The modern digital artist

As a modern digital artist, I sometimes think about the position and exposure of the modern digital artist. This time I wrote down my thoughts.

I’ve read that the author is dead, lived through the artist being present, browsed the outsider art of Japan and am currently witnessing the replacement of the artist with a creative entrepreneur.

Through my experiences, I’ve formed my views based on a few core beliefs (which could all easily be misconceptions):

  • the cultural understanding of the artist as a solitary genius is only a 200 years old
  • art, as an accepted canon, really only began in the 20th century, as the art world became institutionalised and formalised between universities, institutions and the art market
  • art as a concept, splitting from the artisan, is also relatively new
  • outsider art is also domestic art, ego-less art, or art as a rejection to the formalised structure of art ranking

This leads me to one obvious conclusion: art is a nebulous term. It shifts to avoid definition. Art is as beholden to the beholder’s conceptions as the works that are defined by the label.

So what x,y,z coordinates does digital art inhabit inside the turbulent 3D sphere?

There’s no doubt that elements have already been subsumed into the art canon. I find it unlikely that any art historian wouldn’t know the name Nam June Paik, and Cory Archangel – whose agent once emailed me about a blog post I wrote – is at least making enough bank to have staff.

If we accept “art” at its most inclusive definition, however, then the rise of the digital artist has led to an exponential increase in the accessibility of outsider artists. It’s hard to argue that sites like are without artistic merit, and zombo is just one of a million artistic sites online.

These pieces don’t have an institution – or an agent – behind them. They’re pure exploration and imagination. They’re solitary experiences that resonate with millions of internet users. To label these creatives lone geniuses might be a stretch, but the creative process is not dissimilar.

The other aspect of these pieces is that they’re unmonetisable. An industry can’t develop around these pieces – at least, not in the way we’ve seen them develop before.

Does this leave the two in different opposition? Can an industry founded on the monetary value of works continue to work in this context, if digital art becomes the giant?

Regarding digital artist remuneration, one solution for these artists is Patreon, where people who enjoy the works can access them for free, and optionally offer to support their favourite creatives via regular, patron-like direct donations to artists.

A direct patron-creative relationship takes us beyond the 200 year-old art-genius label, to Shakespeare’s time, although replacing the singular rich patron with a distributed, crowd-source model more befitting of the web. Perhaps the future is the past?