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How Technology Has Dealt a Blow to the Arts

April 26, 2010

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge supporter of advancements in technology. In fact, I embrace new software, productivity tools, gadgets… you name it. I’m a guy who works fast to master all of them.

But new technology introduced into the world of art has created unintended results.

I could end this post right now by summarizing the negative impact technology has had on the arts in three bullet points:

  • Distraction
  • Accessibility
  • Marketplace Dilution

Take the music industry, for example. It was the first of the main art forms to be negatively impacted by technology. And the impact came in the form of a double-edged sword:

  1. by serving as an enormous distraction to great song writers and musicians who spent weeks toying-around with new technology trying to “dial-in” the perfect Reverb and Gate on a snare drum or trying to achieve the ultimate sonic range on a guitar lick – all the while the most important element, the song itself, became secondary to the technology.
  2. literally driving recording studios (the engineers and producers who were already pros at “dialing-in” the sounds) out of business. Everyone and their brother could now afford to set-up recording studios in their basements – and the “wannabes” came out in droves.

Distraction yielded less than stellar songs. Accessibility led to saturation. Saturation resulted in marketplace dilution.

Photography has also been impacted negatively by technology, for primarily the same reasons as music:

  1. Photographers, who by their nature are technology-loving beings, have been utterly blind-sided by all the new “toys” available. Their original addiction to the camera itself has been displaced by a new drug: Photoshop, Camera Raw and Color Correction. Processing of images seems to be “riding shot-gun” over shooting raw, captivating and marketable pictures.
  2. Meanwhile, technology has allowed a flood of truly untalented photographer wannabes into the game – diluting the marketplace and burying the true greats.

Just because you own a digital SLR camera and the latest version of Photoshop does not make you a photographer.

Painters have been less affected by application technology, but have nonetheless found themselves caught up in creating and maintaining websites, managing FaceBook accounts, Tweeting to 50 followers and putting their work on every art site they can find. All of this takes an enormous amount of time and energy away from what they should be concentrating on: Painting.

In a follow post to be released soon, I will discuss the good, bad and ugly of Social Media on artists today, and the false sense of security it has created for many.

In summary, technology is a wonderful thing. But if not managed properly, it has, and will continue to have, a negative impact on the arts.

Maybe it’s time we all got back to basics?

Brian Walker, Owner

9 Comments leave one →
  1. April 26, 2010 10:42 pm

    Funny you mention getting back to the basics, I’ve just spent the past few hours looking at film scanners because I’ve been feeling this primal urge to play with my old film cameras.

    I’m not giving up on my productivity tools though!

    They’ll get “finished” digitally.

  2. April 27, 2010 11:38 pm

    I was actually thinking recently about how new typefaces emerged as new printing technologies developed.

    And overall, new technology has given rise to new developments in art. Gutenberg’s printing press helped created a whole new field, typography, which had formerly been done by scribes. Photography started when we figured out how to capture an image onto photoreactive material with a camera obscura – quite a technological feat, although it took a few decades for it to catch on as a form of expression. And don’t forget the invention of the electric guitar. Without it, we probably wouldn’t have rock-and-roll. (Well it probably would’ve been invented sooner or later.)

    You’re right that we’re easily distracted by new toys, but I wouldn’t write off technology entirely.

    And I think if anything I would hope that painting can succeed in spite of the rise of technology, simply because it *is* so analog.

    Sorry, didn’t mean to write a whole blog post myself. Thanks for the food for thought!

  3. April 28, 2010 2:25 pm

    Like everything else, technology as it relates to the arts, is a double edged sword. I don’t think that a talented photographer using Photoshop to enhance their work is a problem, because in most cases they have only updated what was previously done in the darkroom. It’s still their work, and why shouldn’t they use everything available to them. My only objection is when they use it to cover up mistakes that should come from experience and not the computer. But the real trouble starts, as you said, when amateurs get their hands on a digital camera, which is not only relatively cheap, but takes terrific pictures, starts competing with the pros.

    I can’t agree that artists have been less affected by technology. Anyone who looks at my paintings will see my love of cars. I try and get to as many vintage cars shows as I can. I’m there both to photograph them for future work, as well as trying to get commissioned to do a painting of an owners car. Several times in the last couple of years I’ve seen someone in a van, equipped with digital cameras, a laptop, 6 color printer and a generator to run them. The “photographer” goes around the show taking digital photos of the cars, runs it through one of the many filters available to simulate an oil painting, watercolor, pastel, you name it, and prints out an image that he sells for $25. The saddest part is that many lay people, don’t see a difference between what he’s doing and what it takes an artist, weeks to do, and charge a lot more money for.

    I wish I could be more of an optimist but, I’m afraid it’s only going to get worse as technology gets better and cheaper so it’s available to more and more people who have no training or talent.

  4. April 29, 2010 9:15 pm

    Intriguing article. You make quite a few powerful points. I feel modern society is rushing toward a collective “hurry up” mentality. Patience is becoming a phantom of Victorian novels. Everyone wants instant results, fast money, quick response time, and microwave meals.

    This “push push” lifestyle leaves little time for the slow enjoyment of hand-brewed tea, home cooked food, the rich glory of slow-dried oil paintings.. It also divorces the “New World Man” from appreciating the intent and effort put into a piece of art or fine craft, and focuses only on results. Results-driven mentalities may value art in some way, but not the artist.

    I also embrace new advances, new technologies. But I can certainly see the dangers if we allow ourselves to veer to far into the land of HURRY UP.

  5. May 2, 2010 3:30 pm

    Technology offers more opportunities than when the channels were controlled by the “experts”, but that is something that many artists are benefiting from. Let the process be democratic. The talent will rise to the top. Technology is just a tool. You still have to learn to utilize it effectively, and more importantly, have a vision.

  6. May 2, 2010 3:49 pm

    Maybe it’s time we all got back to basics?


  7. May 2, 2010 5:38 pm

    Or maybe it’s time artists who find themselves spending too much time managing online galleries and PR banded together and handed that side of things over to someone who enjoys doing it, for a commission, and concentrated on their art.

    True artists have always been few and far between. They will always exist, as will connoisseurs who want a REAL oil painting of their favourite vintage car to display on their wall. But the rest of the world will continue to streamline, as architecture has long since.

    • May 2, 2010 11:45 pm

      Forgive me, but I thought that’s precisely what we’re all doing here – handing that side of things over to someone who enjoys doing it, for a commission, and concentrate on our art.
      And I’m pleased to say that true artists are not few and far between. There are quite a few very talented artists, photographers, sculptures, that assembled here. I think that it’s the true connoisseurs who want real oil paintings, that are the ones who are becoming fewer and farther apart. I spent several hours today at a very large vintage car show. I was searching, for the most part unsuccessfully, those connoisseurs. I spoke about this very subject to many owners, who don’t seem to know the difference, or more importantly care, how their art is produced. They care about only one aspect of the “art”, the cost. And while I realize that I only sampled a small segment, it’s how I spent the day. I don’t say this because I’m becoming discouraged, to the contrary, it’s making me more challenged to change some of those minds.

  8. May 3, 2010 12:05 am

    In my experience the first artists to be affected by technology in the way you describe were graphic artists in the late 80s and through the 90s, long before the technology was useful widely for music. While the initial effect was to democratize access to design tools with the unfortunate effect of diluting design to really low levels of quality, over time the situation has corrected itself. Real and talented designers will always stand out and remain in demand, and eventually those unable to produce quality give way.

    At the same time, almost anyone can now create a simple sign, banner, postcard, or flyer on their own equipment. And that other stuff is not and does not need to be art.

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