Digital Art: Exploring the New Frontier

Reflecting on a summer visit to an immersive Gustav Klimt art exhibition in Vienna, Cassidy Duncan ’25 explores and questions the potential consequences of the digitized art world.

This past summer I traveled to Vienna, Austria. Remnants of the city’s long cosmopolitan history can be seen in its clean baroque architecture, prominent coffee house culture, and impressive collection of art and museums. I came to Vienna eager to see Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss.” Growing up, I marveled at a print of this piece in a coffee shop in my hometown, and my personal love for art grew from there.

When the day arrived where I planned to go to Belvedere Palace to see “The Kiss,” I first stopped at a virtual art exhibition space called “The Gustav Klimt Experience.” The exhibition brings the audience into a space where they are immersed with 360 degrees of screens showcasing Klimt’s work.

“The Gustav Klimt Experience” is hardly unique — immersive and virtual reality art exhibitions are increasingly popular throughout the art world. What I found notable about my experience in Vienna was the close geographic proximity between Klimt’s original works and this virtual exhibit. I had thought that virtual exhibits were typically meant to give access to art to people all around the world. I found myself asking, “What is the purpose of having a ‘fake’ exhibition when one could travel just five short miles to see the original?” The contradiction of me asking this question while having myself attended “The Gustav Klimt Experience” only heightened my curiosity as to why these exhibitions are popular and whether I should expect more art to resemble this in the future.

Like art itself, the answer to these questions vary in depth of meaning. Maybe people just think virtual art is cool. It is new, exciting, and fun to be immersed in something so beautiful. Still, I believe there is something more significant about the changing trends in which art is being delivered to our society. Virtual reality (VR) allows art to be viewed whenever and wherever we want, playing into our societal desire for convenience.

Art can be used as a way to make sense of the times, and it is made to communicate, entertain, display, and rebel. But different mediums each have their own unique effectiveness in communication. The intersection between art and technology is trending towards being a post-convergent form of art. Virtual worlds are an example of post-convergent mediums, as they consist of interdependent relationships between forms of media. Although it is predictable that art will stay relevant to our present — continuing to shape it — I can’t help but wonder if the technological shift in art will end up completely overshadowing classic mediums, and whether this is a positive change,  or one that should be resisted.

The rise of NFTs in the art world is an example of what can happen when art is combined with digital media. Non-Fungible Tokens are cryptographic tokens that can be representative of real world items, such as artwork. NFTs’ ability to patronize artists is a positive consequence of digitization. But the large carbon footprint created by NFTs is already drawing international criticism.

While speculation will most likely not have any effect over the trajectory of the art world, I believe it is important to pay attention to what people think art will become. Digitizing some aspects of society seems inevitable, but will artists indulge in these changes or continue the tradition of rebelling against the expected?