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The Digital Renaissance: A Renewed Interest In Art Movements

A Hot Wheels set on the beach to create a still life photo, an example of art in The Digital Renaissance.
Mayport Pizza Art Exhibition, Photo by Feria Magazine

The Digital Renaissance is how historians will define today’s art movement, if we recognize the artworks of today as just that, contributions to our own art movement.

Revisiting The Still Life

I first learned about still life art in 2014 as an undergrad when I took up my first art class, “Intro to Drawing”. I made some questionable artworks in that class, or rather, had some unconventional methods.

My first still life was a drawing of a cigar and wine glass sitting on the deck of my piano.

Here’s what I did…I took a photo of it on my phone…displayed that photo on my 32inch monitor…taped my paper onto the monitor…and pencil traced the photo. I turned that drawing in as my first still life assignment.

Hey, nothing Warhol wouldn’t have done in the digital age.

That’s called artistic efficiency!

Here’s how Getty.edu defines a still life:

The term “still life” describes a work of art that shows inanimate objects from the natural or man-made world, such as fruit, flowers, dead game, and/or vessels like baskets or bowls. Looked at another way: still lifes depict things that are “still” and don’t move.

-Erin Migdol, Getty.edu, What is a Still Life?
A common still life featuring a plant, wine glass, and a bowl of oranges.
A common still life. Pexels/Olia Danilevich.

Still Life Reimagined For The Digital Renaissance

I got this Hot Wheels set for Christmas (on Christmas Eve Eve!), because my friends know how much I love pizza. Almost immediately I knew what I wanted to do with this.

My friend gave me the gift in LA, and I already had a trip to Jacksonville, Florida planned. So, I carried this Hot Wheels set onto the plane and flew it with me from LA to Jax. I knew I wanted to set this thing up on Mayport Beach and make still life photography out of it.

A Hot Wheels set sitting on the sand of Mayport Beach, Florida. This is where we set up our still life project, our contribution to the Digital Renaissance.
Mayport Beach, Florida.
A man taking photos of the still life subject on the beach. This is a small work in the greater scheme of the Digital Renaissance.

There were several factors that excited me about this still life project. Yeah, I like pizza, I enjoy working on cars, the Hot Wheels toy brought up some childhood nostalgia. But mostly, how I could use this to advance The Digital Renaissance.

My subject for the still life wouldn’t be a bowl of fruit, or flowers, or something safe and rule-abiding that’s expected by the conservative art professors. IT’S A HOT WHEELS SET!!

The Digital Renaissance Has No Rules

Art to me has always been about BREAKING the rules. Unfortunately, this has landed me in hot water on some occasions. Art professors will PREACH Avant-Garde across the halls.

“Try something different!”

“Experiment!”

“Make something new and unique!”

But as soon as you do something unconventional or innovative, they have a problem with it. Suddenly their textbook rules matter, and you need to follow them if you want to be a successful artist.

Well, to any art expert or enthusiast who tells me I NEED to follow the rules, or rather, their rules of creativity…their textbook guidelines…my response is pretty simple…

“Nah…I’m good.”

Warhol painted a can of soup and called that shit art!

If I want to take a Hot Wheels set sculpture, prop it up on the beach, make a still life photo exhibition out of it…and call it art…well…that’s exactly what my brother & I just did. Because…derivative art.

The Hot Wheels still life set up on full display on Mayport Beach, Florida. The photographer stands in the background. The Digital Renaissance is rich with creative ideas for art.
The Mayport Pizza Art Exhibition. Thank you Vicky!

And as small of an artwork as this is, its a part of a much grander movement.

Defining The Era

It’s easy to point out the art movements throughout history. Historians can define the Baroque period of the 17th century, the Surrealism of the 1920s, and so on.

But what art movement are we in today exactly?

I actually Googled it and got vague results.

I did wonder what exactly historians one or two hundred years from now would call this “era” when they looked back on it. But now, I have a profound idea.

Revival of Art Movements, The Digital Renaissance

What’s the actual definition of the term renaissance?

“A revival of or renewed interest in something.”

-Oxford Languages

Now if I want to assume that we’re at the dawn of a Digital Renaissance…

What exactly would I aspire to revive?

What interest do I want to renew as it relates to art?

That’s an easy one. The revival of art movements themselves.

I want it to be clear to society that this is not a dead period of art. The term contemporary is nothing more than a placeholder.

The Pop Art era of the 1950s was contemporary at the time.

Even further back, the Romanticism Movement of the 1800s was too, contemporary at the time.

You can call today’s art contemporary, because it’s happening today. But historians won’t look back on the 2020s and call it contemporary.

So again, I want it to be clear, that this period of art has a defined title, The Digital Renaissance.

I want the artists of today to know that by expressing their works on a digital platform, they are revitalizing the very idea of an art movement. We just need to recognize it as such.

Historians will look back on this generation and call this period in history The Digital Renaissance.

And this generation of artists will be the ones who revived the idea of art movements in history, by acknowledging their own movement.

Still Life Analysis In A Digital Renaissance

Appetite: I love pizza, especially pepperoni pizza (no pineapples!). This is reflected in the Hot Wheels pizza model. It’s exactly why this item was gifted to me for Christmas. As noted in the Getty definition, a still life often consists of food. In this case, a playful expression of pizza. Not a bowl of fruit…PIZZA!! YES!!

Passion: I have had my 2003 Pontiac Grand Am GT for over 10 years and have done immeasurable maintenance/customization on it. I enjoy working on cars. This passion for mechanics is symbolized by the Hot Wheels car model, the primary subject of this sculpture. Seems to be a Dodge Challenger.

Origins: The model is set on Mayport Beach in Jacksonville Florida, my place of birth.

Elements: The artificial Hot Wheels set, on display along side the natural elements of the beach: sand, shells, & ocean water. These are the inanimate components that make this work a still life. (I know the ocean water is technically moving, but its not the subject of the photo! This is an art debate for another day!)

Nostalgia: I haven’t played with Hot Wheels since I was a kid. I love revisiting my child-like spirit, a necessary part of creativity.

Parallel: A tiny car is placed in the vast scenery of the beach. This placement parallels the small art project that now has its own place within the immeasurable depths of The Digital Renaissance.

Avant Garde: The Hot Wheels set is out of place, functionally and symbolically. It wasn’t designed to be placed on the beach, yet it visually thrives. Nor is it conventionally used as the subject for a still life, but here we are.

A Hot Wheels car on the sand, a part of the still life project.
A small contribution to the grand scheme of The Digital Renaissance.
The two artists pose for a photo behind the still life project on the beach.
John O’Brien (SCAD) & Kyle O’Brien (Texas Tech), the Feria Founders look onto the Mayport Pizza Art Exhibition.

Feria Finale

Anything can be called a work of art if you put a frame around it. This may be a literal frame, or a symbolic one.

Art being expressed on digital media has been going on for years. Yet, this era doesn’t have a clear label.

And although the phrase Digital Renaissance has been tossed around by economists in recent years (notably Joel Waldfogel), the label doesn’t feel all that official yet.

Well, at least at Feria Magazine, we’re coining this era of art as The Digital Renaissance. We’re reviving the very idea of an art movement, and anybody reading this can artistically contribute.

Whether its in the musical theatre or in a Tik Tok dance…

an oil painting or a Canva design…

a charcoal sketch or an Instagram shoot…

put your works on the internet and leave your mark in The Digital Renaissance.

And if you find yourself doubting your creative capabilities, or overly concerned with the “rules”, remember that we turned a Hot Wheels set into a MARVELOUS still life.■

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