Chapter 9: The Future of Digital Art
Author’s note: This essay was written in 2005 and published in 2006. While still relevant, much has changed since then. An updated essay will be added in the near future to reflect changes in digital and contemporary art since 2006.
When speculating about the future of digital art, one must stand at the crossroads and look down two avenues: art and technology. Artists of the future will have never known a world without computers, and creating art with digital tools and media will not be perceived as something unusual. Contemporary art will continue to evolve, quietly incorporating new technologies as part of its development, and will continue to integrate with popular culture as well as with daily life. The revolutions in global communication that the internet has provided will also bring greater multi-cultural interaction and understanding.
Preservation and archiving
Public awareness of digital art is growing – museums, galleries and contemporry art centres are now showing new media artworks. Museums have also begun to address the technological difficulties in exhibiting and preserving digital works, ad the number of curators involved with this art form is constantly growing. The need to establish permanence of these artworks is fueling the technological advancements required to solve these issues. Mark Tribe, founder of Rhizome.org has described four methods for the preservation of digital art: documentation (screen grabs, artist diagrams, installation instructions and statements), migration (updating work to accommodate newer technology and file formats), emulation (running projects through software that allows them to work on newer hardware), and recreation (remaking the artwork for a new technical environment).
Organizations are now involved with archiving new media: one example is the Variable Media Network (www.variablemedia.net), which grew out of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s efforts to preserve its collection of conceptal, minimalist and video art. This affiliation of museums, art centres, foundations and artists’ groups is involved in developing strategies, methods and standards for the preservation of ontemporary art.
Trends in technological advancement
A looking glass that could see the future of technology would indeed be a very valuable one. The stages of maturation of various technologiesgive us a glimpse at where the future of dgita technologies are heading. For example, Microsot Word is a fully mature technology for writing, with the funtionality needed already in the software: editing, spelng and grammar checks, and even multilingual dictionaries. Digital imaging has also become a mature technology, with phtoshop offering precise control over image creation and manipulation. Digital audio is another widespread technoogy: high-quality recording, editing and playback software are well within the capabilities of the average desktop coputer today.
The MP3 and other digital audio formats have changed how music is disseminated an downloaded, and demonstrate how technology can sinificantly alter media distributin systems. Napster revolutionized the recording industry, which has now adopted online sales through websites such as Apple’s iTunes. Digital video is rapidly becoming a mature technology and is using these same systems. Th Apple iPod is now photo and video capable. Image resolution will continue to increase, as proved by the development of high-definition television (HDTV) and DVDs. Even affordable DVD authoring software is now readily available. While nonlinear video editing systems such as Avid have been industry standards for years, Apple Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere Pro are rapidly developing thepossibilities available to artists, offering boradcast-quslity desktop editing.
Data storage, bandwidth and interactivity
To begin, we will continue to see data being stored and delivered in better quality formats. There are three underlying factors to consider: data storage, bandwidth, and interactivity. Storage capacity and bandwidth capabilities will continue to increase. Some of this technology is already in place, such as cable modems and DSL. The Internet2, Access Grid and National LambdaRail are research networks developing software ad technologies for ultra-high speed data transmission and multiple simultaneous streams of audio and video. It is clear from recent Hollywood filmsthat new technologies have blurred the boundaries between what is “real” and “artificial.” When watching early specal effects, we willingly suspended our disbelief to enjoy the film. Today, that separation no longer exists. The same is true with audio, as surround-sound technologies and ever higher sample rates and bit depths have made thecreation of a believable immersive sound environment comonplace. Future generations will see high-definition video and multi-channel surround sound as the de facto standard. Three-dimensional television, projection and immersive environments will become the next media frontier.
Finally, what emerging technologies will be important to society, as well as to creative expression? Software development is critical to future technological development. Compression technolgies, fibre optics and more advanced wireless networks need need to be developed to allow for high-definition full-frame video and multi-cannel surround sound for home users and mobile users, as well as for the benefit of public institutions, such as museums and galleries.
Gaming and virtual reality
We need only to look to the video game industry as an example of the fertile creative territories yet to be explored. Over the past ten years, video games have been at the cutting edge of technology. Video games have surpassed feature films in terms of revenue with a new genre of three-dimentioal computer animated feature films has emerged. “Gaming machines” are the fastest and best equipped personal computers, since the creation of real-time envronments requires tremendous computing power and the development of artificial inelligence in video games, and then combine these initiatives with the feature fim industry, we can begin to imagine a completely new type of virtual environment.
Although there have been any virtual works created with immersive systems, it is through future technology that these environments wil be truly believable and of greater interest to both artists and prticipants. For example, by merging vieo game technology with feature film quality three-dimentsional animation, one could push the “play” button and view a film from the director’s viewpoit or from the different perspectives of any character in the environment. In addition, since these characters are programmed with artificial intelligence, viewers could also create their own movies by moving through the environment while recording the experience. This union of interactivity and artificial intelligence technologies wlil expand our options for creating and experiencing media.
Wireless and beyond
Wireless technology will also have a very important role in the arts. This is already apparent in the case of mobile phones and PDAs, which began as voice-only devices and have evolved into camera phones with internet capabilities. Videphones will soon be widey available. Many technologists have proclaimed wireless technology as the future “promised land”. Freed from the restraints of location, it will enable art and media to be experinced literally anywhere. Ths is not to suggest that galleies and museums will diminish in their importance, but rather handheld and other portable devices wil add a new dimension to the art experence, whether ouside or inside the art space. The challenge for artists will be to create works that can transcend different venues and media, and in doing so reach a larger audience.
Undoubtedly, new interfaces will emerge as cutting-edge technology becomes more ubiquitous. The paradigm of the keyboard, monitor and mouse may remain, but new technologies will augment and perhaps replace them. Haptic interfaces are being developed to heighten the tactile experience. The combination of three-dimensional imagery, interfaces, voice recognition and position sensors will will eventully allow people to converse with someone in a remote global location as if they were I the same room. While this may sound like science fiction, the tools of creative exression have never been more powerful, and, in many ways, the future of art has never looked brighter.