Digital (Visual) Art

Computer visual art, also known as digital visual art, has evolved significantly since its inception, influenced by technological advancements and artistic innovation. This overview aims to trace the chronological development of tools, important artworks, and artists from around the world, highlighting critical perspectives and seminal theorists in the field.

Historical Development #

Early Beginnings (1950s-1960s) #

The genesis of computer art can be traced back to the 1950s when scientists and artists began experimenting with computer technology to create visual works. One of the earliest pioneers was Ben Laposky, who used an oscilloscope to create “Oscillons,” abstract images generated by electronic signals. Other early pioneers included artists like Herbert Franke and Michael Noll, who experimented with computer algorithms to create visual art.

Development of Plotter Art (1960s-1970s) #

During the 1960s, artists like Frieder Nake, Harold Cohen, and Vera Molnar began using plotter machines to produce intricate drawings. Cohen’s software, AARON, which he developed in the early 1970s, is a significant milestone in the history of generative art. Molnar, one of the first female pioneers in computer art, used algorithms to explore geometric abstraction.

Emergence of Computer Graphics (1970s-1980s) #

The development of computer graphics in the 1970s and 1980s revolutionized visual art. The creation of software like Adobe Photoshop and the introduction of the personal computer made digital art more accessible. Artists such as David Em and Lillian Schwartz explored the possibilities of computer-generated imagery. Schwartz’s work at Bell Labs was particularly influential in merging art and technology.

Rise of Digital Art (1990s) #

The 1990s saw a significant rise in digital art, with the internet providing new platforms for exhibition and collaboration. Pioneers like Jeffrey Shaw and Jodi.org explored interactive and internet-based art forms. The establishment of digital art festivals such as Ars Electronica also played a crucial role. Women artists like Jenny Holzer used digital media for their conceptual and politically charged works.

Contemporary Digital Art (2000s-Present) #

In the 21st century, digital art has become a mainstream art form. Artists like Cory Arcangel and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer use sophisticated technologies to create immersive installations. The advent of blockchain technology has also introduced concepts like NFTs, significantly impacting the digital art market. The use of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) has expanded the boundaries of digital art, with artists like Marina Abramović exploring these new media.

Aesthetic Movements and Styles #

Glitch Art
Glitch art is a style that embraces digital or analog errors to create visually arresting pieces. These glitches can be the result of hardware malfunctions or software errors. Artists like Rosa Menkman have popularized this movement, exploring the aesthetic potential of technological failures.

Vaporwave
Vaporwave is a genre that emerged in the early 2010s, characterized by its retro-futuristic aesthetics and nostalgic references to 1980s and 1990s pop culture. It often incorporates elements of early computer graphics and is closely linked to internet subcultures. Artists like Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never) have been influential in this movement.

Algorithmic Art
Algorithmic art involves the use of algorithms to generate visual art. This can include generative art, where the artist creates a set of rules that a computer follows to produce art. The work of artists like Casey Reas, who co-founded the Processing programming language, exemplifies this approach.

Pixel Art
Pixel art is a form of digital art where images are created and edited at the pixel level. This style became popular with early video games and has seen a resurgence with retro gaming culture. Artists like eBoy are known for their intricate pixel art works.

Post-Digital Art
Post-digital art refers to art created in a period where digital technology is deeply integrated into everyday life. This movement explores the relationship between the digital and physical worlds. Artists like Jon Rafman, known for his project “9 Eyes,” which uses Google Street View images, exemplify post-digital art.

Net Art
Net art (or internet art) emerged in the late 1990s and early 2000s, using the internet as a primary medium. Artists like Olia Lialina and Vuk Ćosić created works that critique and explore the nature of the web itself.

Data Visualization Art
Data visualization art uses data as a primary medium to create visually compelling and informative works. Artists like Aaron Koblin transform complex datasets into engaging visual stories.

Generative Art
Generative art involves the use of autonomous systems, such as algorithms, to create art. Artists like Manfred Mohr and LIA use code to generate complex patterns and forms that evolve over time.

Interactive Art
Interactive art requires viewer interaction to complete or influence the artwork. Artists like Rafael Lozano-Hemmer create installations that respond to the presence and actions of the audience.

Bio Art
Bio art involves the use of biological materials and processes to create art. Artists like Eduardo Kac explore the intersections of biology, technology, and art, often raising ethical questions about genetic manipulation and biotechnology.

Software and Processes #

Adobe Photoshop
Adobe Photoshop, introduced in 1988, revolutionized image editing with its comprehensive suite of tools for manipulating digital images. Its significance lies in its widespread adoption and its impact on the democratization of digital art creation.

Processing
Processing is an open-source programming language and environment aimed at visual artists. Developed by Casey Reas and Ben Fry, it simplifies the process of creating complex visuals through code, making it accessible to artists without a deep technical background.

Blender
Blender is a powerful, open-source 3D creation suite. It supports the entirety of the 3D pipeline, including modeling, animation, simulation, rendering, and video editing. Blender’s versatility makes it a staple in the creation of digital art, particularly in 3D animation and immersive installations.

vvvv
vvvv is a visual programming environment for real-time interactive media, combining 3D graphics, sound, and other media. It is used for creating complex installations and performances.

TouchDesigner
TouchDesigner is a node-based visual programming language for real-time interactive multimedia content. It is widely used in the creation of interactive installations and live performances.

Resolume
Resolume is a VJ software designed for live video mixing. It is used by artists and performers to create real-time audiovisual experiences.

Adobe Premiere Pro
Adobe Premiere Pro is a professional video editing software used widely in film, TV, and web content production.

Final Cut Pro
Final Cut Pro is Apple’s professional video editing software, known for its powerful editing capabilities and seamless integration with other Apple products.

Corel Painter
Corel Painter is a digital painting software that simulates traditional painting techniques, offering artists a range of tools to create lifelike digital artworks.

Krita
Krita is an open-source digital painting application geared towards concept artists, illustrators, and the VFX industry.

GIMP
GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a free and open-source raster graphics editor used for tasks such as photo retouching, image composition, and image authoring.

Procreate
Procreate is a digital painting app for iOS and iPadOS that provides a comprehensive suite of tools for artists to create digital art.

Affinity Photo
Affinity Photo is a raster graphics editor for macOS, Windows, and iOS, known for its professional-grade features and performance.

Cinema 4D
Cinema 4D is a 3D modeling, animation, motion graphic, and rendering application developed by MAXON.

Houdini
Houdini is a 3D animation and visual effects software known for its procedural generation capabilities.

ZBrush
ZBrush is a digital sculpting tool that combines 3D modeling, texturing, and painting.

After Effects
Adobe After Effects is a digital visual effects, motion graphics, and compositing application used in post-production.

Controversies in Digital Image Manipulation #

Digital image manipulation has sparked significant debate, particularly concerning the authenticity and ethical implications of altered images. Photoshop has been at the center of controversies, especially in advertising and media, where manipulated images can distort reality and propagate unrealistic beauty standards. The ability to alter images seamlessly raises questions about the authenticity of visual information and the potential for misinformation.

NFTs and Their Significance #

Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) have had a profound impact on the digital art market. NFTs are unique digital assets verified using blockchain technology, allowing artists to sell digital works with proof of ownership and authenticity. This has opened new revenue streams for artists and created a booming market for digital collectibles. Beeple’s “Everydays: The First 5000 Days,” which sold for $69 million, exemplifies the potential of NFTs to revolutionize the art world. NFTs challenge traditional notions of art ownership and provenance, making digital art more accessible and valued.

Categories and Formats Involved in Visual-Media Art #

Generative Art #

Generative art involves the use of algorithms and computational processes to produce art. Artists like Manfred Mohr and LIA use code to generate complex patterns and forms that evolve over time. Notable works include “Autonomous Light Forms” by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and “TI-20” by Casey Reas.

Interactive Installations #

Interactive art requires viewer interaction to complete or influence the artwork. Artists like Rafael Lozano-Hemmer create installations that respond to the presence and actions of the audience. Works like “Pulse Room” and “Voice Tunnel” are prime examples.

Video Art #

Video art uses video technology to create art, often incorporating elements of performance, installation, and digital effects. Pioneers like Nam June Paik and contemporary artists like Pipilotti Rist and Bill Viola have explored this medium. Notable works include Paik’s “TV Buddha” and Rist’s “Ever Is Over All.”

Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) #

VR and AR art involves fully immersive experiences created within virtual environments. Artists like Laurie Anderson and Marina Abramović have explored the possibilities of VR, creating works that allow viewers to interact with virtual worlds. Notable works include Abramović’s “Rising.”

Graphic Design #

Graphic design has been significantly influenced by digital technology, with software like Adobe Illustrator and InDesign enabling designers to create complex visual compositions. Contemporary graphic design often merges digital and traditional techniques, creating innovative and dynamic visual communication. Notable designers include Stefan Sagmeister and Paula Scher.

Sound Art #

The integration of sound in digital art enhances the immersive experience. Sound art and audiovisual performances have become significant components of digital installations. Artists like Ryoji Ikeda use synchronized sound and visuals to create immersive environments. Notable works include Ikeda’s “Datamatics.”

Net Art #

Net art (or internet art) uses the internet as a primary medium. Artists like Olia Lialina and Vuk Ćosić created works that critique and explore the nature of the web itself. Notable works include Lialina’s “My Boyfriend Came Back from the War.”

Data Visualization Art #

Data visualization art uses data as a primary medium to create visually compelling and informative works. Artists like Aaron Koblin transform complex datasets into engaging visual stories. Notable works include Koblin’s “Flight Patterns.”

Bio Art #

Bio art involves the use of biological materials and processes to create art. Artists like Eduardo Kac explore the intersections of biology, technology, and art. Notable works include Kac’s “GFP Bunny,” a genetically modified rabbit.

Pixel Art #

Pixel art is a form of digital art where images are created and edited at the pixel level. This style became popular with early video games and has seen a resurgence with retro gaming culture. Artists like eBoy are known for their intricate pixel art works. Notable works include eBoy’s “Pixorama.”

Chronological Line of Important Artworks and Artists #

References #

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  • Beeple. “Everydays: The First 5000 Days.” Christie’s, 2021.
  • Cohen, Harold. “The Work of Art in the Age of Digital Reproduction.” Leonardo, vol. 26, no. 1, 1993, pp. 11-16.
  • Em, David. “Digital Harmony: The Visual Music of David Em.” Abrams, 1989.
  • Gere, Charlie. “Digital Culture.” Reaktion Books, 2002.
  • Greene, Rachel. “Internet Art.” Thames & Hudson, 2004.
  • Hales, Chris. “Interactive Video Art and Its Contexts.” Leonardo, vol. 33, no. 5, 2000, pp. 383-390.
  • Ikeda, Ryoji. “Datamatics.” 2006.
  • Laposky, Ben. “Oscillons.” 1950s.
  • Lozano-Hemmer, Rafael. “Pulse Room.” 2006.
  • Manovich, Lev. “The Language of New Media.” MIT Press, 2001.
  • Menkman, Rosa. “The Collapse of PAL.” 2010.
  • Molnar, Vera. “1% de désordre.” 1974.
  • Nake, Frieder. “Computer Art: A Personal Reminiscence.” Leonardo, vol. 28, no. 1, 1995, pp. 61-62.
  • Noll, A. Michael. “The Beginnings of Computer Art in the United States: A Memoir.” Leonardo, vol. 27, no. 1, 1994, pp. 39-44.
  • Paul, Christiane. “Digital Art.” Thames & Hudson, 2015.
  • Reas, Casey. “TI-20.” 2004.
  • Rafman, Jon. “9 Eyes.” 2008.
  • Schwartz, Lillian. “Pixillation.” 1970s.
  • Shaw, Jeffrey. “Legible City.” 1989.
  • Youngblood, Gene. “Expanded Cinema.” P. Dutton & Co., 1970.