What Is Digital Art – From The Past To The Present And Future


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This article explains what digital art, where it originated from, what are the main types of digital art and how to create digital art. This article briefly covers topics like the history of digital art, AI art, and NFTs and how they contribute to the digital art world. The article ends by covering the future of digital art and how it can expand over time.

Key Takeaways

  • One of the earliest digital art inventions happened in the 1950s.
  • Digital art is a type of art made using digital devices, software, or computers.
  • Digital art is mainly done with art software or with a 3D modeling tool.
  • AI art is a new digital art form where text prompts are used to create artwork.
  • NFTs provide a new way to value and appreciate digital art.

What Is Digital Art And How It’s Defined?

Digital art is a type of art made using digital devices, software, or computers. This can range from animations, digital paintings, photographs, illustrations, videos, and more.

It falls under the umbrella of new media art and allows artists to express themselves through various mediums and styles. From traditional digital photography to experimental AI-generated art, the spectrum of digital art is ever-evolving and continues to push the boundaries of creative expression.

Digital art also results in a digital final product, whether it’s a vector image, virtual environment, or an NFT. As technology becomes more integrated into our lives, it provides artists with new avenues for creative expression and expands the artist’s toolbox. So, whether it’s a Photoshop collage or an AR piece, digital art is constantly changing and challenging the art world.

History Of Digital Art

The first recorded vector art on a screen was seen in a top-secret, mid-1950s IBM and MIT program for SAGE, a multi-billion dollar US Air Force computer system. And when the diagnostic ran, a line drawing of a pin-up girl appeared on the CRT screen.

But the first complete design software was Sketchpad, created by computer scientist Ivan Sutherland in 1963. He was inspired by Vannevar Bush’s Memex concept from 1945, which we now know as the Internet.

Sketchpad was part of Sutherland’s Ph.D. at MIT and demonstrated how human-computer interaction could be used for digital art and tech. The user could draw on the computer with a light pen, even before using a computer mouse.

Also, back in the 1960s, artists like Frieder Nake and Allan Kaprow explored the relationship between man and machine in the art world. Nam June Paik even envisioned a future of limitless communication, calling it the “electronic superhighway.”

Harold Cohen coloring the forms and drawing produced by the AARON paint program (image source)

In the 1980s, Harald Cohen, with the help of engineers, created the AARON paint program, a machine that could draw images on paper and later even implement color. Although Cohen never claimed AARON’s creativity, his program is now seen as a precursor to AI (artificial intelligence) art.

The 1990s saw the introduction of personal computers, advancements in digital technology, and the emergence of the internet. These developments offered artists greater creative freedom and new ways to experience art with an increasing interest in interactivity.

Digital technology has since revolutionized various art forms, giving rise to new approaches like digital installation, net art, virtual reality, and augmented reality.

As a fun fact, Andy Warhol made digital art on a Commodore Amiga in 1985. Warhol added color to the image through flood fills.

Although digital art faced initial opposition, it has since transformed the art world and continues to push boundaries.

Digital Art Styles And Types

Digital art styles and types have expanded over the years, from digital painting to 3D models and, lately, to AI art. New art styles and types are invented almost yearly, and something that was new a few years ago is old today.

List of the current digital art types and styles:

  • 2D Digital Painting
  • AI Art
  • 3D Digital Painting And 3D Sculpting
  • Generative Art
  • Pixel Art
  • Fractal Art
  • Algorithmic Art
  • Digital Photography
  • VR Painting
  • 2D Computer Graphics
  • 3D Computer Graphics
  • Photobashing
  • Photo Painting
  • Data-Moshing
  • Dynamic Painting
  • Digital Collage
  • Raster Painting
  • Vector Art
  • Integrated Art
  • Mixed Media
  • Computer-Generated Digital Painting

Digital Art And AI

Example of an AI artwork

AI art, or art created with the help of artificial intelligence, is a combination of computer science and creative expression. The focus of AI is to build machines that act like human brains and learn from datasets, making it a tool for artists to create unique works.

The creation of AI art is a collaboration between users and AI systems, but it also involves other experts like coders, statisticians, and computer scientists. The goal is to push the boundaries of human creativity and make something truly unique with the help of technology.

Compared to Cohen’s early creation, today’s new digital art developments incorporate AI and machine learning technologies in an interesting way. To create AI art, the artist chooses a set of images or text prompts to feed the algorithm.

The algorithm then imitates the visual inputs or interprets the text prompts producing a number of output images.

The algorithms used to produce art with this process are called GAN’s (Generative Adversarial Networks). Whereas the class of algorithms called AICAN (Artificial Intelligence Creative Adversarial Network) – one that is nearly autonomous in the creative process – works on two opposite forces: on the one end, the algorithm is taught existing styles by memorizing their recognizable aesthetics; on the other, it gets penalized if, when producing a new artwork, too closely imitates an existing piece of art.

This principle ensures that the final result will be innovative without going too far from what we already know.

Digital Art And NFTs

Azuki is an NFT collection that was one of the first ones that gained massive popularity among NFT enthusiasts

NFTs, short for non-fungible tokens, are one-of-a-kind digital assets that can’t be exchanged for something else. Each NFT has a unique digital signature that makes it stand out. Whether it’s art, a comic book, a collectible, or a video game, an NFT can be anything that’s stored in a digital format. Unlike physical money or cryptocurrencies, NFTs are truly unique and can’t be replaced.

Before blockchain and NFTs, digital art was often copied and had no real value. The result? A non-existent market for collecting and trading digital art. But with NFTs, digital art finally has a clear way to prove ownership and establish value, just like traditional fine art. NFTs have been a game-changer for the digital art world, finally elevating it to the same level of value and importance as other art forms.

How To Create Digital Art

Digital art can be created in many ways, but one of the most used ways is with drawing tablets and art software. Now that AI art is available to us, you can use just text prompts to create digital art.

Photography is also counted as a form of digital art, and so having a smartphone with a camera, you can create digital art.

Another way to create digital art is to get yourself 3D modeling software like Maya, Blender, Unreal, or the like. When doing 3D models, you need a computer with enough RAM (random access memory) and CPU (central processing unit) power.

Hardware for digital art

To create “traditional” digital art, you need hardware and software. If you have a computer, you can use it for digital drawing without buying a new one. Although, if you want to get the most out of it, we suggest going for a computer with 8GB or more memory.

Mac computers are popular for drawing, but you can also draw on Windows or laptops. It’s up to you which one you prefer.

To get started with digital drawing, you need a drawing tablet and a digital stylus. Some popular options are the Apple Pencil for iPads, the S pen for Galaxy tablets, and for more professional work, Wacom stylus pens for Wacom drawing tablets.

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Wacom is the most popular brand, and its product line-up works well for beginners but also for industry veterans. You can also draw on a smartphone or tablet using a stylus, but the technology may be a bit limited. Choose the device that fits your drawing needs, considering your level of seriousness.

If you are into 3D modeling, then it’s recommended to have at least 32GB of RAM, a graphics card with 6GB GPU VRAM and a proper CPU to accompany the other PC parts. While lower RAM and VRAM can get the job done, it’s more enjoyable to work with a higher-spec computer.

Software for digital art

The type of digital art you want to create determines the software, tool, or service you need. Drawing digital art requires art software, 3D modeling requires a modeling tool, and creating AI art, requires an AI art generator.

List of the best art software available today:

  • Procreate (best for iPad)
  • Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator (best for graphic design and all-around artwork)
  • Clip Studio Paint (best for anime art)
  • Corel Painter (best for realistic-looking painting)

List of the best 3D modeling software available today:

  • Zbrush (best for digital sculpting)
  • Autodesk Maya (industry standard with a hefty price tag)
  • Houdini (best VFX simulations)
  • Cinema 4D (good for beginners)
  • Autodesk 3ds Max (best modeling tool for Windows users)

List of the best AI art generators available today:

  • Midjourney (easy and free to use)
  • Stable Diffusion (best for implementing different models)
  • DALL-E 2 (beginner friendly)
  • Jasper Art (paid but creates awesome results easily)

File formats for digital art

Creating digital art is one process, but another is creating the actual image. The most used file format for digital art is PNG, with JPEG coming as the second option. This file format is often used to present digital artwork online.

PNG is a lossless format, meaning the file won’t lose any pixels or quality when saved from a work file (PSD, CSP, AI, etc.).

When using digital art on the web use, 72 PPI is a good enough resolution as it will enable fast loading times and still looks good when viewed through a monitor. In web use, JPEG and WEBP are the preferred file formats.

When saving digital art for printing, you should use PNG and 300 PPI or higher values for resolution. Remember that canvas size also plays a huge role in the quality of digital artwork. A good rule of thumb is to use 3000 x 7000 px canvas size when drawing digital art.

PNG, JPEG, and WEBP are good file formats for NFTs.

What Is A Digital Artist?

A digital artist is a person who uses electronic devices such as a computer or digital camera to create art for various purposes, from album covers, video games, and photos to printed pieces that can be hung on walls.

It’s a dynamic field, with software always changing. Digital artists may work on multiple projects at once, developing interfaces, drawing, putting art together, and creating visual designs for users.

Digital artists can work remotely as the usual tools needed are a computer and the internet. Digital artists are creative people who can work long hours, especially when they get into the flow state of mind.

Many people can be categorized as digital artists, as photographs, whether taken by professional DSLR cameras or with smartphones, are counted as digital art.

The Future Of Digital Art

For a long time, digital art was created with tablets, computers, and with cameras, and for a long time, it was seen as just a cheap way to create art.

After all, digital artists only use electricity in the creation process. What is often neglected is the fact that creating digital art requires the same amount of imagination and knowledge of art fundamentals as traditional art.

The rise of NFTs brought a new wave of appreciation toward digital art, and digital artists like Beeple have benefited from it nicely. Beeple was able to sell ‘The First 500 Days’ digital artwork for more than $69M at Christie’s auction.

With the slightly controversial rise of AI art, digital art is yet again going through a phase of transformation. Creating digital art demanded art skills from the person. Now, it’s demanding textual intelligence in the form of text prompts.

Now generating digital art is not only for the skilled ones but for anyone wanting to create beautiful artwork.

The controversy stems from the fact that AI can’t create the image without input and a dataset from which it learns to create the art. The way a dataset is created creates the problem here.

List of future digital art trends that might expand over time:

  • XR (extended reality) covers terms like AR (augmented reality), VR (virtual reality), and MR (mixed reality)
  • NFTs, Web3, and blockchain technology
  • Metaverse


Digital Artist

I’m a digital artist who is passionate about anime and manga art. My true artist journey pretty much started with CTRL+Z. When I experienced that and the limitless color choices and the number of tools I could use with art software, I was sold. Drawing digital anime art is the thing that makes me happy among eating cheeseburgers in between veggie meals.

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