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Thoughts on Digital Art (01/31/21)

Digital art is nothing new! There, I said it. Artists have been creating using a computer for as long as computers have been available.

The art ‘market’ though has tended to be rather stagnant over the millenia, and the processes in which art is sold has remained pretty much the same.

The internet began to change the way in which art was ‘consumed.’ Prior to the internet, an artist would create a work, and was limited to how they gained exposure for that work.

Traditionally, you had a few primary routes to getting your work seen and hopefully selling it.

An artist could photograph their work, send those photographs in the form of a portfolio to established galleries, hoping their work would be accepted for display.

  • An artist owned their own gallery at which their art was displayed.
  • Local ‘collaborative’ galleries, shops or other retail establishments allowed artists space to display their art
  • Artists traveled to art shows, usually local or regional, where they could display their art.

All of these outlets to display a person's creativity were limited to how much effort and time the artist chose in marketing their work. It meant that the average artist’s work was never seen by more than a local or regional consumer.

It was only the rare ‘super artist’ that would be ‘discovered’ by a more prominent gallery or museum that would begin to have a global audience. For an artist to be seen prior to the age of the internet was not common, and many artists only produced and sold within their geographic limitation.

The internet, followed by the advent of social media, changed the way art was consumed, and ultimately displayed and sold. On the internet, an artist had the possible ability to have a global artist at the click of a button.

But wait, the internet only provided the ‘opportunity’ to be seen by a global audience, it did not guarantee that. As artists discovered, your exposure was directly related to the amount of effort and time the artist chose in marketing their work. Hmm, I’m sensing a trend.

And it is understood that prior to the internet, and with the advent of the internet, if an artist was successful enough, they would hire a marketing person or team to assist in the exposure of their work. That allowed the artist to create, and the marketer to market.

Along came social media. Now an artist could create their work, photograph it, and post it on a variety of social media channels. Instant global recognition! Well, not exactly. Though social media provides a greater ‘opportunity’ for exposure, one thing has not changed. The exposure is directly related to the amount of effort and time the artist chooses to spend promoting their work on social media.

With the internet and social media, having a ‘global audience’ does not mean having global exposure. Just because you build it, does not mean it will be seen. Art still has to be marketed in order to reach an audience. The number of channels available have increased substantially, and the opportunity for a broader ‘reach’ have increased, but that does not guarantee exposure.

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Case study
I’m a 70 year old pleinair painter in a small hamlet in England. Prior to the internet, I painted, had my painting displayed in a local shop, and hoped it was sold. Or dreaming big, discovered by someone who would display my painting in a larger setting. There was little to no global exposure unless I was discovered and promoted by a prominent gallery.

With the internet, I could now photograph my painting, create a website, and… hope somebody would notice. Unless I was an expert in SEO (search engine optimization), my website sat on the web with millions of other sites, waiting to be discovered.

As the internet progressed, I could learn SEO, learn how to email market, and gain a wider audience. But I’m a 70 year old pleinair painter. What’s my password to my computer? If I learned those new skills and took the time away from my painting, I could possibly reach a wider audience.

Then social media comes along, I’ve photographed my painting, paid for a website with a sales function, created a Twitter and Insta account, and… does a Tweet go out to everybody on Twitter? Am I reaching millions on social media? No, I only have 10 followers, and they are my grandkids - they already have my paintings in their rooms. So I need to spend time away from my painting navigating the endless droll of social media hoping I can find an audience, or dreaming big, hope my work is discovered.

In the end, I am still a pleinair painter in a small hamlet in England, who must stop painting to market my work, or hire someone to market for me. Not much has changed.

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As we move into the 21st century, and the internet and social media is common, whether the artist was a pleinair painter in a small hamlet in England, or a digital artist in a loft in Seattle, the effort required to become successful as an artist has not changed. It all goes back to the effort and time the artist chooses to expend towards marketing their work. The opportunities for exposure and discovery are greater, and the possibility of being seen by a wider global artist are available, but that doesn’t happen organically. Promotion does not happen through photo-synthesis.

Then in 2020, Covid19 reared its ugly spikes, and a couple things happened which painted the artworld onto a different canvas, in a manner of speaking.

Cryptocurrency began to rise
More people were now sitting at a computer

How did that change the nature in which art is consumed, and ultimately purchased? Well, like any advance in technology, there is the good and the bad.

Cryptocurrency, and several new technologies that utilize digital currency, now allow for an artist to drop their art into a specific platform, and in turn, allow another person on that platform the instantly (well, sometimes not so instant) purchase, collect, and resell that piece of art, all at the click of a button.

Superrare, rarible, knownorigin, nifty gateway and other similar platforms allow for a digital representation of a piece of art to be sold as a monetized, unique, digital purchase, and allowing instant curation of collections to be available.

Understanding the complexities of this process are vast, and are not going to be addressed here. There are hundreds of great explanations of the process available online.

Personally, though I have differences of opinion with the benefits of this concept, overall, as I watched the movement grow exponentially in 2020, saw some potential in all of it. I did not, and still do not, envelope the cult behavior that sometimes comes with this movement, but do believe cryptoart, as it has come to be called, is a valuable addition to the artworld in general.

But, digital art is nothing new. I said it again. Cryptoart only provides an alternate means of exposure, adding another layer of marketing towards the display and sale of art. An artist that chooses to go the cryptoart direction, is still only as successful as they chose to be dependent on the amount of effort and time they chose to put into their marketing.

In the end, still nothing has changed, and like I have mentioned several times now, the advancement in technology has simply created more channels in which marketing and sales can possibly be advantageous to the artist.

That brings us full circle to the new group of ‘digital artists’ that have emerged during the Covid19 lockdowns. Have I mentioned that digital art is nothing new? My first, successfully sold ‘canvas’ was a piece of digital art - created in Photoshop in 1997! Long before many of the new strain of digital artists were even born.

Like all my art, it started with a photo, loaded into Photoshop, morphed into a digital piece of art, then applied to canvas with acrylic paint, touched up, and framed! But it is technically still ‘digital art’ created and sold in 1997!

And as you wonder the websites and social media feeds of many established artists, you will see many of them have been creating their digital art for decades - or as long as a computer allowed an artist to utilize it to create.

Many of the new breed of digital artists though, seem to not understand the history of digital art, or possibly just don’t know about. Due to Covid19 lockdowns, and people needing to find community online, many found that by learning a few art related applications, they too could become digital artists. And more power to them.

But what has been missed is the effort and time aspect of art. It is very rare that a piece of art is accidentally created in a short period of time and becomes an instant and large sale. Understand it DOES happen, but that is not the norm.

The norm of a digital artist is hours of hard work and creativity, only set aside for hours of marketing, in order to possibly gain the global exposure that could project their art into a profitable business.

Many have been successful at this, yet again, their success is backed up by many hours of creative effort towards their ultimate goal. Success in the artworld, digital or not, rarely comes from a ‘lucky break’ that required little effort. It all goes back to the amount of effort and time an artist puts into both their creations and their marketing.

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Case Study continued
It’s 2021, I’m now an 85 year-old pleinair artist in a small hamlet in England, and my grandson recently sold my photograph of a painting I created 30 years ago as a digital NFT on Superrare to a collector in Australia. I now have a positive Ethereum balance in my digital wallet that I can hodl.

But my grandson is unhappy with the amount of effort and time it took on social media to get the exposure needed to make that sale, and told me I needed to learn how to do it myself.

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#digitalart #art #cryptoart