Art and tech: the future calling or simply history repeating?

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There seems to be a lot of interface going on between the worlds of art and technology at the moment. Is it an artistic movement or just another tool, like paint or film?

Whether it’s artworks created in inDesign or GPS technology being used to make an interactive artwork that can move around the city, technology is changing the way art is made and consumed. It can be more interactive, more personal, than ever before. Does this herald a new era in art, are we looking at a new movement, like expressionism or dadaism, or is tech just the new paintbrush?

Take a trip around the virtual worlds of any of the recent video game releases and the landscapes and visuals are amazing; the time and effort put into making every detail as close to perfect as possible is clear. (They still run funny though.) Whether you think video games are art or not, it’s undeniable that there’s some serious talent involved. Talent that has evolved and emerged with the new technology – ten years ago, even just five years ago, the games didn’t look this good. Without the tech to make them, all the human talent in the world would not be able to create such a vivid world for gamers to go and shoot things in.

As soon as any new hardware comes out, there are always people trying to hack it; making their own games, creating something new in their bedroom. They’d probably not think of that as art but they’re driven by the same need to make something and put a bit of themselves into it – to explore an idea. The availability of new tech to the general public has facilitated this experimentation and made more people bedroom coders. Just like the availability of decent art materials has always filtered down, the same is happening now with tech, and change is being driven by individuals who want to try something new.

The art world has always demanded the newest technology and it often drove new movements within art. Andy Warhol utilised screen printing to create some of his best known works and pop art became a thing in the same way that impressionists grabbed hold of portable paint tubes, a thing I had never really realised had to be invented, but it allowed them to paint outdoors for longer and capture qualities of light that had never been possible before. The democratisation of art might happen slowly but it always happens; people unconcerned with whether their creations are art or not will always be driven to make things for their own amusement and enjoyment.

Past traditions still hold influence though: sculpture and painting and classic techniques of developing photographic film are still being used, 8-bit computer games and the music that accompanied them have been enjoying a revival for the last few years. Rediscovering the past seems to go hand in hand with experimenting with the future and sometimes the combination of the two can make the most effective work. An idea that has fascinated before can be remade in new and exciting ways; like digital portraiture that can morph and bend, show people older, younger, different, still asking the same questions about identity it always has but from a new perspective.

Art and technology are symbiotic; they have a relationship that feeds each other and compels interesting ideas and advances. If necessity is the mother of invention then experimentation is probably the father. The two worlds have always been closely linked, and that promises some exciting innovations for the future. Maybe Stephen Hawking is right and technological advances like artificial intelligence will be the death of humanity, but they’ll probably be the birth of some pretty awe inspiring art first.

If you like this, check out my blogs on mirrors and reflection in art and the cut-up technique. Plus you can follow me on Twitter @SallyWJones.

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