varying degrees of control over final images. Interactive art experiences have gained widespread popularity. Standard Windows software makes it easy to crop images, adjust their color, and fine-tune brightness/contrast. However, more sophisticated image-generating software is required for professional digital artists who use the ever-popular Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and other advanced software options. It’s only a matter of time before interactivity will expand more broadly to other mediums.

Niche marketing with image-enhanced ads

Until recently, advertising imagery was consistent across a company’s demographic targets. However, increasingly sophisticated algorithms have succeeded in deriving subgroup-specific information from big data in recent years. This means that both the written content and imagery we see on social media are now tailored to match consumers’ demographic and psychographic profiles. Niche marketing has resulted in higher conversion rates than old-style mass marketing. This advancement also helps digital artists who need to target audiences with profiles that are more receptive to their brand of art. At the same time, it encourages collaboration with other artists.

Digital art production feeds directly into the internet, so traditional gatekeepers (e.g., publishers, recording companies, video rental stores) no longer monopolize their respective markets. Amateurs with access to the internet now routinely upload content. According to one recent estimate, more than eight hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every sixty seconds. The result has been a democratized yet fragmented flood of available information/creations. This makes it possible for amateurs to compete, often successfully, with recognized artists.

Can digital art be kept private and secure?

Many argue that everything on the internet should be free and accessible, but digital artists who need to earn a living from their creations disagree. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been easy to protect copyrighted work. If ‘secure’ government and corporate systems can be hacked, any digital product accessible on the internet can be stolen. –This includes films, music, and TV programs. Many viewers are, to one degree or another, complicit. People often download internet art without crediting the artist, even claiming the work as their own. In many cases, ‘violators’ don’t even know they have stolen copyrighted creations.

Until recently, to secure some minimal protection from theft, digital artists had left watermarks, signatures, and copyright information on their art. However, this was not enough to reassure potential buyers. Persuading people to pay for online art has required new guarantees of exclusive content, reliable quality, and unquestioned legitimacy. As we shall see, NFTs (Nonfungible Tokens) are now offered as the solution. More on that to follow.

Digital art challenges

Some argue that digital art is not real because it is computer-generated, with potentially infinite copies and no tangible original. (Any digital file is stored electronically and can be reproduced with all of its elements intact). By contrast, when a traditional artist creates a work of art, it is one of a kind–it exists physically. Even before the introduction of NFT (Nonfungible Token) technology—(described below)–, some digital artists would make a single print from their file and present that as a single original, while others created limited, numbered editions of their work.  

There is always the potential for losing digital artwork when the computer contracts a virus, the hard drive fails, or a power surge occurs as creation is just coming into focus. On the other hand, bugs can eat canvas paintings; art can degrade with sunlight or be lost in a fire.

Even the largest, most progressive museums had been slow to collect digital art, in part because of the perceived impermanence of the media. Another problem has been that the links artists used to create prints had not been of archival quality until recently. These issues have driven the development of new technology. For example, giclee print (a high-quality method of reproducing digital art featuring brilliant, permanent colors) has eliminated many old objections to digital art. Also, researchers have produced new inks that will last indefinitely. So, public awareness and interest in digital art are growing as museums, galleries, and contemporary art centers are beginning to display new media artworks.

digital art is not real

Will NFTs revolutionize the art world?

Underscoring the extraordinary impact of NFTs, the term itself has been selected as word of the year  by Collins Dictionary. But what are they? Essentially, NFTs are the blockchain-based equivalent of collectible trading cards. This innovation has introduced new artists to the art market while creating a growing speculative frenzy among buyers. Anyone can now own a unique or limited edition NFT art with just a few clicks. NFTs constitute a digital art revolution that radically changes how art and collectibles are bought, sold, tracked, and authenticated globally.

An NFT links a digital work with a token, which the artist can access on an encrypted artwork platform. The key can then be passed to the buyer to certify authenticity and proof of ownership. For example, digital artists can sell one (or a limited-edition) offering by issuing a set amount of tokens to ensure the scarcity that investors insist on. Each NFT is unique and cannot be destroyed. This is the first time in history that a single person can own digital assets, available in limited quantities tracked on the blockchain, making their ownership wholly transparent and verifiable. More specifically, blockchains are decentralized digital ledgers that maintain a continued record of transactions. This record can be used to provide unquestioned proof of authenticity and origin for digital artworks.

Artists can create new forms of an NFT, using the central part that already exists on the public blockchain. It can then be extended with new tools that allow artists to create entirely new art categories. This versatility of NFTs enables artists to innovate and increase their sales beyond traditional revenue streams. NFT technology also facilitates the experiencing and distributing valuable art more equitably. For example, graffiti and street artists can create murals that integrate image recognition into their designs.

Blockchain technology has already upended industries like banking and insurance, and it seems the art industry is the latest market to be disrupted and enhanced by this technology. The most dramatic evidence of this was Christie’s sale of digital artist

Mike Winkelman’s NFT– “Everydays: The First 5,000 Days” NFT for $68.3M in March 2021. Unknown in the traditional art world before the auction, the sale of his collage was the third most valuable artwork in history. Yet this work was estimated to be worth only about $100 before linking it with an NFT! The sale also set a milestone because this and other NFT art is paid exclusively in cryptocurrency (usually Ethereum). It’s primarily because of Ethereum’s central role in NFTs’ growth that the value of this cryptocurrency has climbed more than 1,700% since the beginning of 2020. However, its value has been variable in recent months.

In 2021, the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, NFT sale volumes surged 1,000%. People are interested in using them in many areas: visual arts, videos, music, collectibles to raise brand awareness, gaming, publishing, carbon trading , and fundraising. If you Google NFT offerings, you’ll be amazed to see how many high-profile celebrities are offering NFTs that may seem frivolous but are nonetheless generating income. (August 11, 2021, 07:18 ET | Source: Research and Markets ).

The luxury market, video games, music, and sports teams are also jumping on the bandwagon. –The first tweet by Twitter’s Jack Dorsey was sold as an NFT for almost $3 million in March of 2021. Another breakthrough development–St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum plans to photograph its works and tokenize them, selling off images in the public domain for thousands of dollars. This underscores the potential for virtually any asset being sold for a high amount. And we’re still in an early stage of this seemingly unstoppable process of digital art being seen as an asset class.

Museum promotion of NFTs

A study  carried out by the International Council of Museums (ICOM) found that because of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 30% of museums were forced to reduce their staff, and nearly 6% may never be able to reopen to the public. But the digitization of museums is rapidly taking place, with some museums turning to NFTs to increase their revenue streams.

Three out of the 20 largest museums in the world — the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg (No. 2), the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City (No. 4), and the British Museum in London (No. 12) have turned to NFTs for fundraising in 2021. More than a dozen other large museums are also promoting NFTs. There’s even an NFT of an entire museum based in the Metaverse  called  the Museum of Digital Life .

The first NFT exhibition will launch the creation of the ‘Celestial Hermitage’ within a ‘virtual museum,’ a branch of the Guggenheim. Guggenheim is partnering with others to create this world’s largest museum dedicated to NFTs, within a landmark skyscraper located in New York City, just four blocks from the Museum of Modern Art.

Why have most museums been slow to adapt to the NFT market?

1. NFTs are complicated

Many museum administrators have little understanding of how NFT cryptocurrency blockchain technology can generate income from art. And there are daunting legal complexities and insurance complications with NFTs.

2. Remaining concerns about ownership

Though an NFT would seem to establish absolute ownership of an artwork, the NFT is a separate asset from the art itself—meaning that the owners of the art retain possession even after any NFT based on that art are minted and sold. This is less of a problem when the creators of art mint NFTs; however, the value is less clear when held in a museum collection.

3. The NFT market values artists, not institutions

Another concern is that monetizing a museum’s collection may undermine public access to collections, violating their missions and bylaws. On the other hand, buyers are often motivated to purchase NFTs because they want to support specific artists well represented by different museums.

4. Volatility and uncertainty make NFTs risky

Though the high prices they can bring are exciting, many cases of NFTs quickly become worthless . And  as with crypto-currencies , there’s lots of volatility.

Creating lasting value for NFT digital artists

NFTs permit much greater accessibility to the art world. If you wanted to view art in the past, you would go to a gallery. Today, ‘screens are the new walls.’ Accessibility also means that art collecting is no longer reserved for the wealthy. Using NFT technology, the general public can now purchase art at a lower cost and in a secure, transparent manner. “Blockchain technology, in particular, is a decentralized ledger that can facilitate transactions and ensure safety between market participants.”

“The art industry is estimated to be a US$65 billion industry, 90% of which is still over-the-counter transactions.” Viewing the art market as a value chain, from creation to valuation to trading to asset optimization, it’s obvious how non-transparent this traditional industry has been. The problem with an opaque market is that it can lead to price manipulation, secret commissions, and even art forgery. –By comparison, since transaction data stored in a blockchain network cannot be modified and are publicly verifiable, it’s easy to track provenance and confirm an artwork’s authenticity. It also allows vendors and buyers to make instant, direct transactions without involving banks, thus eliminating any associated costs and clearance time. This means that selling and buying art are made faster, cheaper, and safer.

In the past few years, NFTs have been the biggest disruptors of the art world. Artists can now mint, exhibit, and auction digital art—with investors buying, selling, trading, and investing in their offerings. CryptoArt, Pak is the second-highest-selling crypto artist of all time, with around a $65 million market capitalization for all his art pieces. ‘NonFungible’  ranks Bored Ape Yacht Club at number one, with the “Bored Ape #9449” NFT last selling for above $1M. (See graphic below). Old school consumers of art see this as ludicrous—the opposite of anything remotely edifying. But those making money on NFTs could not care less.

But who are these investors in art, music, and jpeg files stored on phones, screens, and computers? “They’re young, they’re entrepreneurial, and they generally come from a tech background,”  The value of the NFT market tripled throughout 2020, surpassing $250 million, according to a report carried out by L’Atelier BNP Paribas and Nonfungible.com. The majority (58%) of NFT buyers are from the lucrative millennial demographic. Nearly all bidders were new to Christie’s, having previously bought their NFTs on sites such as SuperRare and MakersPlace (which partnered with the house on the Beeple sale).

NFTs can also generate revenue for artists in gallery spaces. NFTs can be used to sell artists’ work directly, dramatically reducing resistance between viewing art and purchasing one’s own unique copy. Every piece on display in an installation can also be represented digitally as a limited edition NFT. NFTs allow anyone who wants to support their favorite artist’s work to do so through owning a unique piece of their digital art for whatever purpose they may have in mind. Profit margins for the artist have increased significantly by exploiting the psychological power of scarcity.

With NFT technology, we can build upon this concept to create a new way of experiencing and distributing valuable art more equitably. One example–graffiti and street artists can create murals that integrate image recognition into their designs. NFTs make it possible to develop Interactive sculptures and performance art that can be explored from all angles.

Existing and potential downsides of NFTs Remain

Although NFT speculation is currently running high, there are potential future pitfalls for investors considering buying one. Because they have generated such rampant speculation, several critics believe that their long-term longevity is too uncertain for investors. This concern is amplified by those who question the viability of blockchain tech and cryptocurrencies, to begin with. Other significant problems include NFTs becoming tools for money laundering, tax evasion, and investment fraud. –This isn’t surprising because NFTs are not widely regulated, nor perhaps can they be.

And digital artists have their own concerns. For example, they recognize that their artistic freedom may be threatened if they express unpopular or seemingly subversive opinions because that could result in the government labeling them as security risks. Also, large corporations will continue to operate as gatekeepers that restrict what kinds of digital art they permit on their platforms.

Bottom line–some critics compare the rapid emergency of NFTs to the Dutch tulip craze of the 17th century. Others underscore that minting new NFTs consumes massive amounts of energy, undermining the art world’s collective mission to go green.

On the positive side, current speculation is primarily generated by the same individuals and institutions that shape the value of traditional art outlets, media outlets, the rich, and established ‘tastemakers’ within our society. This stability is reassuring to investors.

Conclusion

Digital art is now recognized as legitimate art. It will inevitably advance and improve in the years to come, creating greater demand for more AI-generated three-dimensional television, projection, and immersive environments. The merging of interactivity and artificial intelligence technologies will expand options for creating and experiencing wireless media, given the already pervasive use of mobile phone video and photo revision technology. So, digital artists will be in increasing demand to develop the most advanced, competitive websites, video presentations, and games.

References:

NFTs Pros & Cons: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Art Unchained: A Digital Revolution in the Art World

The NFT Yearly Report 2020 is live!

How Museums and NFTs Might Find Common Ground

Museums and Covid-19

Your NFT Sold for $69 Million—Now What? Beeple Turns to a New Project, and Old Masters.

NFTs, explained

History of art

What is Digital Art? Definition and Scope of the New Media

The Philosophy of Digital Art