04/29/2001 Has Digital Art Finally Arrived?
There are indications that digital arts are finally coming of age. The problem with many of the early experiments from the 60's until very recently is that they were often more interesting as intellectual exercise than as aesthetic creation. Much digital art (and I include music, visual art and media) has heretofore largely been either soulless or crude. I attribute much of the maturation of the digital arts to bandwidth and resolution. Inexpensive computing power democratizes the tools, thus allowing non-institutional artists free range in what was once the playground of the technical or academic elite.
Digital art is now trying to find its place in the artistic tradition of the culture. The nature of digital media is that it is ephemeral and it is easily replicated to an absolute degree.
In the tradition of visual art, for example, a painting can be copied photographically, but the original is valued as something unique. A digital image can be copied exactly an infinite number of times and each copy is indistinguishable from the original. The implications for intellectual property rights are, of course, staggering (witness the Napster phenomenon).
Digital art exists not as an object, but as a set of instructions which a machine must carry out to render the work as originally intended. In this sense, the work is created anew every time it is called by the machine. Implicit is the interdependency of the instructions and the rendering device (software and hardware). As new technology advances, old technology becomes obsolete. We all know people who have vinyl records, but no longer own a turntable. Many of us have old 5.25" floppy disks in a drawer somewhere, but few have drives or, as importantly, operating systems that will read them. Libraries and museums are investing in digitizing collections, but their plans must include the cost of migrating old media to new formats. What will we do with our CD collections when CD players are replaced by super RAM cards?