Often denigrated by so-called traditionalists, digital art has captured the headlines in recent months as sales soar to record levels even surpassing works by the Renaissance masters.
The movement has been energised by NFTs, non-fungible tokens, that exist on the blockchain. In this article, we pit physical art against digital art to see which makes more sense in this fast-approaching Ready Player One world.
Globally, museums like the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and The Guggenheim Museum in New York have jumped onto the digital bandwagon curating beautiful virtual tours of their physical spaces. The Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting need to provide better online services and solutions has only encouraged and legitimized the going digital shift in the art world.
These virtual tours are not meant to completely replace the experience of walking through a museum in person. Many die-hard art enthusiasts will still choose to attend in person, seemingly unphased by the sheeplike tour groups, bored and crying children and the dreaded camera wielding moron literally stepping on toes trying to get the perfect shot.
To get access to the Mona Lisa for thirty seconds, you are expected to queue for around two hours. And even when you make it into her room, you’ll probably only get to see her through the screen of someone’s camera or obstructed by a 6-foot bald guy with a bomber jacket.
Virtual tours allow the visitor to pause and appreciate each work, skipping forward and back at their leisure ultimately allowing for a purely personal experience with each work. And since it’s already digital, there is no need to skewer the moment with obsessive photo-taking. For the less physically inclined, the only thing lacking is a gallery that doesn’t require any walking.
For those of you who haven’t cleaned your computer monitor for years, you couldn’t imagine how much work it is to maintain a physical art collection.
Paintings are sensitive to light, heat and humidity and let’s be quite honest, dusting is a real pain. But it is necessary because dust is abrasive and acidic. There’s also the constant threat of a sickly visitor sneezing on a prized watercolour.
To be sure, we’re not hating on the restoration and preservation of old masterpieces that have faded over time. That is important work.
We’re just saying that going digital from a gallery owner’s perspective makes a lot of sense because a digital painting, even with a global nuclear war, would likely still survive.
The National Gallery in London has a floor area of 46,369 m2 and showcases 2,300 paintings. That’s a whopping 20.16 m2 per painting. In some less advantaged parts of the world, this space would house an entire family.
But it’s not just the incredible space that these museums occupy to display their art, it’s the space required to store the surplus. These works, deemed inferior by snobby curators, are doomed to reside in the dusty shadows of dank warehouses and basements, never achieving art’s ultimate purpose – to be pondered and praised by human eyes.
At the Museum of Modern Art in New York, 24 of 1221 Picasso’s can currently be seen by visitors. And Jean Miro, the surrealist, just nine out of 156 works. When looking at museums worldwide, roughly 5% of their entire collections are curated for the public.
Digital galleries, like Cur8, provide the solution to a lack of physical spaciousness. They can house an almost infinite amount of art, only being limited by the size of the cloud, which is hardly a limitation at all. None of the so-called lesser works need to be relegated to a storage space, but instead can express their aesthetic essence to billions of art nuts the world over.
Throughout history, various artworks have been victim to the emotional outbursts of offended or deranged members of our species. Rembrandt’s The Night Watch was splashed with acid and slashed with a knife.
The Rokeby Venus by Diego Velázquez offended a suffragette and was duly punished with the aid of a meat cleaver. Hardly a fitting treatment of such a curvaceous rump.
The Mona Lisa lost a part of her elbow when a vandal hurled a rock at her. She is now shielded by bulletproof glass which has since protected her from both a spray paint and flying teacup attack.
Needless to say, digital art is not vulnerable to vandalism. If a hapless individual, however, did take umbrage, he is welcome to slash and splash the art since the only damage incurred would be that of his innocent computer screen.
Digital artists and curators of their work can sleep easy at night knowing full well that their collections will be there in the morning, perfectly preserved and protected from Neanderthals with ulterior motives.
Moving paintings around the world is prohibitively expensive because they need to be properly packaged and secured every leg of the journey.
The size, weight and fragility of the work add additional complication to a successful delivery.
The use of the wrong crating materials, a careless truck driver or bad weather on route are also potential risks that need to be safeguarded against.
The following mistakes, from TSI Shipping, a moving and shipping company in Philadelphia, should be avoided:
- Not wearing gloves.
- Using poor quality tools and packing materials.
- Using the wrong sized box.
- Not protecting corners.
- Using packing peanuts instead of bubble wrap.
- Not lining your painting before wrapping in bubble wrap.
Bear in mind, the above points are directed towards regular folks shipping their own art.
Imagine how much more is involved when safely securing a Raphael or Titian when they go on a world tour. These collections are often shipped by sea which could take months.
Then there is the additional hassle of dealing with customs if you cross borders and the temporary storage of the work in warehouses while galleries and museums are prepared for them.
The moving of digital art from one gallery to the next is a little less complicated. In fact, it takes just a few mouse clicks to make it happen, whether it’s curating, renting or buying and selling.
The risk of damage or theft on route is non-existent. This ease of movement is good for the galleries as well as the artist because it means instant access for anyone, anytime, anyplace.
Ditching paintings for pixels is a real thing and is happening as we speak. Whether in the luxury of your own home or in the virtual rooms of the metaverse, digital galleries like Cur8 are destined to replace physical ones. They enable a private contemplation and personal interaction with art which is how art should be experienced.
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