Art appreciation in the digital age

As art production and consumption evolve to incorporate today’s technology, a discussion is taking place as to whether or not art is losing its value.  While it is relatively simple to make a case that historic art will never lose its value due to its history, it is much harder to state with certainty that art produced today by digital means is anywhere near as valuable.

Bedroom in Arles - Vincent Van Gogh

Bedroom in Arles was a simple exercise in color and simplicity by Van Gogh

One important factor which plays a role in the value of a piece of art is the artist who produced it.  While Van Gogh’s art is worth a significant amount, some pieces come off as strikingly amateur.  Bedroom in Arles, for example, was a simple exercise for Van Gogh, yet it is valued as much as many of his other masterpieces.  More interestingly, there are three authentic versions of Bedroom in Arles, all of which are extremely valuable.  This demonstrates that sometimes art can get value from the artist who produced it, bringing us to our first issue with the value of digital art.

A speed drawing of Betty Draper from hit TV show Mad Men by digital artist Dan Luvisi

In the digital age, it is very tough to gain a reputation as a digital artist.  Reasons include the prevalence of digital plagiarism, digital security issues and distribution of work issues.  This isn’t without exception.  One example is artist Dan Luvisi who started out in an online artist community.  As his hyper-realistic character renderings gained attention, DC comics expressed interest in him rendering cover pages for some of their comic books.  Artist Christopher Hastings, who writes and illustrates the webcomic Dr. McNinja made it big when he was offered a chance to write and illustrate a story arc for Marvel Comic’s Deadpool series.  This brings  us to our first point: It is hard for artists to generate an identity which makes the rest of their work valuable in a digital environment.

Assuming that digital artists can overcome the issue of establishing an identity, they face other problems as well.  The least of which is not the fact that the population seems to value physical art over digital art more to begin with.  Physical works of art have an amount of prestige to them.  When you walk into a person’s house and they have an original Monet hanging on the wall, it’s a sign of wealth and of culture.  Think about your response if you walked in and a person just had framed a monitor and was showing a slideshow of art they had found on the internet.  Of course, it would be a little different if the owner of the house had produced the art they had on display, but otherwise it’s just like looking through a folder of favorite posts from Tumblr or Reddit.  This brings us to our second point: digital art is tough to display in a non-digital environment.

Hipster scum bragging about things

“I saw that picture that makes the guy look like he’s running on water like… so long ago”

Another problem with digital art is that it is without an original, it lacks exclusivity.  Without sounding too negative, I think that people enjoy saying that they’ve seen a work of art in person.  It’s almost like you’ve got bragging rights for having witnessed the Sistine Chapel in person.  Don’t get me wrong, people ask others if they’ve seen a picture or comic on the internet, but it’s much less bragging and much more in the interest of sharing something with someone.  Of course there are people who try to brag about digital art that they’ve seen, but in lieu of bragging about having seen the original (of which there is none verifiable), they brag about having seen it first and come off like hipster scum.  This brings us to our third point: People have a harder time getting a sense of pride from owning or having seen a piece of digital art.

Taking these three points into consideration alone, it’s easy to see that digital art has an uphill battle ahead of it.  Of course it is not without hope.  Some artists have embraced technology to make unique installations which the public has enjoyed immensely. An example can be seen below.  Of course, this is an installation, so it does have the uniqueness that an original piece of art would have.  The artist was also fairly well known for digital art installations.  While I think that digital art will not command as high a value as physical art in the short-run, I believe that as technology is developed to make the viewing of digital art more than just looking at a computer screen, digital art will flourish.

EYJAFJALLAJÖKULL from Joanie Lemercier (AntiVJ) on Vimeo.

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