Art critics care about user interface, but they aren’t generally well trained or eager to speak about paintings and sculptures in technological terms. Using new tools to better present fine art is often treated as a gauche plea for attention. After all, the thinking goes, classic is classic.
But just because a masterpiece can stand on its own with technology doesn’t mean it has to. And just because a work of art incorporates technology doesn’t mean it can’t be a stand-alone masterpiece. These are the dual tenants of the digital art revolution currently underway at an internet — and maybe a museum — near you.
Here’s what new technologies and new ways of presenting imagery are doing to change the way we look at art.
Capturing the Tiniest Details
Hieronimus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights is gorgeous. This interactive tour through Bosch’s complex painting is just one part of a transmedia tryptich devoted to exploring Bosch’s work. The website allows viewers to explore the painting’s details freely, flitting from detail to detail as they might in a museum, but it also offers dynamic tours and explanations for each small image.
Bosch’s work, ever the favorite of digital artists and developers, has also been adapted into a VR experience for those who want to experience his freaky monsters up close.
Making Masterpieces Accessible
Some artists, like the designers running the Gluten Free Museum Tumblr account, have satirized the concept of curating the classical art canon for new demographics, but some accessible tech has actually made art more beautiful.
Unseen Art, a 3D printing endeavor out of Helsinki, makes textured versions of classic paintings meant for blind and visually impaired people to explore with their fingers.
Making Viewing Art Less Passive
Bounden, an iOS app partially designed by the Dutch National Ballet, asks players to work in teams of two as they manipulate a digital landscape by moving their bodies in sync. The product of the app’s gameplay is a digital gaming experience, and a recreation of choreography inspired by classical ballet.
Le Petit Architecte, a game designed by the #decorbuziers exhibition in Romantso, Athens, Greece, allows users to digitally design a pristine building using architectural tools, and promptly destroy it by hurling digital cats and garbage at it.
Though the game is the brainchild of several prestigious museums and art critics (all of whom are listed on its website), it combines the zaniness natural to any joke born on the internet with a clean design aesthetic. It also satirizes the experience of architectural interns, which is a pretty “inside baseball” joke for curators and those who work deep in the art world, but the game makes that unique frustration relatable.
Integrating Data for Context
It’s no secret that data viz has become a huge business in the last few years. PR and digital marketing agencies are falling over themselves trying to hire programmers who have artistic flair, or fine artists who can prove their digital literacy. We’re living in a world where The Best American Infographics lives in bookstores alongside essays by David Sedaris and comics from Adrian Tomine, and data viz has only grown as a medium from the widespread exposure.
Particle Falls, the exhibit designed by digital media scholar Andrea Polli, changes color in immediate response to the data Polli feeds it regarding air pollution. Artist Laurie Frick illustrates large swaths of data using tactile materials like paint and wood. One of her pieces recreates the way in which she touches her laptop or iPhone screen into a colorful landscape, and another represents medical data by turning each case study into a color-coded pile of wood. Frick’s wood pieces fall off the table, illustrating how overwhelmed researchers are, regarding ALS symptoms, in an arresting manner only possible through physical art.
Frick’s sculptures and paintings, and the work of the other artists on this list, wouldn’t be possible without access to information. Thus, the internet works as a tool for classical and fine artists, but it’s also a medium of its own.