Digital art

Two interesting new developments in art caught my eye this week, both enabled by digital technology and software and both broadly positive. One development saw art created digitally, in a necessary and compelling way by a respected practitioner. The second sees art distributed digitally, in an equally necessary way, by an equally respected authority.

Firstly, in the Sunday Times Culture supplement last weekend, now stuck behind the paywall, David Hockney was interviewed, intelligently and extensively, on his newest artistic obsession: painting using an iPhone, and latterly iPad, app.

What sounds like a gimmick, or the indulgence of an already world-famous artist, gains depth as you read his justification of the technique. Using a digital paintbrush, you can alter thickness, width and angle without changing brushes; change colour infinitely without switching tools (although Hockney winningly confesses to wiping his hands on his trousers after digitally changing from a staining darker tone to a vulnerable lighter one); and build up clean and separate layers in a way impossible to more traditional painting techniques such as watercolour and oils.

The app also allows something unheard of and quite revolutionary for the art world: the process of creating the piece is recorded and can be played back, showing how the artist approached the composition and filled in details, but without the hand of the artist being present in the recording. So with a similar intent to the famous video of Picasso painting, but taken to its extreme. This is a fascinating idea.

There’s also the commercially intriguing idea that the artist can distribute this low-res image of his painting for free, emailing to friends or fans at will, but then print it out at a gallery-standard high-res for framing and exhibiting. The flipside of this is that the paintings appear at their truest and most compelling when backlit with the screen of an iPad – framed, in a gallery space, they will lose their luminescence. What does this mean for the gallery? Iwould guess: an enforced development or an enforced obsolescence.

The second development in digital art is Nicholas Serota’s announcement this week of a joint project between Tate and Google, which basically applies Google’s Street Map technology to the Tate’s art collections, allowing users to zoom in on details and peruse pieces of art online, thousands of miles away, in unprecedented detail and entirely at their leisure. This has provoke a huge debate about the implications of viewing art online and whether it can ever match up to a real life experience.

It will be interesting to see how art develops as digital technology develops, and as these two different threads show, it will develop in a number of ways. Art will be created digitally, distributed digitally, and viewed digitally – and what will this change?

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Digital art