The lack of essence in technology makes its own utterance slippery and dangerous. How do we phrase it, is it right to treat it like an agent: “Technology changed my life”. What does this person mean exactly? Well, we´ll never know if we are listening here to an avid reader who just bought an e-book and does not need to carry books anymore, a worker who lost her job because of an assembling robot, or a scholar who embraced computer assisted text analysis.
We have already overcome the awe that we experienced when we accepted the application of reason and quantification in every aspect of our lives. In addition to the former idea, this process of technology awakes a clear desire for the refinement of information that has substantially affected the rendering of our environment. We have now found another obstacle in our way, and whether we jump over it or go around it, we´ll have to face the question: (how) has technology affected art?
This question and the subsequent answers offered are what we call in Spanish “a blister exploder,” which refers to its necessity as well as its distressing character. There are usually two opposite ends when it comes to the answers. One would probably represent a marriage between the creative mental process and the craft of the artifact —because art still offers products, closed and finished in one way or another. The other pole is represented by “art for art´s sake” supporters and the conceptual artists, who would consider the artisanry accessory to art —hopefully not diminishing the labor.
Technology has not been able to alter the concept of artistic creation per se, which still entails the manufacturing of an original piece resulting from a productive cognitive process. However, the developing of modern techniques has greatly influenced the distribution of art and its means of representation. The assistance of technical progress got rid of one the main assets to society found in art: representation of reality.
After photography was invented, painting had to be reconceived. It becomes more “artsy”, if we want to say it like that. Some people become possessed by a violent feeling when they think the Dutch masters are under attack. Nevertheless, since we know that Vermeer was a well-known user of the camera obscura, wouldn’t he have loved to have had at least a polaroid camera? And the hard question, how would the XVI and XVII century painters approach abstraction? I do not dare to answer.
So, if video killed the radio star, did photography work the same way with painting? No, it just changed the portrait industry. If we agree on the idea that technology brings up speed and efficiency —seen in fast processing of the data we are handling— we can perfectly relate technology to the highly intangible nature of the avant-garde movements. This statement might seem obvious and repetitive, because we all know that modernists wrote poems about the technological wonders, cars, weapons, etc. We have been told so since grade school. However, my point of departure being the nature of technology (and its speedy nature) and not art history, it is extremely pleasant to arrive at this proposition.
The metaphor that parallels technology and speed —a matter of time after all— expands, consequently, to the motion pictures. The ability to capture a sequence of motion and not only fragments of it, works almost the same way as the affair between painting and photography. The problem of static representation, once solved, turned into the problem of representing motion. What happened is that the basis for cinematography was already settled with the apparition of photography, and due to technology’s exponential growth, cinematic representation made its appearance soon after.
Artistic representation was also concerned with the same question. In fact throughout the beginning of the century the studies of light became the subject for Moholy-Nagy and the enthusiasts of photography, and painters abandoned the inert nature of fruits and landscapes in order to try to represent what they could only picture in their minds and which could only be imagined by that time. Quickly, technology unveiled the secrets of movement, and painters and sculptors moved to the spatial realm and elegantly deposited the time dimension in the hands of technology. And that is a partial description of what I consider the most intense historical interaction between art and technology, and maybe one of the causes of the weak impact that art has on society nowadays.