Digital Art: Turning barriers into beliefs

Scott Lawrie


August 21, 2022

Digital Art: Turning barriers into beliefs.

There’s an odd kind of brain block that happens when you mention the words Digital Art to most traditional collectors. First, they look a little blank and then admit they ‘don't know much about it’. And second, they often tell you they don’t know where to start. 

It’s a bit of a conundrum in the established art world, where digital art has literally been around for decades, and is still enjoyed on a regular basis by visitors to art institutions and museums around the world. So, I decided to conduct a little research of my own, by asking visitors to the Scott Lawrie Gallery a few questions about digital art, namely; what did they think of it? Could they name any digital artists? And could they see a time when they might see digital art in their collections? 

The answers were depressingly familiar; not much, Beeple, and no.

There’s a psychological barrier there. And one which, on the face of it, really shouldn't exist at all. But chatting to them further, it did open up quite interesting insights into a collector’s mind.

The solid object

Here’s a truth. Most collectors don't really know THAT much about art. They usually don't work in the art world, and are quite often high-income earners from fields of law, accounting, medicine, consulting, tech and advertising or whatever.

One of the things we know this end of the marker likes is a physical object, such as a painting or sculpture, for example.  

There’s something tangible about a painting. It’s one of a kind. And people see it when they come to the house. We’re proud to show our collection off, we’ve spent a lot of time and money on it. And I’m just not sure that something on a screen has the same effect.” Says Rob* one of the gallery’s longest standing collectors. 

It’s a fair point. Most collections are built on the sanctity of ‘the rare’ – an object to be coveted and bragged about, not shared and enjoyed anywhere you choose, which Rob thinks ‘demeans the work’. 

I just don't get the concept of digital art. Most of the NFTs I’ve seen, and I admittedly haven't seen a lot, have been cringeworthy. And stupidly expensive.”

Even a well-established curator who works between New York and Australia admits that while NFTs are a known phenomenon that institutions are going to have to address soon (particularly if their remit is to capture slices of the time we live in), but questions still remain. How are they ‘stored’? How should they be displayed? What happens to copyright when showcased or included on gallery websites and publications? And where do institutions buy them from, given many purchases must now go through rigorous ethical and transparent acquisition processes (“How do I know taxpayers or benefactors money is being spent wisely?”) 

Matt* is one of our youngest collectors, and he has bought two small, lower priced, paintings over the past couple of years. He works for one of the ‘big four’ consultants as a graduate intern, and has already dipped his toe into the murky waters of NFT collecting.

I realised I wasn’t going to afford a home of my own anytime soon, so the idea of collecting physical art wasn’t particularly appealing in a shared flat. But I do own 5 NFTs. They weren’t expensive, and I bought them from Opensea as a mate put me onto that site and helped me set up a wallet and buy some Crypto. I like having them with me on my phone, but they don't really have the same wow factor as my little paintings in real life. I guess they are two different things though, it’s like comparing my Dad’s CD collection, which he loves, with my Spotify playlists. They’re just different ways to get to the same result.” 

The fact is, we’re a while away from the tipping point in terms of mass adoption of NFTs as an art form. There’s too much bad art being created, and the really good stuff deserving of mass attention is often swamped by the dross. Everyone has the right to create and be an NFT artist, but that doesn’t mean what they’re doing is relevant, interesting, or valuable to the global culture at this moment in time. 

It's up to us as a community to debunk these myths and set some records straight. And the sooner we all take a role in that, the sooner we’ll get to the tipping point of mass adoption. 

The fog of digital art is lifting, but it’s still a global issue that requires a bit of heavy lifting from our NFT and Blockchain communities, through clear, simple and transparent messaging. Just like in the gallery, the art and the artist who created it should always come first. But not at the cost of people who want to actually experience it.

*Actual names changed for confidentiality reasons