Tag Archives: technology

Hinge-point: the social media and technology revolution in the art world

“Hinge-point: the social media and technology revolution in the art world”

Originally published in Art of England, Issue 65, 2010. Reproduced with permission.

Recently, I went to an exhibit of a friend, who with colleagues, produced a piece called “Cases” using iPod videos as an installation probing the nature of health and the senses – son et lumière for the iPod generation. Their work resonated with thoughts I’d been having of the impact of new technology on art. Art and technology have always been linked, but it seemed to me as I looked at the iPod videos and listened to the eight different ‘cases’, that something potentially more disruptive might be on the horizon.

What interests me is that new and emerging technologies enable art to be made by a wider range of people, through a social-democratising, accessible and open process. “Who is the artist?” becomes a very interesting question.

Some food for thought…

Commuters crowd many corridors across the city during the morning rush-hour, all is hustle and bustle. Their sighs, words, movements, are captured by sensors, and translated into real-time images which animate the otherwise naked walls. The work is called “I’m thinking of you right now”.

My hand flicks, a gesture in space, and a coloured beam races across a wall embedded with nano-particle sized LEDs. I toss the Wii-Art wand into the air and another light curve spreads across the ceiling. The room will remember what I have done, but I can always change it later.

The 3D printer buzzes on the table beside me, chunks and bumps while a 3D sculpture takes shape made of polymers, resins and colouring. I have created a probably impossible object from samples of space that I bundled together with my smartphone camera and downloaded to my computer.

Slouching in my comfy chair, I put on the headset to have my thoughts read. I call up the latest issue of Art of England on my Plastic Logic e-reader. The computer records what I am thinking and produces a picture which I can play with later, or print out on canvas. Apparently, some people still use paint – how yesterday!

The artificial intelligence, called Alicia, shares my likes and dislikes. Alicia is my writing buddy and editor as I work on my next novel; she has a real instinct for narrative. My friend’s AI, he calls his Boris, is a painter and together they are an artist collaborative. Alicia apparently wrote Boris a poem. Should I be jealous?

One hundred people link their smartphones and flash-art a sunset, capturing what they see and collectively producing a single painting from 100 different perspectives at the same time. The image appears on YouTube and is viewed by 100 million people. 100,000 people buy the image for a pound.

I am less concerned with how artists today are using technology. Artists always adopt and test out new technologies, e.g. watercolour, acrylic paint, plastics, video, computer animation, digital printers, PhotoShop or GIMP, and so on.

What is significant is that new and emerging technologies lower the costs and time of art-making, and reducing these hurdles increases accessibility for people who in the past found the existing technologies (of paint, canvas, stone, clay) formidable. I think we’re at a hinge-point in art and art-making because of this and which could radically alter what we think of as the ‘art world’.

In the end, anyone can be an artist. Technologies will facilitate creativity to enable more people to have artistic expression. The Web and social media make collective art-making possible as we move beyond individual authorship. There will be implications for art schools – whom and what they teach; commissioning bodies — whom they support; galleries – what they are like; and artists – what they are for.

And the meaning of art will change. Art is often thought of as special, in public places, commissioned, housed in galleries where you can’t touch, exclusive, remote. Art can be obscure, requiring specialist interpretation; it is often inaccessible and mute to the majority of people. Through technologies, art will become embedded in the fabric of our lives; it will be ambient and ubiquitous. It will be social and shared as much as individual. By democratising art and art-making, new technologies and social media will make it more important and relevant.

Please touch the painting.

There’s an app for that

“There’s an app for that”

Originally published in Art of England, Issue 79, 2011. Reproduced with permission.

The last roll of Kodachrome film was shot by photographer Steve McCurry, and developed in the last place, apparently on Earth that has the equipment, a drug store in Kansas. Kodachrome represented a way of seeing, it was not just film. No more Kodachrome skies, no more trying to figure out what the 1973 song “Kodachrome” by Paul Simon means. But with my smartphone, there’s an app for that.

My rather large CD collection has been reduced to a digital gas in a player the size of my thumb, while the CDs are in the garage; the LPs are long gone but I still have my Rega™ turntable, but ‘just in case’ will never come. With my smartphone, there’s an app for playing my whole collection.

I traded in my square format 6×6 analogue film camera, not even a battery, for a pile of digital kit so I can ‘fix’ them on the computer. A bloodless way to interact with the world. Why bother even take the picture in the first place, as I could probably just download some images, and I’m just a cut-and-paste away from what is probably the nearest thing to digital heaven. But there’s an app for that, too.

I have a 1930s leaky camera with almost no adjustments that takes really moody pictures, and seems to capture the scene at the moment far better than digital manipulation ever will — is that possible? Using film meant the image-taking moment mattered and required what the photographer Freeman Patterson calls ‘the art of seeing’.

We look, but don’t see. Where is the in-the-moment feeling of exuberance when creative juices flow and time stops?

For under a thousand pounds you can now buy a 3D printer, a sort of Star Trek replicator that can literally ‘print’ 3D plastic objects, such as a vase, jewellery or something more abstract. Lose something? Print another. It sits on the corner of your desk.

The question is whether something from an app, or a 3D thingee, will ever be art worthy of note. I feel I want to distinguish between the brute force of the technology as a marvel (gee, look what I did, serendipity wins again!), and something that might have actually passed through a human mind in some mystically moment of creativity. McLuhan spoke of hot and cool media and of the message and medium. When do the tools of creativity become more important than the results?

But all this shall pass. The invention of photography was seen as the end of art, and so far that has proved at least premature. Are you a serious painter if you use acrylics rather than oil on the mandatory linen canvas? Good artists have always embraced new technologies and attained mastery over them to achieve sometimes stunning and sometimes pretty dire results. But today, are artists experimenting and pushing boundaries or just mucking around?

Could painting become a screen capture moment, or could sculpture be done by robots controlled by the artist, in the way that surgeons can use robots to perform precise surgery (yes, Virginia, there is a robot for brain surgery).

So, here I write this article on my computer with some wizzy writing software, and my analogue mind. Despite the software suggesting how to end a particular word, I hope it will never, ever be able to begin a sentence for me. And the same for art.

But perhaps there’s an app for that, too.

The digital future of 21st century arts organisations

A debate started on the Arts Journal on Leadership/Followership raises a number of challenges for arts groups.

In my view, the simple lead/follow dichotomy is not helpful as arts organisations are both repositories of a society’s culture (on behalf of people) and a way to placing before the public new ideas in way that engages and informs (on behalf of new ideas).

Bruno Frey has commented that people may not need to see the original piece of art itself but perhaps a print would do.

You are there!

Taking that notion further, why are exhibitions not online?  An opening could be a simple ‘app’ instead, and the show curated with additional content and searchable features, individual pieces could be zoomed and viewed in the round.

It would not cease to exist when the exhibition closed — a problem for exhibitions in the real world, and poorly captured in the exhibition catalogue. Few people can actually make it to many openings, and moving art around can damage the art itself. The modern world is increasingly location-independent with the use of smartphones and tablet computers making where we are less important when accessing information, people or events; this is likely to evolve further. Thinking past the current fad for social networking (and something will follow Facebook!) leads to a world where intelligent software ‘agents’ can help individuals find and view the art they are interested in, alert them to new shows.

Perhaps some people may be in a position to attend in person, but generally this is not true.

Digital technology allows time-shifting, so I can view the exhibition when I want and probably reduces my carbon footprint at the same time. The openings can be teleconferenced, so people can attend in real-time or listen to later. If I instead choose to attend, then the app becomes my personal guide, which I can annotate and keep.

Ah, but imagine a gallery of giant video screens, the real art protected. It does challenge us to reflect, as Frey does, on what it really is we want to see when we view art: is the experience of the art object itself (if so, why bother buy the catalogue or art books), an experience few really can have, or is it the art (in which case the sale of posters is explained).

It seems to me that arts organisation leadership might benefit from a dose of ‘disruptive’ thinking to embrace modern possibilities. We now have, for instance, galleries with searchable online catalogues, and we find some degree of interactive art itself, but this is a feature of the art not of the art experience. I wonder if today, the “2 second advantage” (to take from a book of that name) for arts organisations offers a clue on how to move beyond the collection idea to something rather different.

The notion of capturing artistic interests in ‘real time’ would enable a ‘video-enabled’ gallery to be able to anticipate art interests (though mindful that much needs to be made of the random ‘shock of the new’ that accompanies the joy of discovering a new artist), and assemble art for the individual in a way that helps them experience the art more personally. I miss not being able to visit some galleries which house art I like because I simply can’t afford the airfare to visit them — the ability to be telepresent in these galleries would be wonderful and at $£€4.99 worth a lot more than the book.

As I’ve said elsewhere, there’s an app for that.

Just a thought…….

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