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Digital art works its magic on the traditional art landscape: having gained acceptance at a growing number of art schools, museums and galleries, digital art--or art created or manipulated on a computer--has become the world's newest art form. (Digital Art).

"Tangled Bank," a suite of 12 digital images by artist Frank Gillette, hangs on the white walls of the New York gallery Universal Concepts Unlimited. The two-year-old gallery, which focuses on artists working with digital technologies, is the perfect setting for Gillette's work, whose slick surfaces and metallic colors resemble lunar landscapes or oil pooling in water.

Universal Concepts is something of a pioneer in the world of digital fine art galleries. "It's exciting, almost like a renaissance--science and technology merging with art" said Marian Ziola, executive director of Universal Concepts, on the rise of digital art. "This is new territory."

Indeed, the newness of digital art is perhaps its only quality not up for debate. Everyone, it seems, has a different take on where it is heading and what impact it will have on the traditional art world. From self-published, self-taught artists like Max Gould, who believe digital art will render traditional methods of creation obsolete, to museum curators who refuse to add it to their collections, no one is without an opinion.

However, one thing is certain: The established art world is becoming increasingly accepting of digital art. Stereotypes--that digital art is cold, commercial looking and illegitimate--are lessening. Digital printing has become commonplace and, while interactive art is still largely dismissed, art created or manipulated on a computer is becoming just another art form, taught at respected art schools and exhibited in major museums. These developments offer proof of the widening recognition of digital art, and though people continue to question aspects of the genre, it is difficult to find anyone who still dismisses it as a passing fad.

Acceptance of Digital Art

Digital artists have been fighting for acceptance since the 1960s when artists such as Gillette and Robert Rauschenberg began experimenting with digital technologies. But now it seems their time has finally arrived. This past year, a handful of prominent museums, including the Whitney Museum of American Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, have held major digital art exhibits. Also in New York, plans are in the works for the construction of Eyebeam, the city's first museum of art and technology.

Marilyn Kushner, curator of Prints and Drawings at the Brooklyn Museum of Art and organizer of the museum's recent show, "Digital: Printmaking Now" which examined digital computing within the context of printmaking, believes attitudes about digital art are changing as people see more and more of it.

A Sign of the Future?

Galleries are becoming more accepting of the medium as well. In fact, some believe the traditional art world as we know it is a thing of the past, and the future lies with digital art.

Take Kevin Mutch, for example, the director of POD (Print on Demand) Gallery, an online gallery with thousands of original, digitized images available for sale in a variety of sizes and mediums. His site, which is divided into nine sections, contains one called POD Digital, which showcases original works of art created--partially or wholly--through digital means.

A painter in the early 1990s, Mutch, like many artists, became aware of digital art at a time when computers were becoming both affordable and technologically sophisticated. Around 1991, Mutch bought a computer for $7,000, a machine "incredibly primitive by today's standards but already capable of making photographic images." He hasn't touched a paintbrush since.

From this personal revolution, Mutch is hoping to also transform the traditional art market, which he views as a "dying system" consisting of an extremely small number of extremely wealthy people. He contrasts this with the much larger, yet much less expensive market for new music.

"I'm from a small city in Canada, literally the middle of nowhere," explained Mutch, "But I could get music from anywhere in the world for just $10, could have a direct experience with the work in a way that I couldn't do with art--that's the greatest promise of working digitally ... What if we started selling the art as a digital download for just $1, to be viewed on a digital frame? Will it be possible to create a very large market for this?"

Insuring the Value of Digital Prints

Much like photography, digital art has raised many questions and dilemmas within the art world. Where does the originality lie; in the disk or the printed work? In a market that values uniqueness above all else, how does one determine and insure value when the possibility for endless replication exists? And how does one separate masterful creation of art from masterful use of technology?

Today's digital artists, most everyone agrees, are producing art of a much higher caliber than they ever have. Artist Claire Corey echoes the common sentiment that much early digital art was not art at all, but instead the work of hobbyists and computer whizzes. "Most early computer art I saw was ugly and awful" she said bluntly. "It was being done by techies concerned with what the computer could do rather than with the formal, visual composition." At first, people refused to see her work because they assumed it was done in the same vein. "I had to lie to people--tell them I was painting--to get them to my studio."

According to C.J. Yeh, a digital artist and faculty member at Pratt Institute and Parsons School of Design, "People are interested in the technical difficulties, but that's not the most important part. Until we can forget the media itself, we won't be able to really see the art."

Yeh curated and exhibited in last summer's "Unknown Infinity: Culture and Identity in the Digital Age," a joint exhibit held at the Taipei and Stephen Gang galleries in New York. Yeh said that while his clientele is increasing, digital art is a harder sell than his former medium, painting.

Patrick O'Connor, art director of Hip Art, a Coeur d'Alene, Idaho-based limited-edition publisher that represents digital artists Frank Savino and John Fors, said there has been enormous interest in their work, particularly Savino's. "There's no resistance at all from the average customer" he stated. "They care about the subject matter, not how it's generated."

Despite his company's success, O'Connor said many publishers will have nothing to do with digital artists, who in turn rely on self-publishing. O'Connor points to his trade's categorical dismissal of all things digital. "I walked into a high-profile gallery with a Savino once" he remembered." The owner loved it, until I told her how it was made." When she learned it was digital, she dropped it "as if it had burned her," and simply told him it wasn't art.

Resistance to digital art can be explained in part by the ease with which it can be reproduced. Some people, such as Lamont Edition's Philippe Lamont, see the advantages to multiples. "If a collector buys a $10,000 print and the housekeeper accidentally destroys it," said Lamont, "he can get another one. This has happened."

But Lamont is the exception to the rule. Like Yeh, most people continue to view ease of reproduction as a liability. Some artists steer clear of editions altogether. Another option is for the artist to sell the digital file after having made a certain amount of prints, giving the buyer sole reproduction rights. A third, far more drastic measure, is to actually destroy the digital file and obtain a notarized signature confirming it no longer exists.

While artists have typically been opposed to the idea of destroying their files, the idea is gaining more acceptance. According to Dan Jahn, director of the Rocky Mountain Digital Arts Center, which houses 0101, a gallery featuring different digital artists, "We're beginning to see really traditional artists coming into the digital art field. These artists are much more grounded in the concept of the original. They know they have to understand market values."

Digital Art in the Marketplace

Despite these hurdles, however, people are buying digital art. While some buyers come from a technological background, there is no real collector profile, other than an intelligent, informed eye, according to Universal Concept's Ziola, who said her clientele is varied and growing. At the time of writing this article, the gallery had just opened Gillette's "A Tangled Bank" exhibit, and a good third of the works had sold prior to the opening.

And mainstream publishers are beginning to jump on board. Applejack Art Partners of Manchester Center, Vt., has found success publishing the work of digital artist Anthony Morrow. And Alan Fleishman of DATzArt! of Northridge, Calif., said the work of South American digital artist Ileana is gaining attention for its lush depictions of exotic women.

Meanwhile, five years' after she began sketching on her Mac, Corey has exhibited in regular gallery shows with artists like Tom Moody and Marsha Cottrell and has experienced a steady growth of collectors. This year's recipient of the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art's Annual Emerging Artist award, her works sell from $500 to $6,000. "Remember" she laughed, "I'm the emerging artist."
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Author:La Rocco, Claudia
Publication:Art Business News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2001
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