No longer is art created only with paint or marble or metal. Digital artists create on computers. They paint with keyboards. They sculpt with software. This form of art has been around for a while. But it has been mostly under-recognized, at least by the upper echelons of the art world. That apparently is changing.
The Whitney Museum is in the vanguard of promoting digital art. Its famed walls provide a showcase for the new "digital" exhibit called "BitStreams." And, according to curator Larry Rinder, the move from relative obscurity is long overdue.
Mr. Rinder said, "We all do engage somehow or other with digital technology every day of our lives. And I think that the effect of digital technology on our lives is something we haven't really had a chance to reflect on. It's all happened so quickly. What this exhibition will give you is a chance to think about how digital technology has transformed their everyday experience."
"BitStreams" reaches for new dimensions of artistic expression. It transforms images, space, data. It involves fascinating crossovers among such media as film, video, sculptures, and photography. The result is a new way of creating and viewing art.
Jeremy Blake is a digital artist who said, "I come up with sketches just like a painter would and then I start making fuller versions of these things in the computer on photo-shots. And once those still images are done, I begin to think about how they can make a move, so they have a sort of psychological impact, a kind of dream-like flow. I think if you grew up in my generation, drawing, playing video games, watching 'Star Wars,' and admiring painters, it kind of like all comes together, culturally."
Digital art is not just limited to flashing lights and flat panel displays. A section in the Whitney is devoted to digital sound art. Headphones are attached.
Marina Rosenfeld is a sound artist. She creates what are called soundscapes. She said, "I'm working with sound that came from instruments, went through processing, were then put on acetate records. I'm spinning them on turntables, processing them again in a performance situation."
Critics say the message in digital art, if you are looking for one, could be that nothing is as it seems. Digital artists, in a sense, manipulate reality. But manipulating or manufacturing reality is what artists of all types tend to do. The Whitney Museum sees digital art as a natural progression of artistic endeavor.
The director of the Whitney Museum, Maxwell Anderson, believes this new form of art will endure. He says it is not just a fad. "I absolutely assume that artists will continue to mine this area," he said. "And it will no longer be an area. And it will be the same as painting. People wouldn't say, 'do you think painting is going to be a part of art in the future?' Of course it is."
Included in the current showing at the Whitney is an exhibition of Internet art called "Data Dynamics." It focuses on searching for visual models that represent a continuously changing flow of information. These models offer navigational possibilities exploring the different dynamics of data, such as mapping language, stories, or traffic in virtual spaces.
Meanwhile, The Whitney Museum has launched a website (artport.whitney.org) designed as a main portal to Internet and digital art worldwide. It includes an online gallery space for works that are new and specially commissioned by the museum.
The Whitney Museum has been a leader in promoting 20th and 21st century American art since it was founded in 1930. As such it is considered a logical conduit for this latest form of expression.
The Whitney's holdings today include about 12,000 works representing more than 1,900 hundred artists.