The advent of digitization has had a profound impact on the art market and its institutions. In this chapter, we focus on the market for visual arts as it finds its expression in (among other) paintings, prints, drawings, photographs, sculpture and the like. These artistic disciplines claim the lion’s share of the global art trade and its objects are prominently featured by museums and galleries in both old and new art centers worldwide. Digital delivery has not only altered the content of the visual arts, but also the manner in which art is traded, consumed and valuated. The various actors in the art market have embraced digitization in its many guises and forms, and its online applications, albeit at different speeds and with different intensity. The vast majority of art institutions (including artists themselves) makes use of websites and incorporate databases for organizational, educational and marketing purposes. However, few have learnt to effectively capitalize on Web 2.0 applications as of yet, even if social media offer unparalleled opportunities for community building in the art world (Castells, 2011). The largely informal and opaque character of the art market with its continued emphasis on closed dealer-collector networks of and face-to-face contacts appears to pre-empt widespread use of social media for now. Still, as with other sectors of the creative economy, the art world and market is undergoing significant changes as a result of the digital revolution. Digitization per se is not revolutionary; the transformation of analog information in the form of texts, images and sound to a digital form which can then be stored, manipulated and transmitted through a range of networks and devices has been around for decades (McQuail, 2000). The Internet has served as a vital platform to disseminate such digital content over the years. However, its contemporary Web 2.0 structure of being participatory and user-driven in the generation of content promises a revolution in how information is accessed, constructed and converged (O’Reilly, 2007). In the art world, digitization has manifested itself through the creation of databases containing tremendous information regarding prices, the type and characteristics of a work of art, authorship, provenance and records of previous sales which are now available for professionals, art lovers to amateur art consumers. Literally millions of images of works of art have been digitized and disseminated, primarily but not exclusively in the form of websites hosted by museums, galleries, research institutions, blogs, artists and online searchable databases that have a commercial and/or educational purpose. Also, new art forms have been brought to life, which have no physical presence and exist merely as a computer image. In this brief chapter, we do not concern ourselves with digital art as such, but aim to provide a framework for understanding the art world in this information and social networking era, and reflect on the ramifications of digitization particularly with regards to knowledge construction in the art world and the valuation of works of art.

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ERMeCC - Erasmus Research Centre for Media, Communication and Culture , Creative Industries
Department of Media and Communication