HOW TECH EXPANDS THE ART WORLD
And how the intersection between the two is growing ever-more complex.
By Masha Drokova
Technology has pervaded virtually every industry, including the art world. Today, technology has transformed not only the way that artists produce art through the introduction of new mediums like virtual reality and blockchain technology but it’s also given countless artists a place to display their work and receive direct feedback from online audiences through social media. Along those lines, technology is reconfiguring the art industry’s barriers. It’s increasingly democratizing the industry through the internet’s virality and establishing a new cohort of online tastemakers. In today’s new art economy, an artist can crowdsource ideas and inspiration online, create a digital artwork, and then display, market, and sell that same work through online platforms – all without ever leaving their house.
For many artists, technology has become not only a tool but a source of inspiration. For instance, visual artist Daniel Canogar and the Turkish new media artist Refik Anadol use Google datasets to create artworks that visualize data streams in real time.
Others, like the designer Brendan Dawes and the multimedia artist David Quayola have focused their art on the narrowing divide between man and machine. Both Dawes and Quayola have used artificial intelligence and machine learning as tools in creating their work. Quayola, for instance, has created a collection of sculptures that are made in part by robots using AI and machine learning. In a recent interview, Quayola said that he’s not interested in simply “using computers, but rather working together with them.” For Quayola, outsourcing the production of artwork to software robots is what he describes as a “natural path.”
As more artists begin to use technology in their work, several new galleries have sprouted up in cities like New York, Paris, and London, dedicated exclusively to the curation of technology-inspired artworks. One such New York-based gallery is bitforms which is devoted to hosting projects that include virtual reality and interactive artworks that involve collaboration over the internet.
Not only has technology become a force of inspiration for many artists, but it’s transforming the way we experience art, as well. Over the past decade, exhibits have shifted to become visceral, multidimensional experiences that audiences can interact with. The growing popularity of art experiences like Meow Wolf and immersive exhibits featuring the work of van Gogh and Monet is due, largely, to the influence of social media: such exhibits are often used as stunning backdrops in Instagram photos.
One recent example of this is Superblue, a Miami-based art house featuring a series of interactive exhibits like a room filled with bubbles and a maze of mirrors. The project’s stated goal is to erase the barriers between the art and the audience.
The creation of new mediums like virtual and augmented reality provide artists with tools to reach audiences in ways they’ve never done before. Android Jones, a classically trained oil painter, has pushed the boundaries of art with large-scale virtual reality exhibits at Burning Man, the White House and the Smithsonian. Jones’ work is focused on creating enveloping, sensory-rich worlds. With VR, technology is transforming the static realm of museum walls. A painting isn’t simply an object to be gazed at – it can be its own universe that a viewer can step into and interact with.
Others, like the New York-based video artist Danilo Lauria have sought to inject fantastical elements into architectural wonders like Gaudi’s Casa Batlo or the MET by using an augmented reality app. With the app, Laurie generated a dreamlike series of videos in which surreal characters roam iconic architectural spaces.
In addition to these new mediums, technology has also provided novel tools for artists to use. Google Tilt Brush, for instance, an application that lets artists create 3D paintings in virtual reality, has been used to create immersive art projects.
Technology hasn’t only introduced new mediums and tools. Like other industries before it, technology is disrupting the fabric of the art industry itself. With the introduction of social media, up-and-coming artists no longer need to rely solely on traditional tastemakers and gatekeepers to showcase their work. Now, they also have direct access to audiences online. This ability to reach digital audiences and receive immediate feedback on their work critically influences the work many artists produce.
In many cases, artists depend on this growing feedback loop and audience participation that social media provides. One instance of this is MSCHF, an art collective based in Brooklyn that harnesses the viral power of the internet to create a highly satirical body of art.
Many of MSCHF’s projects invite the participation of an audience in the creation of a work that playfully reimagines items and objects. In one example, MSCHF bought a Damien Hirst spot print, cut out the 88 individual spots and auctioned each one off individually. Later, MSCHF sold the paper filled with holes bearing Hirst’s signature, entitled 88 holes, for $261,400 – more than eight times the work’s original value.
In another more recent project, MSCHF said it collaborated with Nike and Satan to produce 666 pairs of Nike sneakers that each contained a single drop of blood. The project was promoted by the singer Lil Nas X but later resulted in Nike suing MSCHF for the use of its product. MSCHF’s work is often called ‘Banksy of the internet’ due to its resemblance to the famous street artist who often lampoons established institutions, including corporations and the government.
The effects of technology on the art world are nowhere more apparent than on the internet, where the potential for viral influence has summarily turned the traditionally insular network on its head. Artists now have access to what is arguably the most powerful gallery boasting the biggest audience in the world: Instagram.
Artists now possess more ownership over the art they create than perhaps any other time in history. Blockchain technology like non-fungible tokens and websites like Patreon provide ways for artists to retain a majority stake in their creative endeavors and sustain their living by focusing on art. More than ever before, it's possible to have a career in art no matter an artist's background, location or financial status.
We’re still only beginning to feel the ramifications of technology has on art, but we're poised to experience another renaissance informed and fueled by technological innovation.
Masha Drokova is the Founder and General Partner at Day One Ventures. She invests in a diverse range of early-stage tech companies with customer-focused culture and leads their communications.