The Laws of Nature

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Questioning the Tools

Man Ray

Art Without Compromise by Wendy Richmond
Chapter 4: "Questioning the Tools"

Because the subject of Chapter 4 is technological tools, I'll consider all six sections at once. Here, the author considers the utility and impact of the cell phone, digital camera, and computer upon our daily lives and in creating art. By now, I suspect that all of you who are reading this blog utilize these technologies on a regular basis, so you'll be able to relate.

What interests me most are the summary thoughts in each section of this chapter:

The more I learn, the more excited I am about the cell phone's potential to add to my life, and the more anxious I become about what it has already taken away - like my long walks where I am alone with myself. (K.C. - turn off the cell phone an leave it at home! That's what I do.)

Most of the devices that we had twenty-five years ago have advanced in service beyond our wildest imaginations, but they have become increasingly complex in usability. (K.C. - Nevertheless, isn't it interesting how 5-year old kids can easily navigate a computer and cell phone??)

We have a relationship with each piece of technology we use. We rarely ponder how that relationship affects our actions, our choices, or even our creative goals. (K.C. - how true!)

Maintaining balance requires diligent attention. Professionals and amateurs alike, in any of the arts, sometimes wander off their intended paths and get tangled in the thicket of technique... When the work is in balance, technique is neither the hero nor the enemy. (K.C. - a wise statement, indeed)

Do new inventions make us wiser, or do these tools weaken our powers of thought and understanding? Is technology an aid or a hindrance to our ability to be creative, insightful human beings? (K.C. - I could answer "yes" and "no" to both questions)

How will future historians deal with this abundant and wildly diverse data? Will this profusion become so overwhelming that the only way to make sense of it will be to make it quantifiable, assembling stories with statistics and logic instead of soul? In the future, will history be more true or more false? (K.C. - IMHO, "history" is always more false than true because it requires human observation and reasoning, which is always flawed by bias and cognitive limitations.)

I must admit that I have little interest in exploring all the utilities available to me through technology, although I do use a cell phone (rarely), computer (daily), and digital camera (frequently). However, I find more satisfaction in using simple tools like pencil, paper, paint, and canvas. Many of you are much more advanced and so it would be good to learn about your thoughts and experiences.


Stan Kurth said...

Man Ray. Interesting.

The artists of Lascaux had no electricity and not many art tools for that matter. Picasso had no cell phone. Are there analogies or comparisons here? Art will continue to be created in new and different ways, but its purpose will never deviate regardless of the course of history and or technological advances. I like how Wendy wrote a column more than a decade ago titled "The Computer is Not a Tool". I agree. It is much more than a tool: It is an environment and a medium.

You're right Kathy. Just turn it off! Quite often I go on lengthy hikes or backpacks because I need periodic isolation and retreat (guess it's part of that pesky introspection I can't get away from). Recently I hiked from The South Rim of the Grand Canyon to the North Rim (24 miles). Most of the hike there is no cell service, but I turned the phone off! I must admit I have my phone with me all the time and that's not going to change, it's just part of the way we live now. We can hardly imagine what the future holds. No one knew the internet would be what it is today.

-Don said...

Hi Kathy, I'm back. I had to take yesterday off from our blogosphere due to jury duty, so I'm a day behind in responding to you and many of my friends.

This is a great post about our modern "tools". I think you could insert any new technologies, tools or applications throughout history into the context here and ask these same questions. Let's look at the printing press... How about adding linseed oil to pigment... We could mention polymers... Then there's always the silkscreen... And I've not even scratched the surface here.

My point is, every generation of artists has had new tools and technologies to either embrace or reject. Many artists have embraced these advances more quickly than the critics or mainstream were ready and have ended up dealing with backlash or ridicule - often followed by understanding and acceptance - and then sometimes lionization.

I use all the tools you listed here today (both electronic and traditional) on a daily basis - in my life and in my art. Technology has woven me into her web. Why shouldn't I weave her into mine?


Mark Sheeky said...

I'd call the Internet a whole separate tool, it's not at all like a computer but a whole new communication method.

Tools can make many jobs much faster, but other jobs slower. I wonder if the prolific Picasso would have produced more or less? He might have had 3D printing to make sculptures more quickly, but might have spent days installing software instead of creating!

Televison is one big time sapper. With nothing to do in the evenings the whole world would become more creative (and, um, perhaps more populated).

Angela said...

I've always viewed the cell phone as something to have along in case of an emergence...whether I have to use it or my family has to get ahold of me...I've never seen answering it as obligatory, so it really doesn't interrupt my solitude when I want it. Actually, now that I work from home I feel the same way about the regular phone...I check caller ID, but if it's not family, my kids' schools or a call I've been waiting for it rarely gets answered.
Digital cameras, photo programs and the internet are all things that I use constantly and it's hard to imagine going for any significant amount of time without them. It's actually much easier for me to imagine going without my computer than without my camera. I often forget my glasses, but I never forget my camera and often I use it to help me 'see' things when my vision isn't up to the challenge.
I feel like I'm constantly surrounded by the complaints of art dying because of all of these new methods to 'cheat'...and I just don't get why people waste so much energy on it. Artists who spent a significant amount of time preparing their own paints probably felt much of art was lost when you could buy it 'ready made'...and there was much lamenting when photography became easily accessible.
I don't use every new piece of technology out there, but I love having so many options!

Kathy said...

Hi Stan - Thanks for mentioning Wendy's title for her column. I should have included that because it speaks volumes. Your Grand Canyon hike must have been both a challenge and beautiful. I've been there, but haven't taken the long hike. Most of my extensive hiking has been the mountain ranges of Italy and Switzerland. I think those days are over for me now (sigh).

Hi Don - Jury duty! Don't get me started. Been there many times, and some tough trials with sequestration over night. Wasn't fun. Your comments about the historical development of technologies in art is an excellent point as well as your thoughts about the stages of acceptance. What next, indeed? It would be fun to paint in outer space :-)

Hi Mark - more food for thought! I agree about TV. My home/studio in Maine where I spend half the year has no television. It'll stay that way.

Hi Angela - excellent point! If I had to grind and mix my own paints, I'd never have enough time to paint. Thanks for adding that insight.

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layers said...

I think the dilemma for artists is how to balance the 'old' tools with the new technologies like the computer photoshop stuff-- vs. pencil, pen, brush, paint. Even though I prefer to use the old tools and get my hands dirty-- I don't care what the medium and end result is ie. digital manipulated imagery can also turn me on.

hwfarber said...

I have a cellphone in my purse but never turn it on. I've learned from the internet--I can also waste time on the internet. I use the digital camera often and play in Corel or Photoshop. However, nothing beats getting paint, clay, or graphite on my hands.

Kathy said...

Hi Pam - you raise an interesting point that I hadn't considered: technology imposing "perfection" upon us. That's really interesting to ponder. I'll keep thinking about this. Thanks!

Hi Donna- "balance" is a good word! I agree.

Hi Hallie - I'm with you, girlfriend!!