The development of the artist practice regarding a digital art market: an overview

Erasmus University Rotterdam - Cultural Economics and Entrepreneurship - Study the business of art

Caoimbhe Molly Crowe 


Topic: Research question on the economy of arts and culture - the poor artist 

Title: The development of the artist practice regarding a digital art market: an overview
Key terms: artist practise, Digitalization, art market, innovation

The Development of the Artist Practice Regarding a Digital Art Market: An Overview

One economic pillar is a cultural sector, which is based on cultural and social relationships and is facing unprecedented challenges. Social distancing and ongoing restrictions have limited social interaction and personal activities. The creative sector is built on physical interaction with its spectator through public events such as exhibits, live performances, artist talks, workshops, etc. artists are challenged to change their practice. (Jones, 2022)

This literature review focuses on understanding the artist in practice and exploring the opportunities that have opened in the global digital art world. Online Culture along with the online decentralized space took its natural course with the expansion of cryptocurrencies. This ‘era of stagnation’ fuels a global rethinking of values and stirred a discourse of the art world's future. This new phenomenon leads to the question of the value of the artist and creative practice. This literature review explores the question: How does innovation in the digital art world impact the artist's practice in the current time? To answer these questions, it is essential to review the history and methodology of the artist in practice in the digital world.

The Changing Landscape of the Art Market: Insights into Digital Art and the Role of the Artist

The review gives an insight into several arts and community reports and gives examples of digital artists in the art market. It explores the relationship between the artist, spectator, and the dealership. The first phase of the research includes a brief description of digital art in art history and recent times. Secondly, this review sums up an understanding of the digital art market's values and investigates the artist's role in practice. Because most of the digital art is connected to a digital currency that can be sold as an NFT, this study uses the Art+Tech Report 2020 to understand the motivation of digital art collectors. The third phase of this study includes an insight into the decentralized market by looking into the art market and its spectators from a local to a hybrid art economy in the literature of (Hawkins, 2021).  This review gives an overview of the development of the art market and identifies the challenges each player in this game brings to the table by including examples of three artists with diverse practices. How did the artist's practice develop throughout art history in the past? Let’s briefly go back to the history of digital art in recent years. Media art has been used before the days of VHS and Pac-Man and was born through the innovation of digital photography. As technology persistently shifted, artists and creators were able to develop new methods to create their bodies of work. This gave creators an opening for innovative ways to reach their audiences. In the days of the ‘era of LAN- Parties’ that forms an entire generation of young adults, the boomer generation questioned the impact of ‘ego shooter’ games on our mindsets and what influence staring at a screen could have on our health. (Gleis, 2005) An unprecedented culture was born, and generations of gaming developers, photography and film producers, designers, artists, and architects gained new assets for their production of work. Recently, these innovations have pushed the boundaries of the understanding of art and art production.

How did the role of an artist and art production change within this innovative development? In the Book: The selflessly devoted artist. In Why are artists poor? the example of what drives Alex to become an artist and how he would sustain his practice was portraying the traditional role of an artist in the art world. The book distinguishes a clear position as to what the role of an artist is to be either devoted to their art selflessly or to be considered the commercial artist who has the collector and critic in the back of their mind. An artist would be positioned in their work and reluctant to change their practice without risking their position in the market. (Abbing, 2002) Traditional artists are people such as painters, writers, and sculptors working with physical materials. 

Digital innovation encourages many creatives to enter the art world without the traditional background of the Kunst Académie. In times of social media, anyone can present themselves directly to an audience. The creator is no longer shaped through the traditional academic mold. They can create and position themselves as an artist through whatever means they find. Joseph Beuys's formula: “Jeder Mensch ist ein Künstler”, states everyone can make from their sources coming from various disciplines. We do not need the gallery establishment to sell our product in a decentralized world. This opens the doors to autodidact creatives all over the world. (Jones, 2022) On account of its pecking order with its elitist audience, the white cube faces a dilemma to maintain a new generation of spectators. 

Examples of established artists that show success in the change of course, from analog artists such as Erwin Wurm, who is known for his blown-up and exaggerated sculptures to a digital creator that in partnership with Johan König tuned into the decentralized online space of NFT artworks. This illustrated his adaptation to the new challenges artists face.

“The NFTs may disappear, but the critical dialogue they have created will remain in our collective memory, and the value and legitimacy they have brought to digital art through this conversation may have changed their social perception forever. The new paradigm first emphasizes that “value” as property and characteristic of objects or phenomena in modern conditions is increasingly determined not by the past, but by the future. This is what determines the “paradigm shift” — the present in the future is much more important than the traditional in the past. “ (Habrel, 2022)

The Relationship between Artists, Spectators, and Dealerships in the Decentralized Art Market

As stated in the book Abbing, many artists conduct a commercial route that includes a marketing strategy, and the best way to do so is by partnering with a gallery. In the traditional artist career, it would be then considered as being part of the establishment. The artist would have the opportunity to fully focus on their body of work, while the management team arranges the marketing and the deals. 

What is the relationship between the artists, their spectators, and the dealership? For example, Erwin Wurm proves no loss in his career by adapting his practice to a digital approach. In collaboration with Johan König, Wurm was able not only to develop a new format to his usual practice but also to broaden his community outside of the classical gallery spectator to a generation of digital collectors. He can reach a new target group while maintaining his relationship with his audience and collectors. 

But who are these collectors in the decentralized space? The Art Tech Report investigates this question. Key actors that are involved in the art business conducted thorough research on the current digital ecosystem. To understand what influence digitalization has on a market that still operates very traditionally in the sense of the relationship between the artist and the gallery and the gallery with their black book of collectors.

         The report illustrates that many collectors are 42%, 20-40-year-old, and 40%, 41–55-year-old of a more established history of collecting the art of young artists. Those deals happen mostly directly with the artist or the gallery, less than through a third-party platform. The behavior shows that pre-selection or curation of the artwork is critical (Gold, 2021). The buyer needs this form of relationship and bond with the creator. 

How do artists respond to this development in the paradigm shift towards a decentralized art market? Damien Hirst's recent work ‘Currency’ comments on this natural development of the art market and opens his body of work to a public experiment. (Hawkins, 2021) He produces material works that are equivalent to printed paper money and then he went on to make copies of the material work into NFT. Two things happened here, firstly he was working in the traditional marketplace by producing material workpieces and secondly reproducing each piece on an NFT. This illustrates the conventional market and the digital market and the possibilities of both.

Conclusion: The Future of Art in a Decentralized Digital World: Adapting to the Paradigm Shift

Innovation in the artist's practice has always been a part of art history as society and technology change. The artist and artwork will continuously respond in the way they create their work. The traditional art establishment faces new challenges, due to the impact, social media has on the global and decentralized market. The spectators and collectors are part of the new generation that maintains a need for a relationship with the creator and dealership through pre-selected content. Artists are adapting to this new digital paradigm shift and as we see in the example of Damien Hirst responding by questioning the future of the artist's role and their spectators with the use of digital technology. Artists have direct access to a broader target audience and are not restricted to traditional creative practices.


Gleis, A. (2005). Verknüpfung von virtuellen und realen (Sozial)Räumen - LAN-Partys als Aneignungsfeld in der offenen Kinder- und Jugendarbeit, Sozialräumliche Jugendarbeit, [1] (pp. 277-278)

Gold, K., K., Leipold, K., Neuschäffer, J., & Schwanz, A., (2020). Art+Tech Report, <>

Abbing, H. (2002). The selflessly devoted artist. In Why are artists poor? (pp. 78- 102)

Habrel, T. (2022). Crypto Art: A New Era in Art VS Adventure Challenge? Culture and Arts in the Modern World, 23, pp. 85-92. <[4] >

Hawkins, J. (2021[5] ). Damien Hirst’s Dotty ‘Currency’ Art Makes as Much Sense as Bitcoin. The Conversation <>

Jones, S. (2022). Cracking up: the pandemic effect on visual artists’ livelihoods[6] , Review Cultural Trends