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The Year That Tech Needed The Art Industry

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Editor’s note: Kim Gordon is co-founder and CEO at Depict.com and an advocate of the digital arts economy.

Wandering the halls at CES this year, you would have been forgiven for thinking it was still 2014. Bluetooth speakers crowded the shelves, wearables were everywhere, and wherever you looked there was another blistering 4K display. Screens from Samsung, LG and others dominated the eye space with multicolor demos, yet we’re still to see 4K content that really makes us feel a deep longing for that new TV.

Enter Samsung and LG’s unlikely bedfellow in 2015 – the art world. Traditionally, art has been sluggish in going digital, and the first wave of art startups (Artsy, Artbinder, etc.) existed mainly to service an incumbent, analog industry.

All that will change this year, though, and websites selling paintings and prints will give way to platforms like Electric ObjectsFRAMED and my company Depict, which use art discovery apps and physical displays to enable a new generation of digital art collectors. In the hunt for new ways to get TV screens into our living rooms, hardware giants might have found the perfect new medium.

Companies have tried before to get us to love digital art and digital displays. You maybe have a digital picture frame from the early 2000s gathering dust in your basement that you used one Christmas for half a day and then unceremoniously dumped because of its blocky resolution and clunky interface.

Screens today, though, are hundreds of times sharper, can be controlled with our smartphones, and display most content easily using Google’s Chromecast or AppleTV’s AirPlay. A raft of digital art startups like ArtLion, ArtKick and Artcast have built libraries of high-resolution fine art and photography, and the ease of changing art on them means you can have a different piece for any occasion; Picasso at dinnertime or Mondrian in the morning.

In many ways it’s a perfect storm for the nascent digital art market. Connected TVs are in every home, 4K screens offer such high detail you can’t see the pixels, and communities of digital artists like DeviantArt and NewHive have exploded, providing increasing amounts of high-quality digital art created to be viewed on a screen. Display manufacturers are already investing; LG even hired Neil Patrick Harris to be the spokesperson for their Art of the Pixel campaign.

Ifnoyes.com recently sold at auction for $3,500. Rafael Rozendaal - the artist who created it - compares owning a website to owning a public sculpture in a park.

Ifnoyes.com recently sold at auction for $3,500. Rafael Rozendaal – the artist who created it – compares owning a website to owning a public sculpture in a park.

It’s taken a long time for the art world to go digital, but new encryption technologies like Monegraph are offering ways for collectors to mitigate piracy, and authenticate the provenance of a work. Digital artists like Rafaël Rozendaal are experimenting with new models for selling public work privately, and as artists become more comfortable with the medium (and start actually making money from it), the industry is likely to take notice.

Writing on Medium last year, Anil Dash – one of Monegraph’s creators – noted “this conversation will be happening in studios and museums, amongst nonprofits and artists’ workshops, between coders and curators.”

Very few people want or need another TV screen in their house, and CES this year was a demonstration that it’s getting harder and harder to sell us on the updates and gimmicks like quantum dots and curved screens that might tempt us to upgrade.

Art, though, is an investment, and one that contributes to the decor, aesthetic of our homes, and state of mind rather than taking up space. The movement of art onto screens and into our homes is good news for people who love digital work, and a huge opportunity for display manufacturers to demonstrate the value of their 4K technology.