What is Digital Art? - Definition, History & Examples

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  • 0:04 What Is Digital Art?
  • 1:18 Beginnings of Digital Art
  • 2:41 Growth of Digital Art
  • 5:01 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Have you ever created a picture or a movie on the computer? If so, you were making digital art. In this lesson, learn what digital art is and explore its history.

What Is Digital Art?

Some artists use materials like paints and brushes to create art. Today, many others also use modern means of exploring creativity, like video technology, television, and computers. This type of art is called digital art.

Digital art is work made with digital technology or presented on digital technology. This includes images done completely on computer or hand-drawn images scanned into a computer and finished using a software program like Adobe Illustrator. Digital art can also involve animation and 3D virtual sculpture renderings as well as projects that combine several technologies. Some digital art involves manipulation of video images.

The term 'digital art' was first used in the 1980s in connection to an early computer painting program. (This was long before they were called apps, mind you!) It's a method of art-making that lends itself to a multimedia format because it can potentially be viewed in many ways, including on TV and the Internet, on computers, and on multiple social media platforms. In short, digital art is a sort of merger between art and technology. It allows many new ways to make art.

Beginnings of Digital Art

Digital art couldn't really exist without computers. Those machines so familiar to us today got their start in the 1940s, when the first true computer, the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, or the ENIAC, was created for military purposes. Artists first began exploring the possibilities of art from computers and related technologies in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Early experiments with computer art came around 1965. German artist Frieder Nake (1938 - present), who also happened to be a mathematician, created a computer algorithm that enabled the machine to draw a series of shapes to make artwork. An algorithm, by the way, is a programmed list of instructions that tells a computer what to do. The resulting computer-generated drawings were some of the earliest examples of art done on a computer.

One of the first truly digital works of art was created in 1967 by Americans Kenneth Knowlton (1931 - present) and Leon Harmon (1922 - 1982). They took a photograph of a nude woman and changed it into a picture composed of computer pixels, titled Computer Nude (Studies in Perception I). A pixel is one small element of an image; when many pixels are combined, they can create a larger, complete image. This nude was one of the first digital artworks.

Growth of Digital Art

By the late 1960s, several museums held exhibits exploring art using computers. Around this same time, several artists began exploring digital technology in multimedia art, using computers, television, video, and other things.

In 1969, artist Allan Kaprow (1927 - 2006), known for art events called happenings, in which the art was a series of activities or actions with audience participation and elements of chance, created a work called Hello in conjunction with a Boston TV station. Centered around several locations in the city, he used TV cameras and sound systems to let people in the different places talk to one another. But Kaprow, from the main control center at the station, would turn the sites on and off, manipulating who could talk to anyone else at a given time. It was one of the first artworks to use television technology to make art.

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