Visual Art in the 21st Century | Impact of Internet on Visual Art (2023)

There are myriad ideas that could be explored under the heading ‘Visual art in the 21st Century’; to thoroughly discuss and do justice to such a theme one would surely need to spend far longer behind the keyboard than I have on this occasion. Nonetheless, I have, admittedly somewhat arbitrarily, selected a few sub-topics for this article and offered my thoughts on them. Drawing on my own experience, what has often inspired me to pursue art, even during periods when I would scarcely visit a gallery, was the wealth of artistic content available online. I therefore decided to write about the impact of technology, and most notably the internet, on visual art in the 21st Century. This is something that affects not just the artist but also the audience. Technology can obviously thematically influence and inspire the work of an artist; however, internet access also means that it is much easier for audiences to follow a wider range of artists, without being restricted by location, and much easier for artists to be influenced themselves by a greater collection of work from a variety of other artists and cultures.

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The greater accessibility of art online in particular is striking. I personally use the r/art subreddit, and I’ve no doubt there must be countless alternatives available. Nothing is unique on the internet. On this one website (or equivalent), I can, on my phone, for free, scroll through and view hundreds of artworks, all in a five-minute coffee break. Quite a contrast when compared to booking a day’s leave, paying an admission fee and spending a day in a gallery. Anyone can see online content from anywhere thanks to the internet, whereas galleries are walled-off geographical spaces. Has the internet therefore liberated art and rendered the confines of the physical exhibition defunct?

Of course, convenience and cost are not everything. If no fees were ever charged for art then artists would struggle, and often fail, to support themselves and their artistic pursuits; the age of the illegal download may yet be a two-edged sword. Is the art world gaining accessibility at the expense of quality? Do we risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

Conversely though, how many who dedicate themselves to artwork do so primarily for financial gain? Speaking personally, the artwork of others inspires me to be creative. If art is more accessible to a wider audience, then perhaps the quality of art can and will improve rather than suffer, in spite of a culture where those who appreciate an artist’s work no longer necessarily need to pay for the pleasure. It is also not just easier for existing art-lovers to view more artworks; the internet may draw in a fresh audience that might never have been enticed by a gallery.

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As for convenience, of course it is an incredible privilege to be able to peruse artwork in the palm of my hand. And that this action is taken so casually, that, when I cannot do it, for instance, due to signal loss on a tube train, my entitled first-world self, so used to taking things for granted, views this as a notable and almost shocking affront. In such an era of convenience, what place is there then for the gallery?

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I still belief wholeheartedly in the gallery experience personally, although this was not always the case. I partook in a several school trip gallery visits whilst studying art at school, but once I was out from under the thumb of top-down-mandated artistic pursuits, there were a few years where I hardly set foot in a gallery. I would still avidly paint and draw in these years, but if I required inspiration, it was to the internet I would turn, rather than to a physical exhibition. This gradually changed when I began to take my artwork more seriously and started to see it as something that I wished to pursue at least semi-professionally and not just as a hobby. I began to visit galleries as I increasingly sought to immerse myself more in the artwork of others. I was talking recently to one of my friends, who was themselves self-confessedly not the biggest fan of art. They put forward the idea that a gallery was to a certain extent rendered pointless if one could view HD images of all the featured works on my laptop. It was only then that I properly put words to the realisation that had been gradually accumulating in the back of my mind across a spate of recent gallery visits; there is, for me at least, something intangibly more powerful about viewing artwork in the flesh than on the screen. The colours are richer, the brushstrokes more pronounced, the themes somehow more emotive. Just as I find myself enjoying a live musical performance more than merely listening on a phone, appreciating a film more in the cinema than at home and laughing more at a live comedy show than at a televised one, the ‘in the flesh’ component of visual art, although it may be hard to quantify exactly why, palpably improves the experience of the audience.

And this is just a general tendency, certain gallery exhibitions can also utilise a specific location to add an extra layer of context to the artwork on display. For example, in the summer of 2016, I visited The White Cube gallery in central London for an exhibition of the work of Raqib Shaw, an artist known for a fantastical and grotesque style. I had viewed a few of the exhibited works online in advance; sticking out like a sore thumb in the background of several of the featured paintings was an incongruously modern-looking tower. When viewed online, the contextual implication of this feature is lost; it was only when I arrived at the exhibition, and realised that the White Cube is located at the base of the Shard, that I fully appreciated the inclusion of this tower. This is just one example of the physical aspect of the gallery exhibition being utilised for greater artistic merit, I have no doubt many other exhibitions draw on their locations or other similar contextual features.

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I do think though that it is possible to go too far in defence of galleries. I’ve heard online platforms for art sometimes discussed in a somewhat dismissive tone relative to galleries. It would be easy to lazily view online artists as more amateurish and see the more exclusive gallery as a venue for art that is automatically of a higher quality. Online material has a perhaps more colloquial air, somewhat devoid of the high-culture aura that one might associate more typically with galleries. But is that a definitive indicator of quality? A sceptic would say that all content that ends up in a gallery has been vetted and approved by experts; of course it is going to be of a higher quality than online where any amateur can post anything.

Contrary to that argument though I have always found the quality of online art to be of a high and inspiring standard. I personally cynically suspect that there is sometimes a certain level of unfounded technophobia towards the internet amongst its critics, and it’s not as if the displaying of artwork online is some chaotic free-for-all in any case. Online forums, such as r/art which I am partial to, use a system of user votes whereby those who view the artwork can register approval, and thus make the art more visible, so there is still a system of endorsement, but it is more populist in its approach, something that I think very much has a place within art. Don’t get me wrong, if ever there was a year to challenge one’s faith in democracy it would be 2016, but nonetheless the popular vote remains something that I’m in favour of. As much as there is still very much a role for the gallery, the internet I feel has helped raise the profile of art and has certainly made it more accessible to the average person; a bicameralism between curated gallery exhibitions and the scope for populist movements is a balance that could work well for visual art.

There are also other advantages to online-based art. For example, just as some art is stronger in a contextual physical setting (the aforementioned example of Raqib Shaw’s work), so too may some artwork actually be better suited to an online environment. For example, digital artwork is something that I have scarcely seen in a gallery and yet is prominent online. There is now the potential for art to be coded and constructed with algorithms rather than pencil or paint, and artists who are considered to be purely internet artists, such as Darius Kazemi, are provided with scope to develop new artwork in ways that would have previously been impossible. Innovation in style, media and imagery are all given great license by the internet and its utilisation within visual art.

Of course, a statement like that raises more questions than answers; such is the subjective nature of art. Do galleries not offer such innovation? How would one exactly define innovation in style, media and imagery? Why would such innovation be needed or desired? I am fairly confident that I cannot definitively answer these questions and my attempts to do so would only create more such questions as I tried to construct an objective argument on a house of cards of subjective opinions. Suffice it to say that, in my opinion, the rise of the internet and technology has been fantastic for visual art. Whatever the drawbacks, the fact that I can, via a smartphone, beam images of the artworks of the world into the palm of my hand in a matter of seconds, almost anywhere, with such ease that I almost think of this ability as a right rather than a privilege, is simply stunning. As mentioned earlier, despite the criticism that often surrounds illegal downloading of music, I think the ability to access any music on such a whim is similarly amazing. However, we still owe the artforms we love some form of financial support, and not just from a moral standpoint. Not only would artists lose out from the closure of galleries, so too would audiences. If you love art, seek it out online, by all means go above and beyond to do so, but don’t neglect the unique experience offered by paying to view art in the flesh. As with live music, comedy or theatre, it is well worth paying for.

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What is Visual Arts in 21st century? ›

In the 21st century visual culture has grown as a recognized interdisciplinary field of study, taking a multi-faceted approach to understanding how images of all types communicate and participate in the construction of identity, gender, class, power relationships, and other social and political meanings and values.

How has art impacted the 21st century? ›

Engagement in the arts has been shown to foster innovation, critical thinking, communication, self-confidence, emotional literacy, and creativity, all skills which are still essential in 21st century life.

How does technology impact the visual arts? ›

Some of the modern visual artists use 3D effects to transform and shape in their creative ideas to art. The advanced techniques and software let an artist shape in their vision and use up their creativity to create much more realistic art works compared to those made with traditional techniques.

How does technology affect the development of art in this 21st century? ›

Computers and digital technology Some artists now use digital technology to extend the reach of creative possibilities. ... Like traditional mediums of drawing, painting and sculpture they allow creative exploration of ideas and the making of objects and images.

Why are 21st century skills important for students in arts education? ›

21st-century skills are those students need to navigate an ever-changing, global society. Many schools districts are asking teachers to use these skills in their curriculum. The good news for art teachers is that we teach a unique subject where students can creatively apply what they have learned in other classes.

What is 21st century art called? ›

Contemporary art is the art of today, produced in the second half of the 20th century or in the 21st century. Contemporary artists work in a globally influenced, culturally diverse, and technologically advancing world.

Why is modern art useful in the 21st century? ›

Along with personal expression, Contemporary Art allows the artist to make commentary on the culture around them. This can include depicting literally or figuratively their views on everything ranging from politics to pop culture.

Why Contemporary arts has a big contribution on today's growth and development in arts? ›

Contemporary Art

It provides opportunities to reflect on society and the issues that are important to us and the world. It is part of a cultural dialogue that concerns larger contextual frameworks such as identity, family, community, and nationality.

How do the contemporary artists affect the 21st century society? ›

In a globally influenced, culturally diverse, and technologically advancing world, contemporary artists give voice to the varied and changing cultural landscape of identities, values, and beliefs. Audiences play an active role in the process of constructing meaning about works of art.

What did the Internet do for the arts? ›

The internet helped numerous artists make their artwork more visible, increasing accessibility to worldwide audiences. Advanced technology also enabled the artist to transform and manipulate their artwork, thus becoming a significant art medium.

How technology is changing the art world today? ›

The development of technology has continued walking hand-in-hand with progressive artistic concepts and has changed the way art is created and shared, enabling groundbreaking artists and their innovative expressions to gain expanded access to whole new audience groups beyond the conventional boundaries of the art world ...

How important is modern technology in an artwork nowadays does it make the artwork more valuable when integrated with modern technology? ›

Basically, technology helps broaden the horizons of an artist's creativity while also limit the problems that they might encounter. It makes the production of art a lot less demanding, and as a result, artists now have more time to contemplate and expand their creativity.

How does technology help the 21st century learners with their art skills? ›

1. Technology gives students a new way to create art. Technology in the art studio is a great way to get your students using a different type of medium. There are several apps with which students can create their own art as well as manipulate the traditional art they have made.

What are the different 21st century techniques in creating digital arts? ›

The most widely-accepted techniques of digital art are:
  • Photography: ...
  • Photo painting: ...
  • Digital collage: ...
  • 2d digital painting: ...
  • 3d digital painting: ...
  • Vector Drawing or Dynamic Painting: ...
  • Algorithmic: ...
  • Mixed media (integrated digital art):

How does technology contribute to the development of art like photography? ›

As digital cameras and mobile phones became more advanced they were able to produce higher quality images. Digital photography enables the individual to assess the quality of the image immediately after it's been taken and allows for easier photo editing as well, ensuring that a perfect picture is produced every time.

What is visual arts in your own words? ›

These are the arts that meet the eye and evoke an emotion through an expression of skill and imagination. They include the most ancient forms, such as painting and drawing, and the arts that were born thanks to the development of technology, like sculpture, printmaking, photography, and installation art.

What is the purpose of visual arts? ›

Visual art is a fundamental component of the human experience reflecting the world and the time in which we live. Art can help us understand our history, our culture, our lives, and the experience of others in a manner that cannot be achieved through other means.

What are the roles or function of artworks in the 21st century? ›

This view stands, even though it is generally accepted that the creative arts encourage the development of creativity, innovation, collaboration, critical thinking, communication, motivation and self-confidence… skills seen as essential for the 21st Century work environment.

How does art help the community in the 21st century? ›

Thus, arts and culture can create opportunities for political expression, community dialogue, shared cultural experiences, and civic work. Within the arts, there is a vital yet lesser-known field of practice that strives to develop cultural understanding and civic engagement.


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