Rather than discuss a particular example of digital or hybrid art, I want to take a close look at a digital or hybrid gallery. My reasons for this are 1) I am woefully ignorant of cutting-edge trends in art and feel unjustified in offering my opinion on one piece when it probably is the first piece I’ve seen set in that medium, 2) I frequent digital galleries often when I am consciously looking for art and thus feel more comfortable discussing the gallery as a whole as both a viewer and a contributor, and 3) I believe that the digital gallery is just as important a change in the art world as digital or hybrid art itself, as it has revolutionized how artists present their work, be it traditional paintings or new media interactive experiences.
The specific gallery I want to look at is called deviantART, at deviantart.com. One of the largest online galleries, deviantART contains millions of pieces, from drawings to photographs, paintings to animations, and 3D models to sculptures. Any artist can sign up for free and upload images of their art to the site, allowing other members to comment and critique on their works. It also provides opportunities for artists to sell their works, through prints or delivery, and most importantly, provides a showcase just for simply showing one’s art to the world. In a way, it has replaced the traditional, physical art gallery while including other art forms and expanding its functions as a gift shop, as well as offering an artist’s forum and community. In short, deviantART has exposed every facet of the art world to the online public, and vice-versa.
When one reaches deviantART’s home page, one is greeted by a selection of random images: recent, popular entries into the gallery. It immediately shows a visitor what others on the site are looking at and creating, or in a way what the latest fashionable thing in the art world is. Of course, fan-fiction drawings, cute pictures of animals, and anime cartoons aren’t what most in the high-art world would call “art,” but in the online community, it is the users who determine what is popular, quite contrary to whatever elite, shadowy machinations drive high-art in the physical world. (The previous comment is obviously tongue-in-cheek, but honestly, I have no idea who or what decides what art is valuable or interesting, much like why some things are considered “fashionable” or not.) It may be the case that in both the digital art world—full as it is with LOLcats, flash animations, and computer programmers—and the physical high-art world taking place in swanky galleries in high-rises, democracy and popular opinion is what determines something’s worth, but this is much more evident in the digital arena, where one can easily see what others are looking at across the site. It should be noted that in this digital world, it is not just artists and art-enthusiasts looking at art, but rather anybody and everybody. Casual viewers and enthusiastic Star-Wars nerds, let’s say, may skew the results of what’s popular if a cool drawing of Darth Vader shows up. It may not be to everyone’s taste, it may not be considered art by some, but it still will attract a lot of attention. Considering this, deviantART could be described not so much by the term “art gallery,” but “image gallery,” or “anything gallery.”
If the recent popular entries don’t satiate one’s own taste for art, deviantART includes thousands of categories to peruse, offering nearly anything for someone searching for new art. One could spend days looking at everything, reading comments, and trying to understand certain artists. The amount of art is staggering. Looking for inspiration for your own drawing? Observe some pencil sketches by talented people. Trying to find a nice landscape picture? Search in the photography category and get carried off to distant lands. The thing is, it’s all free. Inspiration and beauty are at the tips of one’s fingers, located somewhere amidst the millions of uploaded pieces.
In the way of animations and film, deviantART is unique among art galleries in that one can watch cartoons or movies with the volume up, in the comfort of one’s home. The digital medium allows easy access to animations and film, where one is able to view them at any time. The addition of this form of art in public showcases is quite new. Yes, filmmakers had film festivals in which to present their work, but now anybody can create and upload their “artistic” video or animation and display it alongside fancy and intricate oil paintings. It is an interesting juxtaposition, but an incredibly convenient way of reaching everybody.
It is through this type of public showing that artists, who once would have never made money off their works, now sell their pieces or prints to complete strangers across the country. In the deviantART shop, one can look at artworks up for sale and purchase them directly from the artist though PayPal. Again, art is available at the tip of one’s fingers. If looking at images on a screen gets tiring and one must simply have a full-scale print or original painting to hang in the room, then it is as easy as a few clicks of the mouse and few dollars out of the account.
Of course, there are arguments to be made against this digital domain of art. One of the appeals of the physical art gallery, after all, is the presentation of the original pieces, situated in careful lighting and meaningful locations. It is an experience unto itself to observe art in a gallery, to be so close to a piece as to touch it, and remark upon its meaning with friends and other art patrons. Often a series of pieces of art are presented to give an overall theme or meaning that can only be accomplished by having all of them together at once, in a certain order, or a certain way. None of this is possible with the current digital gallery of deviantART. The website is a more of a warehouse of information and images than a refined and polished room of paintings on walls. The experience of a physical gallery is not reproducible digitally (at least not yet, not until immersive virtual reality exists) so for now, deviantART excels at being convenient and expansive, rather than specific and memorable. It is good for showing one’s work, or more precisely, a picture of one’s work, to the whole world, getting feedback and communicating with others. It is not so good for producing a carefully crafted artistic experience full of meaning and adventurous thought.
With all of this in mind, deviantART and other digital art galleries like it seem like something entirely new and unique. Borrowing aspects of physical galleries, but not reproducing them, and taking inspiration from social network sites, deviantART is something different for artists and art-enthusiasts. It is representative of the new digital age with its focus on masses of information and easy communication, but it hearkens back to a time of intimate experiences with thought-provoking artworks. In essence, it is a perfect example of how the still young digital world is interacting with and affecting the old physical world. It is a piece of art itself, straddling the line of digital and non-digital in a kind of harmony, pointing to those different aspects of humanity that we attempt to explore in art: our need to explore, to be a part of something greater, to live in a changing world.