The complex effects of digital technologies on art worlds

The art world is a complex system where different actors play various roles in the production, diffusion, evaluation, and commodification of art. These actors include artists, galleries, advisors, collectors, museums, and critics, among others. In order to understand how digital technology has affected the art world one needs to think about how these different actors have adapted to the digital era, but also how the relations between them have changed in this new context.

Digital technology has had direct and indirect effects on the actors of the art world. As for the direct effects, indeed, institutions, artists, galleries and many other actors have swiftly moved to utilise digital interfaces like websites, social media, and interactive digital tools. On the market side, some art purchases are made online, even if they still represent a relatively small percentage of sales.

Moving to the indirect and more profound effects, digital technology has first of all contributed to the rise of a global art field, with the multiplication of fairs, biennials, and blockbuster museum exhibitions that enable the circulation of art, artists, and players of the art world on a global scale at an unprecedented intensity. In fact, not only such events take place all year long and in different parts of the world, they can also be followed at distance, thus creating a sense of global community in which a small number of star artists - like Ai Wei Wei, Takashi Murakami, and Jeff Koons - are known. Secondly, digital technology has accelerated the movement of diversification of artistic media, away from painting and sculpture, with the increasing importance of performance, conceptual art, video art, installations, site-specific works. Digital media enable the instantaneous visualisation of ephemeral artworks or of pieces that could otherwise only be experienced in a particular place.

In the following steps we will first look at the process of biennialisation of the art world, focusing on the case of the Venice Biennale. We will then discuss the possibilities opened up by virtual tours for museums to expand their audience and promote their collections. Finally, we will focus on market actors, such as auctions and galleries, to see how they are adjusting to the new digital environment.

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This article is from the free online course:

Culture in the Digital Age

European University Institute (EUI)