THE DECENTRALIZED MUSEUM
first in a series on the history, as well as present and future, of digital art
Derick David is right, Digital Art has been around for a long time. Its existed at least since the mid-20th century, when teams of artists and scientists were modifying typewriters to create imagery using alphanumeric characters, or using plot point printers to scribe lines onto paper. It moved onto the emergence of wholly synthetic imagery (often animated) displayed on TV monitors, and then continuing through the advancements of 3D, digital projection, flatscreens and VR.
From so-called algorithmic art to today’s ubiquitous NFT-centric PFP art, these artistic movements are all based on an ever-evolving set of tools, techniques and artistic innovations that are rarely discussed or recognized within the hype of the today’s media-soaked discourse. This is the under-appreciated history of a constantly evolving, and developing field, which as Issac Newton said about himself, benefits from ‘standing on the shoulders of giants.’
The art community, a roughly $65 billion a year industry (with estimates that this will climb to $347.5 billion by 2030), is becoming aware of the actual lineage and history of digital art. And they are making plans to incorporate it within the canon of ‘art history.’ But who will be included? Hopefully, this necessary revisionism will prove more inclusive than the ways that art collecting and exhibition in museums has previously developed. According to the influential art magazine Hyperallergic, as recently as a few years back, the current roster of exhibited artists was largely white and male:
Artists in 18 Major US Museums Are 85% White and 87% Male, Study Says
In recent years, museums in the United States have been moving toward diversifying their permanent collections to…
And some evidence exists that as recently as 2015, only a handful of elite galleries supplied a significant number of artists for major museum shows:
Artists from Five Galleries Dominate US Museum Shows
Yesterday, in observance of April Fools' Day, we made light of the influence that commercial galleries have over…
Disturbing as these statements are, a very real possibility lurks within the new terrain of the decentralized online art world. That possibility is that once again, only a handful of elite players will decide what art gets recognized and preserved. But we have the chance to augment, mitigate ,or perhaps even prevent that. What is needed is a paradigmatic re-imagination of what a museum is, who it serves, and what it can be.
There are those who have said that the advent of the computer is the greatest innovation since the printing press. I go one further, and say it is even greater. And the creative achievements produced by the best of the now several generations of digital artists, with their now ubiquitous presence, demand and deserve recognition within the new NFT-fueled interest in digital art.
The EZTV Online Museum Project www.eztvmuseum.com is the latest project by EZTV (not t be confused by the younger bit torrent of the same name), a seminal Los Angeles-based media arts organization, whose roots date back to 1979. Although still in its early stages, and currently seeking development partners, its long-term goal is an online decentralized archive preserving the works from digital arts ‘classical period’, as well as presenting the best of the newest generations of artists. And offering a forum for the discussion of what is to come.
There was a time when in order to be a digital artist, you either needed to team up with an advanced computer scientist or else, more interestingly perhaps, also become a computer scientist yourself. There simply were no available software packages for making digital art (at the time once referred to as computer art) and therefore you literally needed to write the software you would use yourself. For example, in the early 1980s, UCLA student Dave Curlender, wishing to pay artistic homage to Edvard Muybridge, learned computer code, wrote animation software (including an early version of motion-capture) and then teamed up with a medical student, who together gained access to a UCLA medical school supercomputer. The work, although low resolution by today’s 4K and beyond standards, still very much stands the test of time as a work of art. Completed in January of 1985, you can see it here:
This was from the second generation of computer artists, when imagery began to achieve a semi-realistic quality. Such work and even earlier exemplary examples need to be seen by younger generations of digital artists, so that they hopefully may appreciate the DNA from which they came. It is time to for the current generation, using their technology, to experience the masterpieces that have been created for almost 70 years.
The advantages of an append-only system for aggregating cultural assets should seem obvious to anyone who fully appreciates the blockchain ecosystem. Simply, put, once something is remembered, it should not be forgotten, left to the whims of future generations whose politics or cultural changes wish to censor, erase and obliterate certain aspects of the past. A museum at its heart, is about remembering. But it also must reflect the current cultural climate and anticipate the developments, both artistically as well as technologically, to come. That is what at the EZTV Online Museum project, when defining its function as ‘living in the present, acknowledging the past, anticipating the future.” No other mandate or mission can adequately satisfy the important role that the emergent digital museums will play. A town square for the very discussion of the most fundamental of cultural questions: “what is art?’ Of course, there has never been one answer to this highly subjective subject, yet constant reminder of the enormous achievements that have happened, are currently happening and are still to come, but be a guiding point for further discussion.
There exists a need for a decentralized museum, perhaps many such entities that archives and presents the best of all digital art, as well as provides an open, more inclusive forum for emerging voices. Utilizing the best of what blockchain can offer, it can serve as both museum and gallery, even providing opportunities for sales to those artists involved. It is an idea whose time has come. We look forward to seeing how this space develops. Beyond the hype of the last year, and anticipating the emergence of a truly new global culture, while recognizing the local cultural specifics that make us all unique.
Welcome to the advent of the decentralized museum. Enjoy the view.