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From Visual Arts to Virtual Arts – some insights about Law, Art & Technology

08 October 2019

From Visual Arts to Virtual Arts – some insights about Law, Art & Technology

Leonardo Da Vinci’s life and work show us that innovation and technology have always been close to art and artists. Over the past few decades, however, deep technological innovations are modifying art in strange, new ways. The development and access to new technologies have radically changed not only the ways of producing art but also the ways of consuming, preserving, collecting and restoring art nowadays. Obviously, all this has complex legal repercussions.

Right at the University of Minho, for example, the researcher and multimedia artist João Martinho Moura is a world reference in digital art and computational aesthetics. For the past 15 years, he has been adopting new digital ways to represent audiovisual artifacts, with special interest in the human body. Some of his award-winning works can be seen at  http://jmartinho.net/. Light art, lasers, AI created art, artist robots, e-museums are also good examples the ways in which technology is making its impact in the art world and in the legal systems.

The complexity of authorship and the relevance of the dematerialization of artwork in the field of contemporary visual arts have already secured the birth of at least three Digital Art Biennials. The older is “The Wrong Art Biennale” (https://thewrong.org), a global, digital event aiming to create, promote and push forward-thinking contemporary digital art among artists, curators, collectors and institutions located in virtual pavilions. There is also the International Digital Art Biennial (BIAN), in Montréal, created in 2012. The younger Digital Art Biennial will happen in Brazil for the first time in 2020, but was born ten years ago in Belo Horizonte, as a Digital Art Festival.

From the art consume standpoint, market’s digitization and virtualization produced a big impact. According to the Hiscox Online Art Trade Report 2019 (http://bit.do/fa5an), the online art market grew 9.8% in aggregate in 2018 to $4.64 billion. Furthermore, more art buyers express a preference for buying art online as opposed to offline purchases – this involves online galleries, online antique shops, online auction houses and artist’s direct sales. In fact, 80% of art buyers use Instagram to discover new artists, for instance. In addition, in recent years, a great number of emerging fintechs such as Artfintech.one (http://artfintech.one/), Feral Horses (https://www.feralhorses.co.uk/), Maecenas (https://www.maecenas.co/) and ARTOPOLIE (https://www.artopolie.com/) are offering  blockchain-based co-ownership of high value artworks, which creates new business opportunities and new investor audiences.

While market access has become bigger with virtualization, cybercrime has also become more evident in this scenario. There is no doubt that ransomware attacks, wire transfer fraud, data theft, forgery and illicit trade of stolen goods were favoured in the last years. With a larger offer and consumption, the chances of cybercrime also increased.

The other side of the coin is that the same technology that can serve illicit goals can be a great tool to fight crime.  Websites like Verisart (https://verisart.com/) or Chronicled (https://www.chronicled.com/) applies blockchain technology to provide certainty, security and confidence to protect the creation and the ownership of artworks. The same blockchain technology may in the future guarantee the payment of the “droit de suite” to artists and their heirs.

New technological artistic expressions have posed enormous challenges in archiving and preserving works of e-art as well. On the other side, another positive aspect of the use of technology in art is the application of nanotechnology in the restoration and authentication of (hard)works of art. The use of satellites to guard archaeological sites and to prevent illegal excavations, as well as the development of cell phone´s applications (App) capable of recognizing works and creating Object ID are another important aspect of the positive approximation among technology, law and art.

Of all these possibilities of interaction between art, law and technology, the one that has drawn the most attention in recent years, due to its influence on the fundamental right of access to justice, is the development of the “Legal Design”, a tool that mixes imagination, creativity and innovation and can help to create functional, inclusive and transparent legal documents, services, and systems.

One of the basic principles of “Legal Design” is that law can be made more comprehensible if it is made more visual. For many time law was understood as an exclusively textual science (“Textwissenschaft”) whose strength would reside in the purest interpretation of legal texts, with no room whatsoever for art-like conceptual openness, plurivocity, polysemy, anarchy or even some irrationality. This brief post is meant to bridge this distance between arts, tech and law, showing that the juridical science is no longer “sola escriptura”.


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