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This is How Technology is Changing Visual Arts

As the great ‘artist’ George Lucas once said:

“The technology keeps moving forward, which makes it easier for the artists to tell their stories and paint the pictures they want.” Quote via Love Expands.

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Indeed, today your average artist can be seen scribbling on a digital tablet, rather than putting paint on a canvas. I believe it’s a great thing! New technologies — neural networks, 3D printing, AR & VR — are stretching the boundaries of traditional art and empower people to express themselves on a brand new quality level.

Some critics may argue that letting technology on the art turf is unacceptable. Whatever it is that those wicked digital algorithms create isn’t art at all. But, in reality, writing an algorithm or coding a program that can generate some sort of visually appealing creating output is already art to me :)

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So if we are in the same camp, let’s dive in and take a look at how emerging technologies augment visual arts.

3D Printing as a New Art Medium

Right now, 3D printing is having an ongoing momentum both in art and architecture. Here are some basic examples of 3D-printing-powered artistry:

  • Cartoonists and comics artists use 3D printing to bring their key heroes to life.
  • Art restorators and historians leverage 3D printing to create painting reproductions, similar to the originals down the textures left behind by the brush strokes.
  • Sculptors can use 3D printing for rapid prototyping and turn their initial sketches into working models that they can hold and examine. This allows them to see how their product will look, and identify any needed changes before they commit to creating the final piece.
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Olivier Van Herpt, a Dutch artist, is experimenting with different 3D printing techniques and natural materials to create one of a kind ceramic vases. And if you think “duh, that’s simple!”, you are up for a big surprise.

Creating a realistic and artistic 3D-printed vase with good texture and unique structure will take more hours than assembling one by hand. Every design requires a unique digital blueprint that needs to be later adapted for each material type (clay, porcelain, bronze, etc). For every new object, Van Herpt needs to specify the clay type, color, and composition and then prepare a custom 3D file on the computer and closely monitor the printing process.

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Illustration for article titled This is How Technology is Changing Visual Arts
Image: Olivier Van Herpt

In fact, Van Herpt had to also build a fully custom 3D printing set up that uses a piston-based extruder (pictured above) to bring his creations to life. It took Herpt over two years of research and development to be able to print the thinnest, most delicate, and highly individualized ceramics objects.

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...and that’s why he’s vases are on display at modern art museums and top art salons such as Design Miami/ Basel, Centre Pompidou, Paris, and Foundation for Visual Arts, Amsterdam.

Gilles Azzaro is another big fan of 3D printing technology. But unlike Olivier Van Herpt, his medium of choice is a sculpture. With the help of 3D printing technology, Azaro turns sound waves, created by the voices that he collected, into works of art. That’s why he’s also nicknamed “the voice sculptor”.

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Arguably his most famous artwork is a three-dimensional materialization of President Obama’s voiceprint that portrays the exact soundwave Obama’s mouth produced during his February 2013 State of the Union Address.

Illustration for article titled This is How Technology is Changing Visual Arts
Image: Gilles Azzaro
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AR and VR for Immersive Art Experiences

Thanks to Pokemon Go and the latest Assassin Creed trailer, most of us already have a pretty good idea of how incredibly realistic AR and VR can be.

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What fewer people know is that AR is also a popular medium with video artists who now use a mix of an array of digital tools and algorithms to create immersive and interactive visual experiences for museum visitors.

One great example is the National Museum of Singapore. Their installation, ‘Story of The Forest’ is based on 69 images from the William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings. These works have been turned into animations that visitors can interact with using augmented reality technology.

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Illustration for article titled This is How Technology is Changing Visual Arts
Photo: National Museum of Singapore

Artists themselves are also dabbing into AR and VR to turn still life art into more dynamic, engaging, and entertaining experiences.

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Hito Steyerl, a German filmmaker and visual artist, created an interesting exhibition called ‘Actual Reality’. Her artwork, packed in a mobile app, combines traditional visual art pieces with audio, video, and augmented reality technology. For several years, Steyerl collected various sentiments around the stingy topics of social housing, inequality, wealth distribution, and poverty from the most vulnerable communities in London.

Illustration for article titled This is How Technology is Changing Visual Arts
Image: Hito Steyerl’s Actual Reality OS
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Then she turned this data into emotionally loaded statements, diagrams, and survey results that every app user can go on and discover by coming to a mapped location and pointing their phone at a marked object, Pokemon Go-style. Her ‘siglis’— QR-code styled marks for activating the experience — are also packed with audio narratives, so that you can discover the unseen world both with your eyes and ears.

Blockchain is Changing The Art Commerce

Provenance tracking is a big issue in art commerce. If there is evidence of where a painting has been located and who owned it from the time it was created, there’s significantly less likelihood that it hasn’t been altered or forged. But as you may have guessed, tracing how many hands a single piece of art changed over the years is challenging. Doing so en-masse is even more problematic.

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And that’s where blockchain comes to the fore. Blockchain is an immutable, auditable data ledger that can be used to store and encrypt any time of data. Christie’s figured out that blockchain may work much better than their ‘old school’ physical ledgers.

So they did a test run and placed sales records for 42 pieces of art sold on a permissioned (private) implementation of the Ethereum blockchain. The blockchain-based system now safely stores all the data related to art work’s titles, descriptions, final prices, and auction dates. However, Christie’s decided not to add any publicly identifiable information about the owners to protect their anonymity.

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Wrap up

For a long time, art and science went hand-in-hand. Today, technology also gets added in the mix, resulting in a beautiful convergence of styles, materials, and mediums for expression. I’m really pumped to see just how art and digital technologies will continue to merge in the future and what sort of art pieces come up as a result of such alliances

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