When Bill Gates built his gigantic mansion on Lake Washington, one of the most talked-about features was the video wall that displayed digital versions of artwork.
While many marveled at this innovative idea in the early 90s, few had the ability to recreate a digital art collection at home.
Fast forward to 2011, this is about to change with the launch of s[edition] – a new website for “digital limited edition art”.
But what exactly does that mean?
According to co-founders Harry Blain and Robert Norton, s[edition] enables artists to create purely digital artwork, such as the images below, with technology that limits how many copies of the piece can exist.
Users can then follow these artists, browse their work, and purchase art pieces for immediate display on any connected device, be it their mobile phone, iPad or TV.
You're probably wondering how digital art can be limited when copying a file is easy and free. Well, s[edition] uses a form of security that limits the number of copies of each digital artwork. It's an artificial limitation, but one designed to create value for collectors
Upon purchase, collectors are given a Certificate of Authenticity signed by both the artist and the company.
Currently, s[edition] is collaborating with a team of top contemporary artists including Damien Hirst, Mat Collishaw, Tim Noble and Sue Webster. Artwork on s[edition] costs anywhere from US$10 to US$800 – so if you want to become an art collector but lack the cash for real paintings, you can begin a digital collection at more affordable prices on the site.
s[edition] launched globally last Thursday, and we had an opportunity to speak to the Chairman Harry Blain and CEO Robert Norton. You can check out our interview here or read a more complete transcript of our chat below.
What is digital limited edition art?
Harry: Works that artists created specifically for this medium that don't exist anywhere else, so they don't have any physical form whatsoever, they are purely digital work. And these are limited in the number, each ones are certified by a Certificate of Authenticity signed by the artist and by the company, and then collected by collectors around the world, or that's what we hope.
How do you ensure the limited nature of artwork?
Robert: Digital by nature is inherently reproducible – infinitely reproducible. What's not infinitely reproducible is a record database. As Harry said, each of the editions are numbered, authentically signed and traced to the purchaser, and the editions are done in sizes of 2,000, 5,000 and 10,000, and when you buy a work of art through s[edition], you are purchasing a Certificate of Authenticity that allows you access to that work through any connected device.
Why would you limit the artwork?
Harry: It's from an original collecting point of view – the original work of art that the artist has created is limited to the edition sizes that Robert just mentioned. At the end of the day, you can copy anything you like – whether it's physical work, whether it's a kind of film, or it's a book, or it's a fireplace or a house, whatever it might be – if you try hard enough and you really want to copy something, you can. The point of this is this is set up for collectors – for people who want to become a collector of these artists, whether it's Damien Hirst or whoever the artist may be. This allows them access to these artists and become a collector of their work in an authentic way, exhibit the work, enjoy the work, and if you know, if at a later stage they wish to sell it, they could resell it to them.
What are the advantages of digital art?
Robert: I think over the last few years, we've seen a rapidly growing acceptance of the digitalization of goods and services. You've seen books, music, movies, all delivered in digital format. I think art is one of the last great areas to embrace what the web is great at – what the web is great at is giving you something that you can't get physically, or that you can get digitally, which is easier and quicker than in the real world. [...] If you think about the average person when they buy a piece of art – a physical a piece of art – it tends to be they've got a stable place to live, like their own home, and particularly with younger audiences, you see people pushing off until a later time when they buy their first home, yet they still have very strong taste with regards to art, particularly contemporary art as seen by the millions of people who go to contemporary art shows and museums every year, and s[edition] gives these younger audiences the ability to buy art at prices that up until now they have not been able to afford.
How does s[edition] work for an artist?
Robert: There's a specific process that the artist goes through from envisioning the work that they would like to see available from having that s[edition] of the work made available for consumers to buy. The process depends on how long the artist takes to bring the work to life. Basically they would first identify works they think that would be suitable for this medium, and then in some cases they will use their own studios, and in other cases, they will use the facilities that we have available as an extension of their own studios facilities, and will make the work available in that way.
How does s[edition] work for a collector?
Robert: Collectors come onto the site – they can browse work, starting from around US$10 up to around US$800, they can find a price range which is suitable for them, they can choose whether they want the work in still or moving image, and then they can simply buy, and just like with Amazon or any typical e-commerce experience, their work is added to the cart, you check out and the work is immediately available for you to view it.
How did you get into the concept of selling digital art?
Harry: I think really it was a natural evolution. Many many years ago there was the advent of print, woodcuts, which allowed collectors and audience to engage with the artists and the artists' work, but on a level that was perhaps more accessible than a painted or an original work of those days. All s[edition] really is another form of that in the 21st century – it's using the medium that's the most available to the artists today, and a platform that reaches a large number of collectors and a larger audience within the artist's practice [...] It seems not only possible but probable, and in today's environment, almost inevitable. And that's been something that I personally have been playing with the idea since early 90s, and really technology has just come to the point where it's reached, I supposed, a crystallization of that. Robert and I met a year ago and joined forces to build what we have now.