Digital technology has not only enabled art to become more efficient; it has also led to a conceptual revolution by becoming a new artistic medium in its own right.
Tech as tool
Digital technology first appeared in the arts world as a tool that greatly improves communication, dissemination, promotion, marketing and virtual conservation of creative output. Most museums now have an online identity with a Facebook page and social media presence and offer smartphone apps (iPod audioguides, geolocation etc.), online exhibitions and original services made possible by the new technology. For example, the Fondation Panigel in Arles is planning to put its remarkable collection of 120,000 microgroove vinyls and 70,000 78 rpm records online via internet radio. At first the new technology facilitated access to cultural content without disrupting conventional practices, but distributed systems very soon overturned the prevailing rules. Google Art became the world’s first virtual museum with 250,000 artworks online (up from 57,000 in 2014 and 1000 in 2011!). Traditional museums, reticent at first, now willingly let Google in to digitise their collections. Art sales via the internet have also exploded since 2010. What sales room can hope to rival Artprice, which boasts 30 million quotations and 550,000 artists? Digital tech has enabled art to break out of the restrictions of bricks-and-mortar galleries, museums, private collections and financial institutions. After seizing the opportunities offered for their «traditional» artworks, artists began to make digital tech an artistic medium in itself.
From there on art and tech emerge as two components that interact, combine and stimulate each other. It is hard to put the resulting artworks, which change our relationship with reality, into fixed categories such as virtual and augmented reality or audiovisual, interactive and computer-generated art. Some people involved in digital art put a special focus on the educational value of the projects they support. One such is EDIS in Avignon, the only French endowment fund dedicated to digital art. It proposes residencies for creating real-time interactive artworks (interactive video tableaus and sculptural 3D video screenings) and has launched the Cercle de Mécènes Numériques. In this new space the spectator becomes an active player and is physically involved in the creative process. So it’s hardly surprising that digital art more often meets its public at festivals than at exhibitions. Made In Friche Machines, in Marseille last November, was a playful, surprising and poetic event based on spectacular, easily enjoyed artworks and installations that enabled visitors to fully enter into feeling and sensation.One channel for online artistic expression is net.art, with brings together interactive creations designed by, for and with the Internet, to the exclusion of more traditional art forms simply transferred to the web. Its artists, having absorbed the logic of digital networks and the virtual, create art that can be accessed online by anybody, anywhere. The Achilles heel of digital art is its dependence on hardware and software that are evolving so fast that the artworks risk rapid obsolescence and oblivion. While the cave paintings in the Cosquer Cave are still visible after more than 20,000 years, many a digital artwork created ten years ago can only be accessed if it is given a technological makeover.