Virtual art is a term for the virtualization of art, made with the technical media developed at the end of the 1980s (or a bit before, in some cases). These include human-machine interfaces such as visualization casks, stereoscopic spectacles and screens, digital painting and sculpture, generators of three-dimensional sound, data gloves, data clothes, position sensors, tactile and power feed-back systems, etc. As virtual art covers such a wide array of mediums it is a catch-all term for specific focuses within it. Much contemporary art has become, in Frank Popper’s terms, virtualized.
Virtual art can be considered a post-convergent art form based on the bringing together of art and technology, thus containing all previous media as subsets.
Sharing this focus on art and technology are the books of Jack Burnham (Beyond Modern Sculpture 1968) and Gene Youngblood (Expanded Cinema 1970). Since virtual art can consist of virtual reality, augmented reality, or mixed reality, it can be seen in other aspects of production such as video games and movies.
In his book From Technological to Virtual Art, Frank Popper traces the development of immersive, interactive new media art from its historical antecedents through today’s digital art, computer art, cybernetic art, multimedia and net art.
Popper shows that contemporary virtual art is a further refinement of the technological art of the late twentieth century and also a departure from it. What is new about this new media art, he argues, is its humanization of technology, its emphasis on interactivity, its philosophical investigation of the real and the virtual, and its multisensory nature.
He argues further that what distinguishes the artists who practice virtual art from traditional artists is their combined commitment to aesthetics and technology. Their “extra-artistic” goals – linked to their aesthetic intentions – concern not only science and society but also basic human needs and drives. In regards to virtual art, openness is stressed, both from the point of view of the artists and their creativity and from that of the follow-up viewers in their reciprocating thoughts and actions.
This commitment and openness found in virtual art can be traced to the theories of Umberto Eco and other aestheticians. – Frank Popper
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