Adhoc Editorials

The Expansion of Digitalism and the New Reality

Whether we’ve admitted to it or not, we live in an extremely digital world. As you read this, I am able to communicate with you digitally. It is an expansion ubiquitous to technological advances and our enhanced lifestyles. So what does this term “digitalism” mean for the art world? Today, it means a change. Art is one of the oldest forms of visual discourse we’ve ever known. From viewing, to sharing, and even buying, we are seeing the world of art change before us. To study this expansion of digitalism in art, I am visiting an article published in 2014 by Jonathan Bowen from Birmingham City University and Tula Giannini from Pratt Institute titled Digitalism: The New Realism? Through this article and other examples of digital expansion, we can observe the important affects of digitalism in art.

The term “digital” has many definitions depending on the context of its use. Before understanding its meaning in the art world, we need to be able to define it as it is used in the contemporary art world. Bowen and Giannini observed digitalism in a cultural and artistic context in order to define and understand its involvement with society. According to their definition, “digital” in art refers to artists’ use of computers and its involvement in the creation and sharing of the arts.1

Creative Process

There are many ways artists have involved digitalism in their works. Digital, when involved in creative processes, can influence many fields including print, photography, and even painting. Digital painting is quickly establishing itself within the art world and should begin to be recognized by critics and audiences alike as a new media. In a recent interview with visual artist Anne Vieux, I learned that she considers her works to be categorized as digital paintings and supports Bowen and Giannini’s definition of digitalism, involving the use of computers in her creative process. Her work experiments with optics and challenges the traditional notions of painting by turning them into digital forms of an abstract language. Her works can also exist and be shared through the digital platform of video that is used to bring these paintings to life through movement, exploring the image’s relationship with a digital plane. Other artists like Sophie Lourdes Knight use traditional painting techniques of paint on canvas, but incorporate photoshop, a digital creative tool, in her creative process to reconstruct an image before executing the final image onto a painted canvas.

Double Double (Double Vision II & III) Inkjet Print on Fabric, Acrylic Paint, Frame. 2014.
Double Double (Double Vision II & III) Inkjet Print on Fabric, Acrylic Paint, Frame. 2014.

In some instances, digitalism has removed all traditional practices of painting. David Hockney is a celebrated painter in the world of art and has recently become an influential contributor to the expansion of digital art by taking his bright and colorful painted landscapes to a new plane. In 2014, Hockney had an exhibition at the de Young Museum titled “A Bigger Exhibition” that featured prints of digital paintings he created entirely on an iPad using an app called Brushes. Of course, this raised many concerns from audiences regarding its legitimacy to be exhibited as “art.” Many critics discredited these works by comparing them to the famous traditional paintings Hockney has made in the past. The issue with creating judgements like these is that digital painting is an entirely new and developing media that deserves its own merit and can never be compared to any work of traditional painting. Deputy director Richard Benefield of the de Young Museum supported the exhibition and its works by stating, “[Hockney] thinks it’s a new medium and that it’s here to stay.”2 Despite the criticism, Hockney has continued to create these digital paintings and exemplifies the modern shift of digital creativity available to other artists and institutions exhibiting them.

David Hockney Yosemite I, October 16th 2011 iPad Drawing printed on six sheets of paper (71 3/4 x 42 3/4 in. each), mounted on six sheets of Dibond  © 2013 David Hockney
David Hockney Yosemite I, October 16th 2011 iPad Drawing printed on six sheets of paper (71 3/4 x 42 3/4 in. each), mounted on six sheets of Dibond
© 2013 David Hockney

Exhibitionism & Institutions

Another aspect in which digitalism has influenced the art world is the widespread accessibility of viewing, documenting, and sharing art. Gallery spaces and museum institutions are classically known for creating a curated environment that allows for visual arguments to be made through a manipulated relationship between exhibition and audience.3 But there is now an overwhelming digital representation of work online that allows us to easily gather this argument without the role of a primary creator or author.

Bowen and Giannini approach the effect of digitalism on viewership with the example of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris. If you’ve ever experienced the Louvre, you can testify that viewing the Mona Lisa comes with many challenges. You’re also probably one of the many who have taken a picture of your visiting experience for documentation or proof. Digitialism comes into context here through the technological use of digital devices such as cell phones or tablets in museums to document the experience. That documentation can then be broadcast to various outlets such as social media, family and friends, or even just to be viewed later. In some cases even, the documentation is never viewed again.4 When we consider the reality of the painting, no viewer of the Mona Lisa is seeing the work for the first time and this is due to its abundant presence created from digital reproduction, which I am sure you are familiar with. In fact, let me humor you with a digital reproduction of it right now.

Leonardo da Vinci Mona Lisa 1503-1517
Leonardo da Vinci Mona Lisa 1503-1517

Walter Benjamin argues that technological reproductions of artwork like the Mona Lisa have led to a qualitative transformation in the exhibition value of work.5 Through its overwhelming presence and popularity as an art icon, we have already become extremely familiar with the work even without viewing it in an exhibition setting. But according to Martin Beck and his article “The Exhibition and the Display,” this is still a relevant digital experience of exhibitionism in which there is a “visual presentation of data” that can be collected by viewers.6

Some institutions have even applied digitalism to the entire viewing experience. The Google Art project has become the greatest example of this as it has presented museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City with the opportunity to allow viewers to take a virtual tour of the galleries and their collection with the use of a computer or any digital device. In this way, a person’s exposure to art is nearly limitless due to the ubiquitous presence of digital devices. The Met is not the only institution to do this. Other museums including the The Museum of Modern Art, The Amon Carter Museum of American Art, and the Van Gogh Museum are just some examples of the institutions that have recognized this opportunity for digitally sharing art and exhibiting visual data exclusively from their institution.

This is even more exciting as institutions have integrated digitalism into new professional and educational opportunities. Recently, a position titled Curator and Associate Director of Technology Initiatives was created at the New Museum with Lauren Cornell fulfilling its role. Her practices will be to lead digital projects in the museum in conjunction with public programs and traveling exhibitions. Opportunities like this are new and quickly expanding. The Pratt Institute recently announced a new Masters degree titled Museums and Digital Culture. Beginning in the fall of 2015, Pratt states they hope the degree “breaks new ground as a cutting-edge program that prepares students as museum professionals for the digital age,” as per the degree description. This new opportunity for learning will involve students in practicing technological studies in direct relation with museum institutions such as Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum, Whitney Museum, and others in New York. Digitalism is no longer experimental. We see it now as a growing professional practice that is leading to new and exciting opportunities for the public.

(See also New Museum Creates New Tech Leadership Post, Appoints Lauren Cornell)


Other aspects, even art buying, have observed drastic evolution since the expansion of digitalism. A recent purchasing success was made during the 2015 PULSE art fair in New York that put Copenhagen based Gallery Poulsen in the news. Like all art galleries exhibiting at the fair, Gallery Poulsen shared images of their booth on their Instagram encouraging visitors to their space. This is not uncommon. In fact, it would be uncommon for a gallery not to publish a post on such a digital platform sharing their involvement. However, this post happened to reach known art collector Leonardo DiCaprio where he saw a painting by Jean-Pierre Roy titled Nachlass. He then made a call to the gallery where he then proceeded to purchase the work immediately without making any effort outside the realm of digitalism. Social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter have since expanded public access to art and art institutions, eliminating the hierarchy of the physical gallery space and making works more accessible to the public not only for exhibiting, but in the case of Gallery Poulsen, for selling.

Jean-Pierre Roy Nachlass 2015
Jean-Pierre Roy Nachlass 2015

We see examples of digital and social interaction in art all the time. Without having to expand on it, we can make references to Richard Prince’s controversial use of Instagram, and art citric Jerry Saltz’s former use of Facebook. These examples of digital companies are so well known because of their rapid expansion that has catalyzed social interaction.7

(see also New Portraits at Gagosian Gallery, I Got Kicked Off of Facebook for Posting Images of Medieval Art)

In combination with reality, digitalism has enhanced activities and experiences within the art world. We see artists like David Hockney creating new creative opportunities for artists, subverting the traditional practice of painting and embracing digital technology. Even greater, we see art institutions beginning to transform exhibitionism and visitor experience through projects such as Google Art and social media and embracing it through new employment and educational opportunities that can enhance our knowledge of society’s relationship with digitalism. It is an exciting transformation that will soon lead to new experiences for art and artists alike.

If you want to learn more about the advancement of digitalism in the art world and museum cultures, check out this information below. I hope it inspires you as much as it has inspired me.

A New York Museums and Pratt partnership: Building Web collections and preparing museum professionals for the digital world. MW2015: Museums and the Web 2015, April 8 – 11, 2015 in Chicago, IL. By Tula Giannini and Jonathan Bowen.

Free, an exhibition at New Museum curated by Lauren Cornell, 2010 – 2011.

Down the Line, published in Frieze Magazine in 2011, written by Lauren Cornell.

Seven on Seven is presented by Rhizome (if you don’t know Rhizome, I urge you to become even just slightly informed) to pair leading artists with technologies, challenging them to make something new every year.

All of these TED Talks with curator Paola Antonelli will leave you inspired to learn more about the design culture, which has seen growth through the involvement of digitalism.

The Most Modern Curator, published in The Atlantic by Megan Garber in 2014 discusses Paola Antonelli’s work at the MoMA, including design and technology.


  1. Giannini T. and Bowen, J.P. Electronic Visualization and the Arts Annual Conference London July, 2014. Digitalism, The New Realism? 326. Conference Proceedings.
  2. “iPad Is an Artist’s Canvas for David Hockney.” Bits iPad Is an Artists Canvas for David Hockney Comments. 10 Jan. 2014. Web. 26 June 2015.
  3. Beck, Martin. “The Exhibition and the Display.” Exhibition. Ed. Lucy Steed. London: Whitechapel Gallery, 2014. 28, 30. Print.
  4. Giannini T. and Bowen, J.P. Electronic Visualization and the Arts Annual Conference London July, 2014. Digitalism, The New Realism? 325. Conference Proceedings.
  5. Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility.” Exhibition. Ed. Lucy Steed. London: Whitechapel Gallery, 2014. 26. Print.
  6. Beck, Martin. “The Exhibition and the Display.” Exhibition. Ed. Lucy Steed. London: Whitechapel Gallery, 2014. 27. Print.
  7. Giannini T. and Bowen, J.P. Electronic Visualization and the Arts Annual Conference London July, 2014. Digitalism, The New Realism? 325. Conference Proceedings.



Last modified: July 21, 2015