Digital Art in 9 Minutes: From Early Computing Technologies To Crypto NFT Hype

The history of art is long and complex. It starts with the earliest creations using stone, wood, bronze, and natural pigments. Then, it ventures through the 15th Century, with the introduction of oil on canvas, before moving to the acrylics, sprays, and markers of the 20th Century. 

In today’s video, we want to fast forward to the latest trend in the realm of art: the digital revolution. This new age of digital technologies brought with it the widest range of instruments for contemporary creators. The new nature of digital art — computer born, immersive, and interactive — make it perfect for both artistic creativity and viewer engagement. The COVID-19 pandemic only accelerated this phenomenon, which has been in development for the past 70 years!

So, this begs an important question: what is digital art? Today, we will answer this question and take a detailed dive into the history of the movement. So, let’s get started!


Digital art is known by many different names — digital media, media art, computer art, net art, New Media — and the list goes on and on. No matter what you call it, there’s no denying that digital art has completely revolutionized the art world. Now let’s see how it all began...

If you think that Digital Art started in the 21st Century, you’ll be surprised to find out that it’s actually much older. in 1914, one of the founders of the digital art trend, Ben Laposky, was born. A mathematician and draftsman, Laposky used an oscilloscope to manipulate electronic waves that appeared onto a small fluorescent screen. As a result, digital art had already come into being by the Second World War!

By the 1950s, many artists were experimenting with mechanical devices and analog computers in ways that could be interpreted as a precursor to the digital pioneers who followed. Among them was Herbert W. Franke. Franke was an Austrian physicist, scientist, and one of the most prominent German Science Fiction writers of the 20th century.

In the early 1960s, computers were still very basic, and access to them was very, very limited. Not only was computing technology extremely expensive, but it also didn’t have the kind of capabilities that we are accustomed to today. In essence, early computers were like giant calculators that could take up an entire warehouse! Only research laboratories, universities, and large corporations could afford such equipment. So, the digital art pioneers were often computer scientists, engineers, and mathematicians. Let’s take a closer look at some of digital art’s most important figures:

Georg Nees studied mathematics, physics, and philosophy. He was the first person to publicly show art that was generated by a computer. His “computer art,” which is generally referred to as digital art or generative art, was actually a specific example of algorithmic art.

Manfred Mohr was first an action painter and a jazz saxophonist. He used the rhythm, energy, and sense of improvisation from his music to create new and interesting algorithmic art.

It’s also important to mention the Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.). This was a collective founded by engineers Billy Klüver and Fred Waldhauer, as well as artists Robert Rauschenberg and Robert Whitman. Established in New York in 1967, this collective helped enhance collaborations between artists and engineers.

Other bright names of this era were Desmond Paul Henry and Ken Knowlton, the two inventors of computer graphics. Additionally, Robert W. Mallary was one of the original creators of digital sculptures, while Frieder Nake and Lillian Schwartz helped advance algorithmic research and digital animation.

As the 1960s came to a close, computer art had begun to enter the mainstream, even appearing in highly-respected art venues. To some, this marked the real beginning of digital art history. One of the first #DigitalArt exhibitions was the Cibernetic Serendipity of 1968 at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London. The exhibition would later tour across the United States. 

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, digital technologies started to become a part of everyday life. Computers could be used for both business and personal use — something that was completely revolutionary at the time. And don’t think that AI became a reality in the art world just recently. In 1973, an artist and researcher named Harold Cohen created AARON, a complex computer software program that could generate art autonomously. His works were even shown at the Tate Gallery in London.

A prolific artist throughout the 1960s and 70s, pop art superstar Andy Warhol began creating a series of digital works on a personal computer, the Amiga 1000 model, in the mid-1980s. It was a collaborative project with Commodore Amiga that was stored on Amiga floppy disks for nearly 20 years before they were found and recovered by the Andy Warhol Museum. The digital images included doodles and reimaginings of Warhol's existing artworks, such as the acclaimed Campbell's soup can, and Botticelli's The Birth of Venus.

As 3D computer animation took greater shape in the 1980s, animation programs became commonplace for sculptors and photographers. The artwork of Kenneth Snelson is a prime example of 3D graphics meeting artistic ingenuity. “Forest Devils’ MoonNight” was the very first representative of this era.

Mixing digital and analog was also a popular trend at the time. For example, James Faure Walker used a combination of oil painting, watercolor, and digital art to create his pieces. He continued to integrate computer-generated images in his paintings, making it difficult for most viewers to determine which parts were created by him and which parts were created by the computer!

By the 1990s, digital art was officially a part of the mainstream art world. Museums of contemporary art opened media art departments and research centers. Digital art festivals and competitions began cropping up all over the world. Around this time, the first online databases and archives also emerged, including the Rhizome, CompArt, and Monoskop platforms.

However, one cannot explore the world of digital art without examining the underlying technologies that allow artists to express themselves in a digital format. Some of the most important advancements came in the areas of virtual and augmented reality, computer graphics, 3D imaging, and AI-generated art. Without these discoveries and advancements, digital art may have never existed!

At the turn of the century, the digital boom was at its peak. Within the first decade of the 21st Century, millions of people had their own smartphones, tablets, and VR sets. Digital Art became a popular area of study in art schools around the world, allowing a new generation of artists and art platforms to emerge. 

For example, CryptoPunks was released in June 2017 as one of the first non-fungible tokens on the Ethereum blockchain. The crypto artblockchain project was an inspiration for the ERC-721 standard for NFTs and the modern crypto art movement. Thanks to advancements in technology, digital art had officially been democratized the world over!


Digital art has a long and fascinating history. However, the journey of digital art and media is just beginning. Contemporary artists like Ryoji Ikeda, Davide Quayola, Maurice Benayoun, Saint Denis, and hundreds of other artists continue to experiment with and explore the capabilities of digital art every day. We can only wait and see what exciting innovations have yet to come! 

So, what do you think about the history of digital art? Do you think it is just a fad or will it continue to enjoy success for decades or even centuries to come? Finally, who are some of your favorite digital artists? Be sure to leave your comments  under this YouTube video and don’t forget to subscribe to our channel for more great stories like this one. Also find us on Instagram for your daily dose of culture from Curious Muse!

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