Abridged version of the original article by Jack Miles & Douglas McLennan. Originally appeared in ArtsJournal.com under the title "Digital goes Critical"
Is there such a thing as digital art? A generation of artists working in pixels and logarithms and computer monitors proclaims that digital is a new medium, a fully legitimate medium in which 0s and 1s replace paint and canvas.
Getting critics and curators to agree, however, has been more complicated. Despite numerous websites devoted to digital art and thousands of practitioners, many mainstream art critics have maintained that digital as an art form has not yet really taken shape. What hasnt really taken shape, however, may be, more exactly, a framework, a vocabulary in which digital art can be discussed and appreciated by non-practitioners.
The online world has promised us a new, more democratic way of doing things, where innovation and understanding of the world are untethered from the traditional arbiters of taste and legitimacy. But it has taken recognition by a more traditional but ultimately more accessible authority the museum to push digital art into the wider world.
The Whitney Museums first digital acquisition was made as far back as 1994. Last year for the first time, the Whitney Biennial included art in a digital medium, serving notice that the larger art world was paying increasing attention. Also in 2000 the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art awarded a prize for digital art.
On January 1, 2001, SFMOMA opened 010101: Art in Technological Times for online viewing. Director David Ross staked an unmistakable claim for the medium and for his own institution. Digital art may have achieved critical mass with the opening of BitStreams on March 22, 2001, the Whitneys first major exhibition devoted to the practitioners of a kind of art that even now few can define and some still say does not exist.
There are signs that longer-term admittance to the art club is shaping up. The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, by way of a gift from AOL, has assembled the first ever museum collection of internet art. Digital art is finally in play in the larger art world, and discussions about how it can be defined are now taking place well outside of the immediate digital community.
Art World Credibility
Computer-aided art is gaining credibility from collectors and institutions, who are not only buying it but commissioning it too. The history of digital art may go through a set of steps increasingly familiar in cyberspace. First, creative amateurs circulate their own work without charge partly because there is still no market for it and partly because no one quite knows how to charge for it. Second, nonprofit institutions confer legitimacy while introducing the artists to the right people. Third, a true market emerges. The combination of 010101 and BitStreams may mark digital arts passage from the first stage to the second as "digital artists
break down another boundary: the one between them and the art worlds upper echelons" [New York Magazine].
One thing is certain: digital art is here to stay.