by Julius WiedemannMar 23, 2021
When crypto investor ‘Metakovan’ bought for $70 million his piece of digital artwork from a quite unknown artist, the world was shocked not because of the price, but because of the many aspects that are involved in the transaction that were unrelated to such a value. The lack of understanding starts with what is crypto. Very few people understand what cryptocurrency is and I am included in that. But there is no doubt that this is becoming a powerful tool. When cars, and not just digital objects, can be bought with a new currency it is a sign that it will prosper. Currency, something usually related to a country, is just one story that we tell ourselves to be able to attribute value to something. In that regard it sees no territorial boundaries, and therefore cryptocurrency certainly holds a future.
Then there is NFT. According to Wikipedia, “a Non-Fungible Token is a unit of data on a digital ledger called a blockchain, where each NFT can represent a unique digital item, and thus they are not interchangeable. NFTs can represent digital files such as art, audio, videos, items in video games and other forms of creative work”. It sounds complicated and it is indeed, again, for people like me. But it is also a reality. Because digital art seems so intangible, we will have to come up with ideas that will protect and attribute the value of originals to them. I have already touched on the subject of copies and originals in this column, which is worth reading.
The work we are talking about in this case is what Christie’s considers to be its first digital art piece sold, and is named Everydays: The First 5000 Days, by Mike Winkelmann, who goes by the name Beeple. The third issue is art itself. Everything that is associated with art receives a God-like connotation. More often than not we use the term state-of-the-art technology for instance, meaning that a certain technology is so amazing that it makes us think that its creation cannot be explained. Another differentiation that often appears is that the difference between something artistic and art is that while something artistic conveys a message, art is the message itself.
In 2011, I curated a digital art exhibition in my home country Brazil, in the city of São Paulo, where I put together a number of artists who had been using digital means to do their art for some time. The 14,000 visitors could see works such as Look of Love, from the American Jaqueline Steck, Aquatypes from the French group 2 Roqs, and Delicate Boundaries and The sheep market, also from the Americans Chris Sugrue and Aaron Koblin respectively. I selected works that spanned over three decades of explorations into the digital world by artists from over 10 countries. When we think about digital arts, we usually think about interaction, usually associating a technological capability with an aesthetic outcome. These days digital art encompasses the aid of artificial intelligence, projections into the sky, automated painting by robots, and parallel worlds.
Art is not defined by its platform. Even though it seems quite logical when we have sculptures, paintings, installations, objects like chairs and vases, words made of neon lights, photography, and others as a support for art, we intuitively still associate the value of art with the value of something physical. This is known as the museological aspect of art. But ephemeral art, which offers an experience that is temporary, instead of offering something to “touch”, is becoming a trend in the 21st century because we have shifted our focus to memory instead of staying connected to still life. The work We Feel Fine from Jonathan Harris is a good example.
Open air museums have done a great contribution to the re-significance and importance of art in the last decades. From huge sculptures to the possibility of jumping into a swimming pool conceived by an artist, any ordinary person can now experiment and experience the boundaries and the feelings that only art can offer. Artists are like antennas that aim to connect people with bigger messages, by utilising very personal point of views with a lot of universal ideas and emotional patterns. The result is seen today not only in museums but also in our streets and the walls of our houses.
The digital world, and digital culture have revolutionised the way we understand art. Make no mistake, this is just the beginning. Art is always one technology behind. The moment we create a new form of expression is the moment the artist is revealed with a new support. And the more digital tools become democratised the more art will see in the world.
Read more from the series Digital Legacies where our columnist Julius Wiedemann investigates the many aspects of digital life.