Locating Digital Art in History: Unlikely Parallels

Jan 27, 2021 by: vart_admin

Written by: Gregory Ayvazov

The earliest known artworks date back over ten thousand years before the modern era. These vestiges of pre-historic communities are priceless historical artefacts of an otherwise traceless past, faint echoes of a bygone time. They are also an answer to a question the relevance of which in the digital age of the 21st century is absolute — what it means to be human.

Art is as old as humanity itself: throughout our tumultuous existence it has served as a way to immortalize that what is important when no other means were available, an honest mirror for societies living a lie, an avenue for expression of feelings that were repressed or simply as a much-needed source of beauty to “wash away the dust of everyday life” as Picasso once said.

Cueva de las Manos

Curiously, art history is often told as a tale of revolutions: from Caravaggio’s shading technique to Jackson Pollock’s Action Painting artists have never seized to innovate and rebel responding to the call of their time. In fact, modern art was born with the telegraph and car, amidst factory smoke and cramped cities of the 1870s- by no means a coincidence. The eternal themes of Old Masters: Greek heroes, Great Battles and Divine imagery simply did not fit the rapidly changing world so artists turned to new horizons.

Jackson Pollock at work

Much of 20th century art is an attempt to answer the question — ‘What is Art?’ via the process of deconstruction or stripping down as many elements as possible while retaining the essence of an artwork. Impressionists and post-impressionisms took away complete realism, cubists — the smooth edges, surrealists — conscious effort, abstraction — representation, conceptualists — the canvas. By the 60s all we were left with was a written instruction. No, seriously.

Ironically, written instruction resulted in the creation of the first digital artwork.

Yoko Ono’s 22 Instructions for Paintings by MoMA

In 1965 Frieder Nake, an artist-mathematician, wrote a set of written instructions, in other words, an algorithm to produce the now famous “Hommage à Paul Klee 13/9/65 Nr.2” after a painting done in 1929 called ‘Highroads and Byroads’.

As a trained mathematician Nake was intrigued by the geometric relationships of the original painting and, having defined a set of variables describing them for the computer, left the rest to be determined by the machine. The output is now considered one of the first works in the new medium.

Hommage à Paul Klee 13/9/65 Nr.2

Progress in art is bilinear: one axis concerns the evolution of thought as expressed via a manipulation of existing art tools to bring about fundamentally original paradigm of creation. This happens so frequently it is tempting to say that art is intrinsically subversive (examples above are a mere fraction of these so-called ‘revolutions’). But every so often a transformation of a different and rarer kind begets — a birth of a new medium. The invention of the photo-camera in the nineteenth century is one salient example: the ability to instantaneously stop time and conserve a fleeting moment is mundane to us, but to our ancestors was a subject of awe. This new medium resulted in myriad styles and techniques: still-life, long-exposure, infrared, bird’s eye etc. And just like everything else that was once novel in art was disliked and misunderstood at its inception.

Similarly, there is no end to the cornucopia of digital art.

Crypto, generative, data-driven, AI, 3D — new genres are constantly developed. But just like photography adopted some of what came before (perspective, lighting, composition) so is digital art an extension of history to suit the spirit of times, not a violent rupture. A new medium for a new world. And yet, from the walls of a Paleolithic cave to the screen of a computer, the essence remains the same — what it means to be human is to create.

Photo manipulation, Author : Roman Minin
Name : My observations of the Sun

Further Reading:

Jan 27, 2021 by: vart_admin

Further Reading:

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