This week we’re exploring the Digital Arts Market (or lack thereof). We’re asking the tough questions: What will it take for a sustainable digital arts market to form? Is that even a possibility? Can the digital arts make money? And will they ever be incorporated into the contemporary arts dialogue? We invite you to participate in the discussion in the comments section, on your own blog (send us the link!), and on Facebook and Twitter (#DIGART). Let's get the conversation started!
In a world of endless screens ruled by the CPU, it seems absurd to refer to something as "digital," as everything is in some way digital these days. But this article is not about physical objects, sculptures, paintings, or installations. This article is about artworks bound by the screen: JPEGs, videos, animated GIFs, websites, web applications, etc., the monetization of these commodities, and the community who makes them.
I feel that my perspective on the commodification of digital art is extremely skewed, as I am an artist active in a largely digital-based art community, but have spent the last two years of my practice producing primarily paintings—a very traditional art object with a very traditional market. Even so, I have been fortunate enough to sell a couple of websites and Paint FX JPEGs.
Parker Ito, The Most Infamous Girl in the History of the Internet / Attractive Student / Parked Domain Girl (2010-2012)
My early forays into digital art began in 2008. My roommate at the time was spending her nights and days online looking at web-based art, developing crushes on all the artists, and somehow I started soaking it all up. I remember coming across the work of Rafaël Rozendaal and being really excited. The narcissist in me saw something charming about owning that amount of internet real estate.
Rafael's work was really my first introduction to the "single-serving site" format. For those not familiar with the single-serving site format, it's very simple: one URL to one page of content. The single-serving site is a great artistic platform because it ensures the artwork's uniqueness, as a domain name can only be owned by a singular party at any time—and an artwork's uniqueness is crucial for a lot of collectors.
Another benefit of these types of works is the ability for them to stay public. If a collector is buying a single-serving site, it's not going into a vault where no one can see it, it's still on the web ready to be appreciated. In a way, this is the best of both worlds, and in my eyes the single-serving site has the greatest potential to be monetized by the mainstream art world.
Tumbler.Me.Uk (2011), Olivia Calix (Parker Ito & Sarah Hartnett), website
The problem is that the people viewing internet-based artworks are not usually in the position to be collectors, and collectors aren't really comfortable with collecting this kind of art yet. For the most part, traditional collectors want a unique piece that generates value over time, and they aren't adventurous. A lot of collectors seem to buy more with their ears than with their eyes. There needs to be a generational shift in who's collecting artwork. Since collectors usually start collecting much later than artists begin making works, we need to either wait until the internet generation is ready to become collectors, or there needs to be a serious shift within the art world's power structure.
Is art world 1.0, a system that has been in place for hundreds of years, ready to leave behind its top-down approach for a more user (artist) generated version 2.0?
But another worthy point is, do artist working in digital mediums even want to be monetized? The obvious answer may seem like yes, of course everyone wants to make money, but people on the internet have an inherent desire to participate, create, and share regardless of the reward. There's a beautiful purism to the whole notion of people just creating and sharing passionately through the internet. Artists of my generation are born prosumers (a person who simultaneously produces and consumes culture), we grew up online, and a lot of us are actively, creatively participating online before we even call it art. This is the air we breathe, it feels very natural, and we have the freedom to create whatever we can imagine.
The art world can taint all of this though by attempting to control the internet through exhibitions and contextual texts, and some artists working primarily in digital mediums actively resist this. I'm in the middle as I am passionate about the potential of the internet, but I love money, want to make a living off my work, and am actively pursuing the mainstream art world.
Illustration by Parker Ito.
But I'm not even sure if the artists and art of the future will even care about the traditional art world. An artist friend of mine Jeff Baij was once asked by the Whitney Museum to send an artist statement and documentation of his work for exhibition consideration. He responded by sending a CDR of every artwork he had ever made and a statement explaining why museums have no future.
Some artists working in the early days of the internet sought to use the digital realms to subvert the mainstream art world. Due to not having studios or money for supplies, the ease of putting work online started to become very attractive. But these days the internet is a very obvious place for young artists to work. With the emergence of the prosumer, pop culture is at an all time creative peak, and the art world looks boring in comparison to the internet.
In short, I think if digital artists want monetization it will come in the advent of a major shift in the art world… or maybe a shift in the kinds of digital art that is produced for a market. Online art is usually very successful (view-wise) when it blurs the borders of art and entertainment, and different outlets for making money lie within this space. For example, making music videos, making GIFs for a fashion company, or companies like OKFocus who build interactive, viral sites in partnership with brands create works that are not usually shown in galleries, but they are forms compensated in a traditional way.
The internet leaves plenty of room for opportunity though, and Brad Troemel's lecture "Free Art" demonstrates some of the new ways for the arts to exist in the 21st century.
When Damien Hirst curated “Freeze” in 1988 right out of graduate school (the first time he exhibited his famous shark piece), the London art world latched onto it, and it became one of the exhibitions that made the careers all of the artists involved—the YBAs (Young British Artists).
Since the past has taught us that "movements" only become "a thing" when they're contextualized nicely by someone in power, a major exhibition (online or offline) curated by someone important could make digital art the new hot commodity. The YIBAs (Young Internet-Based Artist) are ready and waiting.
Or maybe we can all learn something from Thomas Kinkade?
Parker Ito is an internet-based artist. His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally at the Berkeley Art Museum, MOCA Los Angeles, Johan Berggren Gallery, and the 53rd Venice Biennale for the first ever Internet Pavilion. From 2009-2011, in collaboration with Caitlin Denny, he ran JstChillin.org, an online-based curatorial platform that curated shows online and offline in San Francisco and New York. Upcoming projects include a solo exhibition at Stadium NYC, and organizing the Second Great Internet Sleepover at Eyebeam NYC. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.