Brief History of Digital Art

By Mark Anderson

Digital art has a rich history that spans several decades. The earliest forms of digital art can be traced back to the 1960s, when artists began experimenting with computers as a medium for creating visual art. One of the first artists to work with digital technology was John Whitney, who used a computer to create abstract animations in the 1960s. Whitney’s work laid the foundation for the development of digital animation and set the stage for other artists to explore the potential of computer technology.


In the 1970s, artists such as Harold Cohen and Vera Molnar began to create digital art using early computer graphics software, such as the IBM System/360 and the Evans & Sutherland PS-1. These artists were among the first to explore the possibilities of creating art using mathematical algorithms and code. This experimentation laid the foundation for the development of generative art, a form of digital art that is created using algorithms and mathematical processes.

The 1980s saw the rise of digital photography, which allowed to create computer images that closely resembled traditional photographs. Artists such as Robert Rauschenberg and Nam June Paik began to use digital photography in their art, and the medium quickly gained popularity among artists and photographers alike.


The 80s also saw the development of new technologies, such as the Macintosh computer, which made it easier to create digital artworks. Many artists that have been working with digital technology for the past 20 years, continued to explore new possibilities of computers, and began creating various animations using the Macintosh.

Steve Jobs and the Macintosh computer by Bernard Gotfryd, 1984
Steve Jobs and the Macintosh computer by Bernard Gotfryd, 1984

Did You Know that Adobe Photoshop was first released in 1988 and since then has become an industry standard for digital image editing and manipulation. It was followed by Corel Painter which was released in 1989 and gave the ability to simulate traditional painting techniques such as oil painting, watercolor, and pencil sketching, on a computer.

The 1990s was characterized by the emergence of more powerful digital technologies and the increasing popularity of computer art among artists and audiences. First online art galleries and cyber museums began to appear during this decade. A number of important digital art events took place for the first time ever, like the first Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics (SIGGRAPH) conference on Computer Animation that was held in 1990, as well as the first International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA) that was organized in 1993.


Artists like as David Hockney and David McLeod began using digital tools to imitate traditional art forms. These artists used software such as ZBrush to create art on a computer that closely resembled art from the physical world. Digital paintings, sculptures, and even TV shows started to gain momentum.

Of course the most notable development of the 90s was the debut of the World Wide Web in 1991 which connected and changed the whole world forever!

Digitally Animated TV Series: ReBoot – Episode 1, 1994

Did You Know that 3D Studio Max was originally released in 1990; it is widely used in the film, television, and video game industries. Adobe Flash was first released in 1996 and was essential in the early days of the web for creating interactive websites, animations, and games. And let’s not forget about ZBrush, it was released in 1999 and to this day it is a go-to digital sculpting and painting program that allows artists to create highly detailed, organic models.

The 2000s saw a largescale emergence of connected digital art technologies, communities, and platforms. Websites such as deviantART and Behance allowed artists to share their work, collaborate with others, and receive feedback on their art. Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram also played an important role in the development of digital art by providing a way for artists to showcase and promote their work. Another significant development was the rise of video art, a form of digital art that uses moving images and sound to create a work of art.


Artists such as Bill Viola and Nam June Paik have explored the possibilities of video art and have used digital technology to create unique and powerful works. The development of interactive art, that allowed the viewer to have an immersive experiences with an artwork, can largely be attributed to this time period. David Rokeby and Golan Levin, for example, have used interactive art to create works that are interactive and responsive to the viewer’s actions.

Yoda, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones by Lucasfilm, 2002

In the 21st century, digital art has become a global phenomenon, with many artists using evermore powerful digital tools to create a wide range of art forms, including video art, installation art, and interactive art. With the advent of the internet and social media, digital art has become more accessible than ever, allowing artists to share their work with a global audience.

NFT ‘The Sun King’ © Nils Hansen, 2022

The use of NFTs in the digital art market has allowed artists to monetize their work in a way that was not possible before. Prior to the advent of NFTs, digital art could be easily copied and distributed, making it difficult for artists to control the distribution and profit from their work. With NFTs, digital art can now be sold as a unique, one-of-a-kind piece, with the blockchain providing a secure and verifiable record of ownership. Arrival of NFT technology has also led to a significant increase in the price of digital art. In recent years, NFTs have been used to sell digital art for millions of dollars, with some pieces selling for as much as $69 million. This has led to a surge of interest in the digital art market and has attracted a new generation of artists and collectors.

Beeple - Everydays: the First 5000 Days by Beeple, 2021
Everydays: the First 5000 Days by Beeple, 2021–THE-FIRST-5000-DAYS

Without a doubt, digital art has had a historic impact on our society. With the rise of computer technology, artists for the first time ever could create and share their work with a global audience, regardless of their location or resources. Digital art greatly expanded the possibilities for creative expression, allowing for new forms and styles of art to emerge. It opened up amazing opportunities for collaboration and community-building among artists, played a key role in the democratization of the art world, and made it easier for emerging artists to gain recognition as well as reach. Today, digital art continues to evolve and expand through new technologies such as virtual and augmented reality that are opening up horizons to new and unexplored worlds.

The World Art News (WAN) is not liable for the content of this publication. All statements and views expressed herein are only an opinion. Act at your own risk. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written permission. © The World Art News

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