Sam Francis

Untitled, 1984

106.7 X 73 inch


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The Conundrum of Technology's Experiment with Contemporary Art: A Mercurial Maiden Voyage

The Conundrum of Technology's Experiment with Contemporary Art: A Mercurial Maiden Voyage

By Andrew Bay, UK

As we steadfastly continue our journey into the 21st century, one could make the case that the only apparent constant in the art world, over the last four decades, has been unabated technological change. This ongoing transformation was clearly brought about by the emergence of new forms of art and technologies. A new contemporary art scene, significantly different from the classical art forms, which once were the bastion of steadfast values and techniques, has thus emerged from our shape-shifting, Digital Age.

Traditional art forms are mostly associated with classical artistic conventions such as painting, sculpture, and drawing, which tend to emphasise representation and realism. Contemporary art, on the other hand, has been characterised by its adoption of new forms of media and technology. It embraces interactive, multimedia installations and digital artworks that merge the boundaries between art, science, and technology. 

Since the advent of the Internet, in the mid 1990’s, technology has been a driving force, and played a significant role in the evolution of contemporary art. The rise of digital media, platforms and devices has significantly contributed to the democratization and the dissemination of art to global audiences in new and innovative ways.

Computerised cameras and editing software, along with social media, have opened up new ways for artists to create and distribute their work more easily and affordably. Access to art from virtually anywhere in the world has now become ubiquitous, with online platforms such as Instagram and Facebook which are essential tools for artists to share their work, connect with other artists and curators, and build their own audience.

In the 19th century, the influence of technology on the development of photography was absolutely crucial. The invention of the camera made it possible for artists and everyday people alike, to capture realistic images of the world around them in ways that had previously been impossible. Although it had initially been viewed as a purely mechanical process, photography became a legitimate creative form in its own right, with artists like Man Ray and Edward Weston using the medium to compose abstract and surreal images. New artistic movements, such as realism and impressionism, also sought to capture the world in the more accurate and immediate way which the technology of photography had now made readily available for all.

Fast forward to the 20th century and in a similar fashion, the development of video art was made possible due to significant advances in video technology. 

This medium was born out of the desire to create art that moved beyond the constraint of static images, art that would allow artists to manipulate space and time in ways which up to that point had been impossible. Artists such as Bill Viola  and Nam June Paik used video art to create immersive installations using a juxtaposition of soundscapes and multiple screens. These new technologies enabled them to explore themes such as identity, political activism, and contemporary culture, creating works that were both visually compelling and intellectually engaging.

Undoubtedly, digital technology has further expanded the possibilities for art-making, from computer-generated images, to experimentation with algorithms, software code, and big data. Artists now have the ability to create works which are no longer bound by the physical constraints of traditional art forms. We can see examples of this new approach in the work of Mexican-Canadian artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and his interactive techno-theatre performances; in a similar vein, American digital conceptual artist Cory Arcangel's "Super Mario Clouds" (2002), manipulated the code of the classic video game "Super Mario Bros." to create a new, abstract work of art.

With the use of virtual and augmented reality, as well as interactive art pieces that respond to the movements of the viewer, computer-generated productions have transformed the way we experience art. The virtual reality installations of "The VR Museum of Fine Art" for example, allow viewers to explore famous works of art in a 3D virtual environment. This provides a new level of engagement and interactivity for an audience in an art gallery, albeit a non-physical one. And visitors to Random International’s “Rain Room”, will have a first-hand, unique experience of walking through a simulated rainstorm without getting wet, thanks to a clever system of motion sensors and water pumps which keeps them completely dry.

Online platforms like Etsy, Art Finder and Saatchi Art, which enable artists to sell their work directly to collectors and buyers, have caused a fundamental shift in the way that art infiltrates the marketplace. Social media also plays an increasingly important role in the growth of the distribution channels in the markets. However, they also bring the additional challenge of navigating complex copyright laws and the higher likelihood that original work may be subject to plagiarism, or used without the artist’s permission. The question of what constitutes an original work of art and the value of authenticity will remain a topic of much debate in the art world. If an artist creates a digital work that can be reproduced with ease, does it lose its worth as a singular and exclusive creation? Ongoing debates about these questions are still taking place and it is probable that they will continue to be a heated topic of discussion as technology continues to evolve.

Overall, it is clear that technology has opened new opportunities for artistic expression. As they continue to advance, we will be likely to see even more artists using digital tools and techniques. However, technology will also pose new challenges for the art world, particularly in terms of defining the value and authenticity of contemporary art, and how these may be protected from shallow business practices, and intellectual property digital fraud.


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