Defining the purpose of art is impossible because art is many things to many people. Some say art’s purpose is to evoke feelings, while others say it’s to cause deep thinking. Both are valid interpretations, however, if I were an artist the purpose of my art would be to be seen and experienced by as many people as possible. Whether you are in the “art is meant to make you feel” camp or “art is meant to make you think” camp, the more people that actually see your art the more likely you are to achieve your original goal. Therefore, getting art in front of as many people as possible should be the objective. Technology plays an incredibly important role in disseminating content to the masses. Not only is technology enabling artists to showcase their art to millions through various channels, but it's also providing artists with mediums to create more immersive artistic experiences. These experiences initiate more interest in art, which in turn encourages artists to create more experiences: a reinforcing cycle. Let's examine how technology is allowing artists to create enhanced, more immersive art.
An estimated 4.3 billion people use the internet on a regular basis which equates to approximately 55% of the world's population is online. This statistic is growing rapidly with a user growth rate of 9% from January 2018 to January 2019.
Most of the art people see today is digital. Art entering the virtual world through social media, like Facebook or Instagram, was an incredible leap for many artists. Artists suddenly had the means to showcase their creations to people all over the world and reach new customers. Before the internet, artists gained limited audiences by connecting with gallery owners or submitting their artwork to magazines. Although these efforts weren’t necessarily difficult, it did create a barrier for many artists. Today, anyone can create a painting and post it online for the world to enjoy. If they are lucky, someone on the other side of the world may offer to purchase it. These types of opportunities were impossible before the internet.
Artists Using Technology As Leverage
Artists are rulebreakers and trendsetters. As I have become more involved in the unique digital asset ecosystem, I have discovered it attracts artists like bears to honey. Artists by nature push boundaries and are discovering ways to use technology as a massive form of leverage. Not necessarily through just the internet, but also with new technologies like augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and other immersive tech experiences.
The artist, Josie, uses AR in conjunction with her physical artwork. Anyone can download a free AR app, point their camera at her art, and view a moving scene. This allows her art to tell a richer and more dynamic story. As time progresses, I believe more artists will create immersive augmented reality scenes with their artwork.
VR, like in the above video, takes “immersion” to a whole new level by actually placing viewers within the art itself. In doing so, viewers perceive a 3D scale that is nearly impossible otherwise. Towards the end of the video (2:26), the artist places himself into a painted boat, which is not only funny but could also be used to create an entirely new piece of art as well. Maybe a future VR artist will take famous paintings and just put himself into every single piece and that will be his signature work style. VR art will undoubtedly continue to evolve in unpredictable ways and keep pushing the boundaries.
I wrote this blog post on how Cryptovoxels, a user-owned and blockchain-enhanced virtual world, is overrun with artists. Users enjoy the complete freedom to purchase plots of land and build almost any type of structure. Artists are moving into this virtual world to create beautiful structures, galleries, and art installations. Soon we’ll see an influx of hipsters and coffee shops! 😂 The above video from the user Devil is just a taste of what's to come. As virtual worlds become more common, creatives will continue to experiment with the technology.
Drones, Holographics, and More
Even more obscure, the company Intel is using flying drones to create a light show. This may be considered more of an artistic performance than an art piece, however, it showcases how different technologies can be used for novel artistic purposes.
The NYC-based company, Looking Glass Factory, is building holographic displays where viewers can see 3D images and videos without a headset, glasses, or any wearables. Will 3D holographics become the norm? Will people hang 3D art on their walls? It seems inevitable as technology advances.
Then there is teamLab, a Japan-based art collective that has spread across the globe. This quote from their website further explains their team and mission:
“teamLab (f. 2001) is an art collective, interdisciplinary group of ultratechnologists whose collaborative practice seeks to navigate the confluence of art, science, technology, design and the natural world. Various specialists such as artists, programmers, engineers, CG animators, mathematicians, and architects form teamLab.
teamLab aims to explore a new relationship between humans and nature, and between oneself and the world through art. Digital technology has allowed art to liberate itself from the physical and transcend boundaries. teamLab sees no boundary between humans and nature, and between oneself and the world; one is in the other and the other in one. Everything exists in a long, fragile yet miraculous, borderless continuity of life.”
This extremely talented team is pushing the boundaries of artistic expression. Most importantly, they are leveraging art and technology to create experiences that transcend cultural differences and attract people from all backgrounds.
Creating Digital Art
Digital art is lowering the entry barrier to the art world. Of course, anyone can pick up a paintbrush, but it doesn't mean an art gallery will sell your art. Even if the gallery does attempt to sell your art, they generally take a 50% commission. With digital art, one only needs a computer connected to the internet to create, advertise, and sell artwork with little to no barriers. An artist can create a piece with design software like Photoshop, advertise on social media, and then sell the piece online. The ease at which this can be done opens the door to artists all over the world to create and experiment. Unfortunately, digital art has one major drawback: most digital items can be easily copied since most software is replicable and does not allow for unique digital objects. If artists want to create truly unique digital pieces, they will need to put their work on a blockchain.
Benefits of Art on a Blockchain
Blockchain, or distributed ledger technology, enables digital things to be scarce. A regular digital item can be copied and replicated unlimited times at no cost, but a digital item on a blockchain cannot. Blockchains are essentially a network of computers that ensure no duplicate or fraudulent records are created. If they are, the system will not recognize them. Blockchains have numerous other benefits for art, such as:
Downsides of Digital Art
It's not all good news. The downsides of digital artwork include factors like not being able to physically see or touch it. Arguably, you shouldn't be touching important art anyways, so we can eliminate that factor. Not being able to display digital art on your wall is not ideal, but since this can be solved with one of those digital picture frames I mentioned above, let’s eliminate that factor as well. This is harder than I thought! Okay wait, I got one. With digital artwork you are unable to perceive scale, right? When buying a large piece of art, whether it’s a sculpture or painting, many people want to feel the size of the artwork. In a virtual environment, you can increase or decrease the size of artwork or even increase or decrease the size of yourself, so this factor is moot, too!
In all seriousness, the only major (and this is major) downside to digital art is technological risk. You are entrusting your work to be maintained on a specific blockchain or server. If there is a security breach, a hack, then your artwork could be deleted. You could reupload the piece of art once the platform has been secured, but it would lose all of the history attached to that specific piece: not the end of the world, but far from ideal. This is why choosing the right technology platform for digital art is extremely important to its longevity and security. Overall, the pros of digital art heavily outweigh the cons, but it is by no means risk-free.
Possible Future of Digital Art
People that consider digital art superior to physical are definitely in the minority, but the potential of digital art is so incredible that it will likely become the majority preference within the next decade. Not only does digital art allow for widespread distribution, but art experiences themselves will transform. Imagine an art gallery where viewers can wear VR headsets to shrink and enter the artwork, enjoy a scene played in front of them like a movie, or perhaps explore artworks with a video game experience attached.
Experiences like these would be incredible. As homes are becoming smart and connected to the web, I imagine “smart” picture frames will quickly become the norm. Instead of placing one painting on your wall to enjoy for years, new artwork can be displayed every day. If virtual and augmented reality does become the norm, a whole new level of use cases will emerge. Viewers will no longer have to go to specific places, like galleries, to experience immersive art experiences. It would be incredible to simply put on AR glasses and be able to view a beautiful statue in your living room that can inform you about its history and artist.
I briefly mentioned that one of the downsides of digital art is being unable to physically touch it. Luckily, there is a future solution to that as well. There are multiple companies developing haptic suits so you are able to detect feedback from virtual environments. Having the ability to touch your virtual artwork would be incredible, but imagine clicking a button and an entire scene plays out in front of you. For example, the artwork could be a picture of fish in a reef, but after clicking the button you are inside the reef and fish start swimming around and bumping into you. This video from Magic Leap, the virtual reality headset company, gives an idea of what this may look like, minus the haptic suit.
Artwork like this will lead to immersive experiences that we simply cannot experience today.
Digital art is already leading to an explosion of creativity, which is opening the doors for more people to become interested and involved in the art world. The artists in this space will continue to innovate and produce work that pushes the boundaries, allowing people to experience their work. The future of digital art is bright and I believe we are at the very beginning of an evolution in artistic creativity.