What is Electronic Art?

Mary Elizabeth

Electronic art admits of no single definition. It is created in a variety of media and with the electronic aspect being interpreted in a variety of ways, including closed camera feedback, digital origins, digital processing, robotics, electronic devices controlled by people’s movements, and other types of technology. Much of it invites or even relies on participant interaction.

Electronic art can include the use of computer programs to create 3D environments and images.
Electronic art can include the use of computer programs to create 3D environments and images.

Creations in virtual reality programs, such as Second Life®, are one form of art that is considered to be electronic art. Second Life® is a digital world in which people interact using a digital persona called an avatar. A creation done for and used in Second Life® is both digitally created and digitally transmitted. When used in the Second Life® environment, others who are also in the environment can meet, talk to, and connect with the avatar, so the creation is an interactive form of electronic art. Avatars in this, and other, virtual realities are created by people all over the world, who are able to interact with each other despite enormous distances between them.

Users are represented by avatars in the Second Life game.
Users are represented by avatars in the Second Life game.

Electronic music is another example of electronic art. There are many types of electronic music, but one type of electronic music is created with an electronic instrument called the theremin. The theremin is played by hand movements interacting with the instrument and controlling pitch and volume by altering the electromagnetic fields of two antennas. It was invented by Lev Theremin in the USSR in the 1920s, and continued in development for a number of years thereafter.

In 2009, one award in the Prix Ars Electronica — an international electronic arts competition — went to Eduardo Kac, along with his partners at the Department of Horticultural Science and the Department of Plant Biology at the University of Minnesota, St. Paul. Kac received the Hybrid Art award for his work called “Natural History of the Enigma” in which he transplanted a gene from his own DNA into a petunia, resulting in an “Edunia,” which is accompanied by a sculpture, photographs, and a print suite. The electronics come in, for example, in the use of 3D imaging used to in the conceptualization of the sculpture based on the proteins and molecules of the flower.

The term electronic art could also be applied to television broadcasts, podcasts, videos, movies with CGI (computer-generated images) or other computer effects, and other art forms. Online video games are another interactive form of electronic art. It is highly likely that new forms of electronic art will continue to be invented.

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Discussion Comments


@pastanaga - I'm interested to see what the next generation comes up with when they get to the point where they are innovating with these tools. There's only so much we can do since we didn't grow up with them and can't see all the possibilities the way they will be able to (much like a native speaker will always have the edge over a person who speaks it as a second language).

I'm particularly interested in how electronic arts are going to end up mimicking our senses as time goes on. We're already at a very exciting point with visuals, with several different advanced augmented reality and 3D technologies being introduced in the next decade or so.

But haptic technology will be the next big thing, I think, where we will be able to experience digital space through touch. I can only imagine what artists will be able to do with technology that can make people feel like they are touching something rather than just looking at it or hearing it.


@croydon - I am constantly thrilled by the creations that I see on my social media feeds, particularly Tumblr, as they are almost always some kind of electronic art. My favorite thing is that a lot of the time they are just purely done for the love of the art rather than for money or prestige.

The things that artists can do with digital art software these days is just amazing. Combining it with traditional mediums is also very cool.


Some of the more incredible examples of electronic art I've seen have been made with the game Minecraft. There's actually a small movie made up of still frames drawn with the blocks in the game. And people have recreated everything from fictional castles to real countries in miniature.

The thing I like most about it is that it's such a collaborative medium, as is electronic art in general.

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