Welcome to the sixth edition of 200 best digital artists.
Introduction by Lewis Blackwell Director, Lürzer’s Archive
Here we are, about to dive into a book of the fantastical. A book of contrasts, of juxtapositions that stretch the mind. Some of what we will see may be super-real while alternative worlds can be found on other pages. Much of what is here is amusing but some of it is altogether more sobering, even scary; and all of it is full of thinking and skills that are very 21st century and yet can be said to connect back to prehistory in that they have the fundamental essence of cave art in using imagination, memory and drawing skills to communicate in a way that nothing else can. They may be images made with the latest technology but they perform an ancient and definitively human activity: engaging the eyes and the emotions, expressing ideas and telling stories, to stimulate thought, prompt desire, and even construct modern myths, which we may also sometimes call brands.
Following months of reviewing thousands of amazing submissions we have, after many rounds of sourcing, sifting and selection, curated this publication to showcase the best creators at work in the fast-evolving world of digital art, with particular attention to how it applies in advertising.
We would like to think it is also our best effort yet.
But you, dear readers, are the jury for that decision. Before you dive in and form your impressions, permit me a few words about how we came to make the choices and some of the wider thoughts circling around this art. In the same way that the work has moved on from the last edition, so has the world into which we release this book.
Led by Lürzer’s Archive Editor-in-Chief Michael Weinzettl, with invaluable support from art director Christine Thierry, and with the generously given time of noted educator and practitioner Michael Jostmeier, the jury selected entries that are, arguably, the most diverse yet in submissions to this project. The selection spans many different fields, from many different sources, with many different applications of the work. The key driver for the jury is always to seek out the highest level of craft, innovation, and entertainment in the image. The selected works that we arrive at have then been organized across the pages within an alphabetically ordered set of industry categories. So you will not necessarily find all the work of one artist in one place (although the index will help you track down the full body of any one artist’s work). Deciding how to arrange the images is a bit like arranging an open-submission art exhibition in a physical space: the diversity and wonder of the art inevitably challenges any attempt at full coherence in arrangement. Can this one go next to that one? Is this the right general description for a particular group? Is there too much of one thing and not enough of not another? Such concerns must ultimately defer to the original decisions that took place, each image being there on its own merit. And each image, like the artists behind them, tend to defy simple categorisation … that’s what makes it art and what makes them good at it. It’s the nature of most, if not all, good creative work to go beyond familiar categorization. But we have our categories to give you some structure to work around, a way of finding your place perhaps, or at least stimulate your exploration.
Once familiar with the pages, you can remix the viewing order in how you engage, coming at it slightly differently on each visit. This way you can enjoy the lasting wonder of how a book works so well and differently from online. There is the physical pleasure of the page and the object, the engagement with holding the book, which takes thoughts away from the sometimes imprisoning environment of the screens that tend to occupy much of our working day. You can start at the beginning or, more likely, by diving straight in somewhere and working back and forth. You can insert your markers or do whatever else you want with your copy. You can share it around colleagues or keep it immaculately on your own shelves. Our casual research tends to indicate that the most likely way to start is to put your fingers in around the two-thirds point, one-third still to go, and then happily riff back and forth … get a sense of what it is in store. (I am still fascinated by the psychology and physiology that might influence that habit.) Then plunge in again, starting with a different finger at a different point. After that you may resort to be more of a hardline rationalist, beginning at the beginning. Perhaps you are at the point right now: hence you are here. You never know which page, which artist, might be the one that really does it for you today, or tomorrow, so you need to see them all. And not just once. And then feel free to photograph the book and share what you like on social media. We are already doing that.
At one extreme we have works that are for big brands, and for major industries, commissioned to run in global campaigns, while at the other extreme we have the product of purely individual experimentation, perhaps first thoughts at a new direction in a work, so fresh that it may have even surprised the artist where they ended up. This book is at its best, I think, when you sense the personal explorations of artists, combining their talent with a brief and pushing into new directions, letting their skills and imagination take them somewhere new. At times it is something of a challenge for our jury to balance the purely personal against the proven application of a work created for a client and brief, which is the test that artists have to measure up to if they are going to find regular work in the commercial art industry.
But put aside the business for a moment and admire the craft. You might like or even love some, equally you will find some less to your taste … or positively dislike. Indeed, part of the thrill of viewing the artworks is that the freedom of expression that comes with the tools and territory permits artists to push outside the bounds of the familiar … and quite often outside the bounds of taste. It is inherent to this field of creativity that it doesn’t always rest easily on the eye. On one page you can discover something delicious or something that may repulse. Can I suggest you give it a little more time, come back again and consider why the jury included it? They may be wrong … your opinion is now the final jury. But there may also be something worth learning from the selection. Like your favorite music turned to near ear-splitting volume, so digital art can have the capacity to blow the senses a bit. And that can be a useful quality if you are looking to produce stand out work, an image that arrests viewers in an image-saturated world. And yet, over page, you may fall into something so deeply seductive that you cannot resist believing in the impossible, just for a moment. And that has tremendous communication value too, of course. It’s a rollercoaster ride, going through these pages, perhaps finding inspiration for now or the image partner you want to work with in the future.
Stepping back from the images, let’s consider the context for creating and using digital artists at this time. This is perhaps the most remarkable, even scarily exciting, time to carry out a review of digital art. The tools and the opportunities seem to be changing faster than ever. In particular, there is revolution in the air coming from the impact of the multiplying forms of generative artificial intelligence and how that is spawning new kinds of imagery and disruptive ideas about how creative work may be produced. AI delivers incredible opportunities but also raises serious issues for those working in the industry and with images. There is a genuine need to understand how to advance the new tools, while also understanding the issues they raise in terms of intellectual property, or the impact on creative individuals and communities. Change always comes at a price and we don’t really know at present how or whether AI is going to aid or harm current digital art practice overall. It comes down to where the human and the artificial processes interact and who gets to benefit. Creatively, technically, economically, and indeed, philosophically, AI raises some big questions. They can’t be answered here but over the coming days, weeks and months, there will continue to be advances and challenges that will impact the next phase of what sits under the digital art label.
We have also seen the coming (and perhaps, to some degree, going) of a wave of experimentation and hype around NFTs, which put a new framework around the nature, applications and values of digital art. I am still be reeling a little from the $69m paid in 2021 by crypto currency investor Vignesh Sundaresan for a collection of digital artworks by the graphic designer Mike Winkelman (also known as Beeple). The particular artwork known as The First Five Thousand Days is indeed just that: the first 5,000 days of the artist uploading a daily work without fail … which he is still doing, when I last checked, and they can be viewed and even used for free. So what was the $69m for? While Winkelman’s vibrant and fast-developing work can be fully enjoyed and worked with by the rest of us gratis (just visit his ironically – or frankly – named site beeple-crap.com), Sundaresan confidently said he would have paid even more for the images. Well, he said that after buying them. Perhaps he was hoping to sell them on. Digital art, its nature and its value, is a frisky target to get a fix on.
And a revolution is always like that, with everything a bit up in the air and good and bad things happening around it. But at the same time there is the opposite of revolution around digital image-making. At a basic process level there is increasingly the establishment of a global consensus that digital art is inherent in the great majority of image creation. It’s a fact that has just crept up on us. We are all image manipulators, often every day, with photo retouching tools available for free on the phone in your pocket. Where once only larger budgets could afford the spectacular skills of digital art, fashioned by a relatively small coterie of highly resourced talents in expensive studios, now the skills and the technology have evolved so that digital art is the means of making a small or zero budget go a long way. You can even edit a movie on your phone, albeit perhaps not the way to get great results. On a personal laptop you really can retouch and distort an image with a wealth of tools that are often free to access and yet are closely related to the top-end technology. All of this happens so globally, with freedoms of movement that the physical world fails to match, that there is a massive and competitive field for digital art and artists. It is relatively easy, highly democratic indeed, to access the market to work in or to hire from. But it is incredibly competitive to thrive within either as maker or as client. There has never been more to choose from and the standards have never been so high. And that makes all the more reason, of course, why the 200 Best Digital Artists project is vitally needed as a key way of sifting and sieving and refining, so as to help you see the directions, the standards, and find the best.
While the making of images has expanded, so too, inevitably, have the applications. Budgets and creative vision tended to concentrate digital art into certain fields in the past, such as car photography retouching or big brand packaging-related projects. However, today there are almost no limits to where you might find digital art. It is integrated into the world of imagery from the most utilitarian information images through to the showcases of fine art: for example, we can find a lauded 2023 retrospective of the painter David Hockney that is at core a vast digital artwork experience (at Lightroom in London). A somewhat similar Van Gogh Expo has digitally remixed and delivered to more than five million people worldwide, and counting. Digital art is created not as a surprise choice of medium but the primary way and perhaps the only way of showcasing Hockney’s range of media. Paintings from many periods both in paint and digital, and photographs and film, are all melded together in a vast wraparound experience. Digital artistry is, arguably, wrapped around how the majority of art and communication is consumed today. So no wonder our particular focus here on finding the innovative digital art creatives has become more exciting and more challenging than ever.
Digital art has flooded out so far beyond its old boundaries that we have seen a place for it within the world of documentary, where once it was much feared and seen as a bad thing. But now it can be seen to even help evolve hardcore ‘evidence’ in areas such as nature photography and photojournalism. These were once seen as areas where manipulation of the recorded image was an evil, a way of lying. Now we are more likely to accept that the simple recorded image often has its own errors and distortions. Digital art tools and techniques can aid, in the right responsible hands, to get an image closer to the truth of a moment in time.
Of course, they can also mislead and increasingly we are aware that a photograph is no more inherently true than a written sentence … it all depends on who is behind it and the context in which we view the image.
Improving the truth of an image may extend from removing specks of dirt on the lens, or simple adjusting the color to be more true to life, to more complex finessing of image capture so that what is impossible in one focal point, or with one lens, may be achieved with the merging of multiple images. Where documentary truth is paramount, it is a strange and challenging conundrum that the application of digital art skills can enable photojournalists and their editors to make a report with more accuracy, to be truer to the evidence than simplistic faith in what comes through a one-time image capture. In science photography, the digital art also has a growing place, to help make visible the previously invisible or obscured: from the vast regions of deep space to the most minuscule things in our own bodies.
The image can always lie, it is never the whole truth, but at best a version of it … and part of the power of digital artistry is helping us make those truths more compelling, more inclusive. They can be fantasy, or they can be documentary: digital art decisions are an inevitable part of the process, part of the inherent process of making an image. It was the same in chemical photography days too, but now the magic of pixels and the people behind the tools continue to fashion new ways of telling. The challenge for all digital artists, whether creating entertaining fictions or trying to better deliver arresting facts, is to be true to what the image needs to communicate, to be true to the viewer.
All the above means that, where once digital art was an innovation more at the margins of visual culture, in this century it has moved very much to the very center of image making. Like it or loathe it, the evolving world of digital art says a great deal about who we are and what we care about. It is one of the key media of our time.
We present 200 Best Digital Artists as your inspiration and resource for pushing the boundaries a few million pixels further forward. Please show us how it goes.
Lewis Blackwell is a director of Lürzer’s Archive.
He is also an acclaimed author and editor. He has been involved in the creation and promotion of visual culture over many years, including a decade as the global creative head of Getty Images and several years as the chair of the world-famous Wildlife Photographer Of the Year. Among other positions, he is chair of the charity Stills, which runs a major public center for photography in Edinburgh, Scotland.