The other day, I had a thought – What happened to all the celebrity artists?

For most of the last century, there were artists that were active and influential enough to be household names. They lived the lives of rock stars – fame, money, women – rubbing shoulders with movie stars and heads of state. Where are they now?

The thought was sparked by a video link a friend posted on Twitter. It was Andy Warhol painting Debbie Harry on a Commodore Amiga computer in 1985 (pretty freakin’ cool, in its own right). It was a public event, with an audience and media attending. Think about that. When was the last time an artist could pull national coverage without some sort of bodily fluid being involved? When was the last time the news mentioned a living artist you’d heard of? This was less than 25 years ago, and I can’t think of an artists since then that was a household name (For the record, the most recent artists that I can recall being a “household name” was Patrick Nagel, with his art-deco influenced minimalism. If there are others, feel free to correct me in the comments).

During his life, Picasso was world renowned. There’s a famous story about Picasso paying for a meal in a restaurant by doodling on a napkin. I’ve heard that he stopped cashing checks for less than $100 because his signature on the back of the returned check was more valuable. Now that’s celebrity.

Where are those artists now? There’s still plenty of talented, forward thinking, creative people out there. Picasso died in 1973. Warhol died in 1987. Dali died in 1989. What’s changed since then?

My guess? Computers. I think the digital age has drawn that talent pool away and replaced the paintbrush, charcoal, and chisel with Photoshop, Flash, and Lightwave. In reality, my definition of “Artist” is outdated. Somewhere along the way, I decided that if you dabbled in paint or pencil, you were an “Artist,” but if you did it on the computer you were a “Graphic Designer.” That’s pretty limited thinking. Kids are growing up inspired by what they see on the internet, not the museum. And really, that’s pretty exciting.

Technology and art are combining more and more frequently. Computers are allowing us to create artistic experiences that have never been possible before. Not only do we have a richer range of mediums available to more people, but we also get to explore interactivity. Gone are the days of standing idle, looking up at a framed picture. Now we see things online that react to us, giving us our own unique experience. Starting with the web browser, then Flash, and most recently with the iPhone, we’ve been given more and more creative ways of interacting with technology, and some very talented people are taking advantage of that.

There have been a lot of artistic movements in the past century – cubism, surrealism, art deco, abstract expressionism, pop art – and all have a long-reaching influence on design and art today. I feel like we’ve crossed into a new era. Artists are combining artistic expression and technology to create experiences that are unique to every viewer; and generated by the act of viewing them. Call it “Techspressionism.”

Here are some Web sites with examples of “Techspressionism”:

Levitated
Toxi
Yugop
StrangeFruits
Meditation Flowers

We’re in exciting times. It seems like every week I read about some new invention that makes me say “Wow, we’re in the future. These are the toys I dreamed about as a kid.” I’m curious to see how things progress as this next generation (the one that never knew a world without the internet) starts exerting more and more influence on art and design. Netscape Navigator was released in 1994, so that puts that generation at 15 years old and younger. Maybe in 10 years we’ll see that next celebrity artist emerge online.

Thoughts? Feel free to suggest your own examples of Techspressionism in the comments.