Digital Art – The new age?

Written by Georgina Russell

For the unfamiliar like me!:
NFT – Non-fungible token (represents a digital file of ownership over a piece of art).
Cryptocurrency – a type of currency which uses digital files as money, it only exists on computers.
Nifty Gateway – One of the first marketplaces where you can buy, sell, or store your digital art in the form of NFTs.
Bitcoin – a type of money that is completely virtual, it is used to buy products and services.
Mints – Just like how real coins are minted, NFT’s are too – this means that your art is unchangeable and is added into digital circulation.

I’m sure we are all aware of how fast the world is changing and the technological advances made every day, but are we aware of the implications this could have on the art world? Taking the world by storm, it’s hard to miss this new form of creativity as we see more and more artists internationally swapping brushes for styluses, canvases for screens and paints for pre-selected colours.

The term digital art really started being used in the early 1980’s when a paint program called ‘AARON’ was created by computer engineers. It was used by the pioneering digital artist Harold Cohen, who created large robotic drawings on the floor which became more and more sophisticated influencing the art technology that we see today.

But what is it and what does it actually mean to ‘own’ a piece of digital art?
In short, you digitize the work into an NFT (Non-fungible token). You’re probably thinking the same thing as me – ‘fungible’ – pardon me?! Now I know this sounds fancy, but all this really means is that you have tokens that amount to digital certificates of authenticity and allow images that exist on screens to be traded and tracked, when a creator mints their NFT this gives ownership on the buyer as well as the items value. So, these art pieces don’t exist in the real world, they use a cryptocurrency (a bit like Bitcoin) to give you, the buyer, something that cannot be copied. For example, anyone can buy a Van Gogh print but only one person can own the original painting.

Don’t worry if you’re still confused because I was! But when you start to realise the real impact that digital art is having on art trading, you can begin to understand the craze and how it’s changing the way art is bought and sold. For example, Sotheby’s (an auction house in London known for buying and selling of artistic masterpieces) is now holding their first sale of NFT’s called ‘The Fungible Collection’. This is by the anonymous digital artist Pak from the 12th-14th April 2021 in collaboration with ‘Nifty Gateway’ – an online sales platform for digital art created by the Cock Foster brothers.

The digital artist Mike Winkelmann known as ‘Beeple’ became the third most-valuable living artist with the highest sale of an NFT with his work ‘Everydays: The First 5000 Days’ selling for $69 million at Christie’s, the auction house. The work is a collage of 5000 digital images that are arranged chronologically and involves Winkelmann’s work starting at the very beginning of the project along with well-known figures including Jeff Bezos and Donald Trump. The most amazing fact about this piece of digital art is online bidding for his digital collage started at $100 (£72) and sold for $69.3 million! ‘Beeple’ himself said “I do view this as the next chapter of art history…Now there is a way to collect digital art.”.

This staggering amount is the reason why digital art splits so many opinions – is it really worth all the money? This all depends on your personal opinion, although, you may be subconsciously swayed by your generational influence as well.

Younger generations have been brought up on technology with ‘the majority of children owning a mobile phone by the age of seven’ according to a study written about in the Guardian. I personally feel in the very middle of the technology take over – I had the privilege of having a flip phone at age 13 and my first iPhone at age 14, however I was still able to enjoy my childhood technology free before that. For this reason, younger people may be more likely to adapt to this new form of art compared to that of the older generations who grew up detached from a reliance on technology. However, this isn’t always the case as shown by the art icon David Hockney.

Hockney, known for his contribution to the Pop Art movement of the 1960’s, has more recently began using his iPad to branch out into newfound areas of digital art. Over the past 10 years+, he has been creating series of digital art such as ‘Plug in for the next generation’ iPad 2011 and hundreds of Untitled pieces.

David Hockney:

As stated on his website back in November 2008 ‘‘There are advantages and disadvantages to anything new in mediums for artists, but the speed allowed here with colour is something new, swapping brushes in the hand with oil or watercolour takes time. These prints are made by drawing and collage, they exist either in the computer or on a piece of paper, they were made for printing, and so, will be printed.’’

Now although Hockney is embracing the art world’s ever changing manner, he has made it known that NFT’s are not for him – and who can blame him! When making a guest appearance on an episode of Waldy and Bendy’s Adventures in Art podcast Hockney said “I think it’s I.C.S – International crooks and swindlers.”

So maybe NFT’s aren’t exactly for everyone! Other artistic icons such as Damien Hirst have also adapted their way of selling art with Hirst announcing that he will accept cryptocurrency for his new prints and is involved in a collaboration with the new digital marketplace called ‘Palm’ on ‘The Currency Project’. This is a set of 10,000 oil paintings on paper, each of which is accompanied by its NFT (its digital file) with the aim of showing that NFT’s do not consume too much energy – one of the many supposed negatives surrounding digital art.

So, who can choose what classes as ‘real’ or ‘fake’ art? In reality, the only person who can decide that is you! Whether you’re an artist or not, you form opinions based on what you see, how you feel and what you gain when looking at a piece of art. If you decide that digital art and NFT’s are a colossal waste of time then that is perfectly fine, you never have to think about it again! However, if you decide you either want to become a digital artist or just love the idea of it that is also okay – just because you create digital art does not mean it’s any less valid than ‘real’ art.

A key point for me is, you are also allowed to be in the middle, which is where I find myself– just like David Hockney! Although I have never personally tried digital art, from researching into it I am definitely willing to give it a go, however, I’m not sure it will ever beat the tactility of oil paints and brushes. Will keep you updated! I love this technical element of digital art but will forever be slightly confused and detached from the artwork not really being there. Everybody is allowed their own opinion therefore everyone can be an art critic. The real question is are you willing to adjust to the ever-changing art world times?

Our guest blogger is Georgina Russell, she says ‘I am a second year Fine Art student and am excited to have secured an art placement starting this August. I specialise in painting/illustration and love the little details highlighting the beauty in the world around us. Art for me is about escapism and appreciating all aspects of creativity and vibrancy within the art community. I can be found at @georginarose_designs on Instagram.

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