Art in the Digital Age: How has art evolved in the 21st century?

The technology of our century is unprecedented. The internet has changed everything. It has facilitated communication around the world. Machines are also smarter than ever. But what does this mean when it comes to art? Art in the digital age opens the doors to new ways of creating and to new controversies around originality, art, and the artist. Will it be possible to solve them all? Maybe not, but for now we can evaluate how technology has changed the art of today and forever.

Is digital art modern art?

Modern art example in primary colors to show modern art is not digital art neither art of the 21st century

Before we begin, we should make this clarification. When we talk about digital art, we are not talking about the same thing as when we talk about modern art. In fact, the modern is from the last century. They are movements that forever changed the art scene, such as abstract art, for example. Indeed, the digital age has also changed art forever, but it is not really an aesthetic movement but a set of circumstances and trends that lead art in new directions.

Art in the Digital Age: Artificial Intelligence

Robot playing the piano to represent artificial intelligence in the art of the digital age

First, let us talk about the question of artificial intelligence. Just a few decades ago, the ability to create was exclusively attributed to human beings. However, more and more programs can learn to create. Artificial intelligence can compose music as well as interpretive paintings or even write a novel or movie script.

How do they do it? It depends on what artificial intelligence we’re talking about. They mostly feed on databases and from what they learn is what they create. There are several experiments by Google that integrate artificial intelligence to create art. One of them is Blob Opera, a game in which you can compose opera. Assisted Melody involves much more artificial intelligence, you place notes on a staff to your liking, the spaces fill them with artificial intelligence trying to imitate a great composer such as Bach, for example.

Now, what happens when an artist uses artificial intelligence to create? Well, some argue that the merit for a puncture is the painter and not the oil or the brushes, in the same way, artificial intelligence is seen as a tool. Of course, this does not resolve the issue. The discussion is still going on. Is it fair for an artist to make millions at the expense of what a machine can produce in series without running out? Is there value in that art' What does our society reflect that has value?

Those are today’s discussions in the art world in the digital age. They are about to be resolved and only time will have the last word. Although it is also true that there are incredible pieces of art made with artificial intelligence that we cannot deny their genius. Such is the case with Memories of Passersby I by Mario Klingemann. Through a database of portraits from the 17th and 19th centuries, a machine creates infinite portraits, a very interesting proposal.

Museums of the future

Van Gogh painting at a museum where people take pictures with their phones to show art in the digital era

In addition to affecting the production of art, the digital age has also affected how such art is exhibited.

Before the pandemic, to encourage museum visits, many began to change the way they displayed the works. "Instagramable" facilities were used. So people visited museums to take the best pictures for Instagram. This tendency was heavily criticized as it apparently called for a vanalization of art, however, it was effective and on the other hand led people to get involved with works, as a good part of them were interactive.

The interactive aspect of art in the digital age is crucial. People seek to get involved with works no longer just to see them. There are many ways to make a work of art an interactive experience. Take for example Word Toys from 2006, an interactive and digital literary work. It is an anthology in which different language games are proposed that the reader will explore through his computer. Although not only the art created in this century can be interactive. Great works of art can be submitted to interactive resources to better understand them. An example is Google Arts and Culture’s Play a Kandinsky.

Although returning to museums, specifically, these can be visited by more people than ever in history. More and more museums have collections accessible through the internet. In addition, Gloogle, using the same Street View technology, has created virtual tours of different museums.

These experiences are no substitute for a visit to a real museum. What they do is bring art closer to a lot more people and give them tools with which they can get involved with works and understand their cultural relevance. Imagine walking through a museum and suddenly seeing work with colors and messy figures, it means nothing to you and you pass by. But if you’re on a virtual visit and you’re suggested a resource to understand the artist’s synesthesia, it becomes meaningful to you. That’s what Google does in Arts and Culture with Play a Kandinsky.

Art in the digital age is much more accessible. Many will never have the opportunity to visit the MOMA, El Padro or the Louvre. But through online tools, you can access art and learn more than just the Mona Lisa.

Art and social media

Person taking a picture with phone of a puple, red, orange and pink mural

Just as artificial intelligence and the internet have affected art, so have social networks.

As mentioned above, many museums used a social media aesthetic to attract visitors. However, this is not the only way that networks affect art in the digital age.

Just as online tours bring the highest spheres of art closer to most people, so too do social media change the way artists make themselves known.  Social networks are free for the use of anyone and therefore of any artist. Through their social networks, artists can make themselves known and even start their own businesses.

Of course, with freedom comes controversy. Promoting art on social media can turn artistic production into a "beauty contest" or scandal rather than a search for an aesthetic or message. We can’t really know if the art that becomes more popular and gets more followers will be the best or just the most controversial. Although clear, it will be worse that only importance is given to the art that makes us feel comfortable. As Banksy said:

"Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable".

Only art that endures the test of time will tell us what was really good about the thousands of posts on social media.

Conclusions on Art in the Digital Age

Graffiti that reads: Evrything has beautu but not everyone can see it

While one can romanticize traditional art, the truth is that technology has led to great advances in the art world. Art in the digital age is shown to be much more open to new techniques and to reveal its importance and impact to many more people (no longer just for the economic elite). Whatever happens with the course of humanity, art will always go hand in hand with every innovation.

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