illustrated survey of contemporary digital art forms
Digital technology has revolutionized the way art is now produced and viewed. Traditional forms such as painting, photography and sculpture have been transformed by digital techniques. Entirely new forms such as software art, digital installations, and virtual reality have emerged, and they are now collected by major museums, institutions, and private collectors. Christiane Paul’s book surveys the developments in digital art from its appearance in the early 1990s right up to the present day. It’s difficult for books like this to keep up with what’s being developed on the Internet, but she makes a good stab at it. She starts out with a rapid survey of the period 1940-1990, in which the foundations were laid. Then came the world wide web, which opened up the Net to Everyman.
After this comes her first main section, which deals with the digitisation of the two-dimensional surface. This yields computer-generated images which look like paintings, photographs which look like web sites, and collages which look like a combination of both – some of them even digital images which have been transferred onto canvass, to complete the illusion. There are lots of examples, all of them illustrated in full colour. It’s a visually rich book.
Most of the time her exposition is clear and straightforward, but now and again it does keep slipping into the style of Art School gobbledygook to which commentators on modern art seem irresistibly drawn:
Suggesting antagonisms, the project explores the concept of different poles in dataspace and the ways in which various forms of information can materialize in a dynamic matrix.
Whilst it is unfair to judge these complex works from a text description of them on the page, plus a screenshot, it seems that many of them go down tempting but false avenues of discovery and innovation.
Randomness, interactivity, or simultaneously viewing events from different points of the globe have no intrinsic connection with art – though it is understandable that people should want to exploit such possibilities. ‘Allowing the viewer to select/mix/choose’ is a false avenue.
Works of art are almost always the finished products of one person which we are invited to contemplate. Exploiting the possibilities of the Web and Flash animations seem much more promising routes to me. Time will tell.
Real artists will be grappling with these new digital possibilities right now – musicians making symphonies in their back bedrooms, Flash animators making the next generation of films.
The last part of the book deals with the various forms in which digital art is popularly manifest – artificial intelligence, telepresence and robotics, data visualisation and mapping, hypertextual narratives, and of course gaming.
She includes an excellent lists of artists’ web sites, digital arts organizations, networks, museums, and festivals, plus a select bibliography.
Despite any reservations I might have expressed here, this is an extraordinarily wide-ranging and thorough investigation of what is going on in digital art right now. She discusses all the key artists and works, as well as issues such as the collection, presentation and preservation of digital art, the virtual museum, and ownership and copyright. Very good value.
© Roy Johnson 2008
Christiane Paul, Digital Art, London: Thames and Hudson, revised edition 2008, pp.256, ISBN: 0500203989