The great path of contemporary art and new digital tools.

Digital art is an immense concept. Sometimes it becomes difficult to define what is considered a digital work of art, because they are creations made with tools so different from the traditional ones that it is difficult to label what is, or not, digital art. To add clarity to this topic, I have prepared a brief tour of history and digital artists.

will digital art replace traditional art, why digital art is better than traditional

What is digital art and how does it compete with traditional art?

Digital art, unlike traditional art, refers to works created or shown through digital technologies and media. One of the most important characteristics of digital art compared to traditional art is the diversity of different types of digital arts, since it does not only refer to works of the same format or technique, but includes, for example, net art or art created on the Internet, virtual art, interactive art, 3D printing, video art or even art made through gifs.

But what is truly revolutionary about digital art and its main difference with traditional art, in addition to the use of digital tools, is the will to break with traditional art circuits. 

Digital art revolutionized, unlike traditional art, the way in which art could be made, distributed and seen. Although some digital art relies heavily on traditional galleries or museums, especially in the case of installations that require complex machinery and components, much of this art can be easily transported and viewed through television, the computer screen, social networks or the Internet. In addition, digital art is increasingly conceived to encourage interaction with the public and many digital works are based on the idea of participation and intervention of viewers, which would not happen so easily with traditional works of art, where the audience acted as a mere spectator.

Brief history of digital art.

Although scientists interested in cybernetics in the late 1940s and early 1950s are considered to be the first digital artists, these early creations were closer to engineering than to art than to traditional art itself. That is why the 1960s have been established as the time when these productions left the sphere of engineering to fully enter the field of art, with works that mixed performance, music or installations. 

In 1958, for example, Wolf Vostell became the first artist to incorporate a television in one of his works. Over the years, the development, not only of video in the seventies, but of computer graphics in the eighties and real-time technologies of the nineties, combined with the spread of the web and Internet favored the emergence of new and diverse forms of digital art.

Currently, all artists use digital tools at some point in their creative process, even if it is during the research stage. The hybridization between formats is already unstoppable and the artistic disciplines intermingle to such an extent that we must reflect whether digital art really exists as a category or is simply another form of contemporary expression.

will digital art replace traditional art, why digital art is better than traditional

Can digital art replace traditional art?

At present, one thing is clear: digital art is increasingly present in all spheres of contemporary art, giving important competition to works recognized in the world of traditional art. Every day the number of digital art exhibitions increases exponentially compared to traditional art, while art collectors are increasingly interested in this artistic movement, even though it is not an easy art to collect, or traditional art.

Most critics and curators believe that integrating technology from our day to day and using interactivity creates more comprehensive cultural experiences for the public. However, there are also critical voices that show that digital art encourages the spectacularization of culture and in a certain way, its banalization, by giving more importance to the channel (technology) than to the artist’s own discourse, which in many cases hardly exists, this does not happen in a traditional art exhibition.

will digital art replace traditional art, why digital art is better than traditional

But it is indisputable that the importance of digital art is unstoppable. This year, for example, the first digital museum in history was created. The Mori Building Digital Art Museum in Tokyo, Japan, allows, in its 9,000 square meters, to interact with more than 50 digital art pieces through different interactive rooms in which to travel between five different worlds.

There are also more and more biennials, festivals and even fairs dedicated to digital art, while traditional art exhibitions are, in many cases, static. The Nemo Biennale in Paris had 6 months of programming in 2018, the Ars Electronica in the Austrian city of Linz has become in the last 30 years one of the most important digital art festivals in the world. In Spain Loop Fair and Loop Festival, fair and festival on video art, are a reference in audiovisual art and an indicator of creative and discursive innovations within this area and The Wrong is a biennial whose programming happens both online and offline.

The online part of the biennial is in curated virtual pavilions for any online accessible media where selected works of art are exhibited. The offline part of the biennial, for its part, takes place in embassies, institutions, art spaces, galleries and artists' studios in cities around the world that present temporary projects with live presentations, workshops, talks and exhibitions.

will digital art replace traditional art, why digital art is better than traditional

Essential artists of digital art

Nam June Paik

He is known as «the father of video art» for his filming of Pope Paul VI during his visit to New York City in 1965, as well as being one of the fundamental creators of the second half of the twentieth century. A member of the Fluxus movement, Paik elevated television to a museum piece, manipulated images and made the first video collages.

Shigeko Kubota

Shigeko Kubota was a key member of the Japanese avant-garde, a respected member of the Fluxus actions of New York in the 1960s and, from the 1970s, a pioneer of video art. His work Nude Descending a Staircase (1976) was the first video sculpture acquired by MoMA.

Antoni Muntadas

He is one of the most important digital artists and a pioneer of video art in our country. One of the most outstanding features of his work is the artistic use of mass media content. His projects are developed in different media: photography, video, publications, Internet and multimedia installations.

Bill Viola

He is considered one of the most influential figures in the generation of artists who use the new audiovisual electronic media. His works encompass video installations, auditory environments and performance and the themes revolve around the experiences and concerns of the human condition, such as birth, death and consciousness.


Joan Jonas

digital art will replace traditional art, why digital art is better than traditional
Joan Jonas was one of the pioneers in combining video, experimental cinema and performance. His work influenced conceptual art as well as theatre and visual media. In his works, the influence of contemporary dance and avant-garde cinematographic language replaces narrative continuity with a multimedia performance style that incorporates drawing, sculpture and video.

Peter Campus

Peter Campus’s Three Transitions is one of the most influential works of video art. It was conceived in the artist’s decade of greatest creative intensity and, due to the pioneering nature of its contents, has become one of his most recognized works. The video is organized in three short exercises or "transition" in which Campus tests different visual and spatial structures.

painted woman

Jennifer Steinkamp

A pioneer in the use of digital animation, Steinkamp’s work has focused for three decades on exploring issues linked to perception, movement and space. His work, which presents in the form of video installations, seeks to transform the architecture of the places where he exhibits projecting on walls, ceilings or windows three-dimensional images created by computer, whose objective is to alter the viewer’s perception and generate spaces loaded with meanings.

Daito Manabe

He is the youngest artist on this list and perhaps the one who best represents the paradigm shifts in art and society of the 21st century. Daito Manabe combines art and technology in a natural way, whether as a composer, designer, programmer, DJ or VJ. He is considered by Apple as one of the 30 creators of reference of the current panorama and his work enjoys great repercussion because he himself is responsible for sharing his creations and the works that he is developing in his Youtube channel.

train station

Read about the world of digital, contemporary and traditional art.

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