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Digital Media Force Changes in Artists' Work

By Eva Moy
News Editor

Even art was featured at the Industry Summit held last weekend. The interactive session, "Arts, Technology, and Business in the 21st Century," described how rapid technological growth has and will affect art.

Recent developments in digital technology have facilitated the creation, recording, and distribution of art work. But they also raise questions of artistic control, intellectual property rights, and the relationship of the original artwork and its copies.

"With the growing importance of digital media in the art world, [there is] a need for new sorts of organizational structure," both in terms of cataloging artwork and supporting artists, said William J. Mitchell, dean for the School of Architecture and Planning and chair of the session.

Digital imaging is less expensive than non-digital imaging, in terms of overhead, storage costs, and physical retrieval of the artwork, said panelist Michael Ester, president of Luna Imaging. It also provides better security and multiple-user access, he said.

In addition, digital images are "immune to subsequent deterioration." On the other hand, some artwork, such as photographs, deteriorate quickly, with a projected loss of about 15 million works over the next 10 years, Ester said. Although color film has a life of 200 years, it has only a 15 year half-life, he said.

With a digital system, "the same uniform high quality can be used for all images," Ester said. Digital imaging will promote even quality so thatillustrations can focus on content rather than color and size as criterion for publication, he said.

But because of inconsistencies in digital image quality ranging from color corrections to varying display and print equipment, standards for archival quality still must be developed, Ester said.

In a digital system, text and images can also be combined to create a complete record of the work. "The image is just one more description of a work of art," Ester said.

Government, industry play roles

The government and corporations complement each other in the support of artists and their work.

The government can promote art and artists by providing incentives and disincentives, manipulating and redefining systems of property rights, and providing information, said Mark Schuster, associate professor of urban studies and planning.

In the United States, art institutions can receive financial support through federally-funded grants which match the amount already raised through private means.

But in some countries, like Germany, corporations pool their money together to support these institutions, Schuster said. Perhaps they "didn't feel they had the expertise [to sponsor] on their own," but still wanted to make a contribution, he said.

Sometimes government agencies may create autonomous organizations to promote cultural events. These organizations are kept "at arm's length from the government" to try to appear more attractive to private supporters who may otherwise be wary of the government's use of the money, Schuster said. For example, the Boston 200 Corporation was created to raise money for Boston's 200-year anniversary celebration.