Is Digital Art Real Art?

A debate over this question is raging on TikTok.

Kristin Merrilees
Jun 24, 2020 · 3 min read
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Photo Credit: Screenshots of TikToks by @/insertedlennyface, @/kittencreative, and @/pastanick

Humanity has often debated the question “What is art?” According to Pablo Picasso, “Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.” According to Oscar Wilde, “Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known.” According to Hippocrates, “Life is short, art is long.”

And now this question is being debated yet again — only this time, by people on TikTok. Or perhaps what’s really being asked is “What is not art?” — and, according to some, digital art — that is, art produced using digital technology — does not meet the necessary criteria to be classified as “real” art.

Artists are extremely prevalent on TikTok. But anytime an artist is working with an iPad and a stylus instead of a pen and paper, the comments section will surely get heated.

Some commenters will say that digital art isn’t art, that the availability of digital tools makes it easy, that it’s “cheating,” or say that the app/computer does everything for the creators.

For example, take this drawing of dynamite by Nick Jacoy, @/pastanick.

The comments on this post were mixed. Some were saying the following:

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While many were saying the opposite:

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Because of this debate, many digital artists have uploaded some of their best, most detailed work to show that it deserves to be viewed in the same respect as traditional art is (to contradict an audio that says that art made on a screen “doesn’t count.)

The consensus amongst the art community seems to be that digital art requires talent and should, in fact, be considered “real” art. They argue that it usually takes just as much skill and technique as traditional art and that many digital artists are also skilled in traditional art.

Thus, it seems the question “Is digital art real art?” is really asking, “Does digital art take skill?” to which most have concluded, yes.

But even if the answer was no, some would argue that digital art is still art. In other words, that “skill” isn’t a defining factor in what art is.

A debate around this idea surged to the mainstream last year because of the infamous $120,000 banana — A piece called “The Comedian” by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan was sold for $120,000 at Miami’s Art Basel, despite it literally just being a banana duct-taped to a wall.

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Photo Credit: ArtNet/Sarah Cascone

A fierce conversation about the banana arose amongst both art critics and ordinary people, with some arguing that this was a sign of modern art gone haywire. But ultimately, this debate just shows how the question “What is art?” remains ambiguous and unanswerable — which leaves room for a lot of mischief, humor, and creativity in the art world.

And this has continued into the modern-day, as more and more mediums become available for creating art — video, drawing apps, animation, augmented and virtual reality, even TikTok. It’s a truly human irony that our technology has progressed to the point where we can do more and more things and create more and more works of art, without being able to completely understand — or even begin to understand — any of it.

I write about culture, Gen Z, technology, and education. Read more of my work on my website or follow me on Twitter.

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