The Digital Dark Age

Have you ever wondered what we, the current Western world, will be remembered for in terms of art? There is evidence from all periods of history, showing the varying styles and their developments. We only need to step into an art gallery to see paintings from the Renaissance era, Dutch Golden Age, Rococo and Neoclassicism. Exhibitions are still popular for Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Impressionism, Post- Impressionism and so forth. Modern art galleries not only display contemporary art but also works from the movements of the 20th century: Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, Bauhaus, De Stijl, Futurism, Surrealism, Typography… the list goes on.

Art works have been restored and protected so that modern generations can appreciate their beauty, skill and techniques. But what will happen to our contemporary contributions? Paintings, sculptures and the like will hopefully be maintained in the same way as their predecessors, however our most recent movement, Digital Art, possesses numerous complications.

Although many artists have continued using the tried and tested techniques of yesteryear, the 21st century has conformed to the new practice of digital art. This is the era in which graphic designers and illustrators have out shone the fine artists. Computer software enables the mass production of a single design or art work, perfect for posters, flyers, logos etc. The same software lets artists and illustrators edit their hand rendered images, or draw them from scratch directly on the computer screen. This advancement has greatly benefited the majority, providing an arguably easier method of creating a “masterpiece”.

The ease of reproducing – reprinting – a digital artwork numerous times creates a sense of security: Damage? No worries, print a new copy. But for how long will this last? Everyone has experienced the heart stopping horror of losing a vital digital file. Or perhaps a computer has crashed mid production resulting in the loss of latest developments – save your files at regular intervals, everyone! The thought of losing one piece of artwork is sickening; now imagine this: an entire network crashing. Perhaps a bug wipes out several computers, a digital terrorist attack. A natural disaster could play havoc with our electricity. Scientists have warned that solar flares could render our technology useless. We cannot guarantee that our contemporary inventions will last for ever, the same as we cannot predict an alien invasion – something else that could put an end to digital art. If any of these scenarios were to happen, what will future generations know of this most recent art movement? Welcome to the digital dark age.

Many artists, illustrators and graphic designers have online portfolios; a digital gallery, but how many of us keep printed versions of our artwork? Alas, how long will these physical copies last? Art galleries contain paintings from centuries ago. They are protected, cleaned, (occasionally) retouched and restored, prolonging their life. Unfortunately the same cannot be done for works printed on paper. Ever town has a poster on display that has been ruined by rainfall, bleached by the sun, vandalised etc. Except for replacing it with another copy, they cannot be saved.

Do not panic too much. Evidence suggests that under the right circumstances paper can last upwards of one hundred years, regrettably eventually showing signs of age. Regardless of what happens to our technologies, the next few generations will have access to artworks of the early 21st century. After that? Who knows. In the end it does not really matter. We will not be around to bemoan the loss of our hard work.

In order for evidence of digital art to remain for years to come, please be sensible. Save your work (on multiple devices of your can). Print multiple copies. Protect them from the elements. But, most importantly, keep creating art. On the other hand, you have got to admit the thought of a digital dark age sounds quite exciting. I wonder what inaccurate beliefs the future human race will have of our generation?


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