DIGITAL ART: Where did you come from? Where are you going?

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digital calligraphy on a tablet

In recent news, artificial technology has been revolutionizing various forms and disciplines. Taking an in-view into the world of art and design, we see a transformative evolution from handprints on cave walls to generative AI art. Hence, this article explores the influences and impact of artificial intelligence in art and design.

Although it is known to many that digital art took to the stage in the 1980s globally, an article in Artland Magazine caught my attention when the author, Lucija Bravic, mentioned that the origins can be dated to the 1960s when some artists began experimenting with using machines alongside various other techniques. Artists such as Frieder Nake and the group E.A.T. (Experiments in Art and Technology) presented an array of early prints that were generated using algorithms to produce different layouts of shapes and elements coupled with various themes to create multiplicity.

Polygon Drawing (1965). Frieder Nake. MutualArt

Taking Frieder Nake as an example, we see him labeled as a Polygon Drawing Artist as he was a mathematician and computer scientist by trade who sought to ‘rationalize art by developing objective scientific measures for aesthetic experience’. (Artsy) In 1963, Nake created the first formula to generate art with the aid of the early computer graphics program and various programming languages. The above print was one of the three pieces Nake exhibited in his first solo exhibition. Also known as Hommage à Paul Klee, the print was constructed using algorithms and a plotter to generate random polygons within a confined space. This calculation generated a unique composition each time the algorithm was run. Nake’s explorations opened and created new avenues for “new media art” and its further explorations.

The term “Digital Art” came into during the 1980s when an artist named Harold Cohen collaborated with a group of computer scientists, created a device called AARON to serve as one of the earliest painting software with artificial intelligence. In an article found on Artplacer, AARON is described as a ‘robotic machinery that was programmed to create drawings on large paper sheets placed on the floor’.

Interestingly, as we can see, Cohen had foresight into our time and age where digital art would be expressed through the aid of AI. However, unlike our today’s tools, such as DALL-E and Midjourney, the output of AARON was much different as the device was equipped with a robotic arm to produce “drawings” in the real world. That said, over the years countless forms of digital art have emerged such as digital painting, 3D illustrations, and much more. All of which were inspired by the boom created by Cohen.

Through these advancements came technology that has greatly expanded the world of digital art. We have essential tools to aid that include Adobe Creative Cloud, Corel Painter, and GIMP; and, there are many more in the arena. Each rose with the invention of the computer and added to that people were now exploring the idea of digital animation and other forms of experimentations. Now digital art could be imitated in various forms – traditional painting, digital air-brushing, 3D sculpture, and by the 2000s when we could be connected globally with the aid of the Internet came cross-sharing platforms that allowed artists to share their work, collaborate and receive critique!

Did You Know that Adobe Photoshop was first released in 1988 and since then has become an industry standard for digital image editing and manipulation. It was followed by Corel Painter which was released in 1989 and gave the ability to simulate traditional painting techniques such as oil painting, watercolor, and pencil sketching, on a computer.

– Mark Anderson (2023), World Art News

Today, as Anderson writes in the World Art News, “digital art has become a global phenomenon” as digital tools and technologies have expanded the genres of art we see in art fairs and shows to include video art, installation art, and interactive art. The future of digital art is ever-growing as we even see “new players” like augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) art-making waves to reshape the scope of what is and what could be.

NFT Artist making a mark in the world of Digital Art today. Source: Arts.com.my

Added to that NFTs have revolutionized the way artists can monetize their work and authenticate its uniqueness. By leveraging blockchain technology, NFTs provide a secure and transparent method of buying, selling, and owning digital assets. This has opened up new opportunities for artists, allowing them to directly connect with collectors and establish value for their digital creations. Moreover, the rise of NFTs has sparked conversations about the ownership, copyright, and the very nature of art in the digital age. It is undeniable that NFTs have had a profound influence on the art world, reshaping traditional models and paving the way for a new era of digital creativity.

As the worlds of digital art, generative AI, and NFTs continue to evolve, it remains to be seen what lasting impact this new era will have on the art world. Will these technological advancements democratize access to art and empower a new wave of creators? Or will they amplify existing inequalities and further entrench the dominance of certain players? Only time will tell how history will judge this pivotal moment in the intersection of art and technology.

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