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In 2009 I started a popular website called www.paintedetc.com that aimed to document what was happening to painting as a digitally native generation came of age… there were so many sites back then, most of which are now gone. But I made an effort to keep posting to it now and then, and it’s still there.
In the years since there have been many exhibitions around the world and as an artist showing digital paintings I had to find a million ways to embody them in something other than a screen, even though that’s where they all started. There are many reasons for this, but I always had a feeling in the future there would be collectors interested in other methods.
But files seemed to have this slippery nature where no-one could pin them down, so authorship was always lost. Despite that I still signed up for sites like TradeBit where you could sell files, however putting a .psd painting file there for sale in 2010 was a kind of joke at the time. Whoever bought it could easily rename it and no proof was possible. The funniest part today is the painting file is still there.
So as you can imagine over the last couple of years watching the crypto art space grow has been very interesting. When artists friends talked about Ethereum launching I don’t think anyone could have truly predicted this. There’s still a way to go but it feels like now for the first time there will be many facets of digital artistic production coming into contact with and creating new possibilities. There are some issues of course, but it will all have to be resolved in real-time.
One of the reasons I started painting with software in the first place was that back then I felt like I was lying to myself if I pretended I didn’t live in a world awash with screens. Another reason might also be there was just so many new ways to paint, and that the digital felt honest. It also felt interesting to use a machine, designed to make everything perfect, and do something expressive and very human with it.
Some of the issues that will present themselves going forward are ones that the traditional art industry has been encountering for a long time and so the crossover will be interesting. I do worry about digital preservation. Despite the blockchain being decentralized across many users hard drives and nodes, ultimately we have never seen how long hard drives last as they haven’t been around long enough. Not just decades, but centuries. Art galleries and museums deal in centuries. Things that best last through centuries have typically been stone and bronze and tapestry, painting, ceramic and glass and so on, and this is why they are used in many ways. Art tells the story of it’s time but in ways that can outlast it.
However the present is digital, so how does it write history? An interesting fact about cloud computing is that in fact Amazon and Google and many others have magnetic tape backup facilities as their very last safety mechanism. Today in 2021… and possibly for the next 20 years. Tape can still store more data per square inch than anything else by a huge margin, plus it has proven to last at least 100 years and is much cheaper to produce, and so all our digital information (if the chemical flash drives and spinning discs seize, are hacked or wiped…) will be there on a physical tape cartridge somewhere. Lol this actually happened when Gmail went down recently.
This is something ultimately that crypto art will need to bridge as collectors look to keep some of the things they collect for now and generations down the line. The next era of data storage might actually be in glass panels using etched voxels…. but the trust layer being developed for and by decentralized systems should only get stronger and ultimately so will everything else within it.
Anyway so what is happening now… being able to make and release digital paintings in their native form, to collectors who can display them in a myriad of ways, is something that I think many people have dreamed of and will foster a lot of born digital artists in ways that could not have been sustained before.
This will be a very interesting and generationally defining decade. Let’s go!