The Primordial Soup: Art and Technology

Before the article can start I want you to watch this video.

If you can’t play the video or don’t want to watch it let me summarize it.  The video is a series of clips from a documentary called It Might Get Loud.  The entire movie is The Edge from U2, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, and Jack White from the White Stripes talking about their music and their inspirations.  It is an amazing film and I highly recommend it.  The clip shown above is a set of clips with Jack White calling technology “the destroyer of emotion and truth.  Technology doesn’t do anything for creativity…that’s the disease you have to fight in any creative field, ease of use”.

Speaking purely as an artist myself I am inclined to agree with Jack on this one, in an attempt to make things easier you wind up losing something important, whether it’s some sort of tiny little imperfection that makes your creation special or nugget of truth that you just gloss over because it was easier not to.  For a perfect example of this look at something like the overuse of CGI in movies, mostly during the  1990’s where bad CGI and special effects were everywhere and the ability to fill seats in theaters with nothing more than that led to some really crappy movies.

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The thing is that while technology can be used a crutch for poor creative thought and has an annoying habit of turning a lot of creators lazy it is still useful.  Technology should be used as a companion to the creative thought process rather than its replacement and in my opinion there are three ways technology can do this.

Technology for storage and restoration 

Examples: The National Film Preservation Foundation, the Gutenberg Project, countless picture and art restoration efforts.

This is probably the most straightforward and distinct application of technology to creative works.  The fact of the matter is that things like books, famous works of art, and especially early film can be lost very easily.  By using modern appliances like computers, scanners, and digital storage works that would have previously lost to the ages can be cataloged, stored, and brought out for the enjoyment of future generations.

Technology for collaboration and publicity

Examples: Facebook, Dropbox, Itunes, the entire Internet.

The most useful and welcomed application of technology in the modern age. With a few simple clicks anyone from anywhere with access to a computer and a stable connection can connect with and collaborate with anyone else from around the world to create something.  Once that has been done it’s just a simple matter of sharing their work with their friends or anywhere large numbers of people congregate online.  Now anyone has the potential to be seen by millions of people when before it took giant companies with a long reach and deep pockets to get that kind of exposure.  Let me be clear, the technology on display here did nothing to create a work of art, it simply helps the work reach a bigger audience.

Technology for creative augmentation and discovery

Examples: Photoshop, Motion capture, CGI

Yes, I am fully aware that I just spend the majority of this article talking about how CGI ruined movies and how technology destroys creativity but hear me out.  Technology is destructive when used as a crutch but when it is used to augment and support an artist great things can happen.  Thinking “oh I can just use CGI to add a monster into my film and then it’ll be entertaining enough that I won’t have to do anything else” is bad but you still have design the monster, you still have to come up with rules for it and how it works within the story you’re telling, and you still have to make the monster have meaning.  You think that the fact that CGI was used to make these guys.

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and this guy

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made their movies worse?  Nope, by using CGI and computers to augment and support the creative vision of each of these films both films were able to realize their artistic vision much better then if they hadn’t used the tools available.

So the moral of this article is simple: technology isn’t necessarily a damper on creative thought and artistic production, the artist just has to be careful not to become too reliant on it and expect technology to do his/her job for them.

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3 thoughts on “The Primordial Soup: Art and Technology

  1. I came here from reddit and just wanted to say, I feel like this article doesn’t have much depth. Not that you are bad at writing, but I think your style of writing needs more paragraphs or more to the point. You should certainly maybe start with your argument at the beginning and try and explain why you think CGI is either destroying or not destroying art. Having to watch a video that is still a little ambiguous to make your argument for you is probably not the best way to get your point across.

    I would’ve argued since we have so much technology, and information is now so ubiquitous why are so many stories or movies the same. I understood what you wanted to say, it just didn’t come across very strong. I’ll start checking out this website every so often though!

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    • A fair point and thank you for your feedback. We have a blog series on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday if you’re into that sort of thing and the main attraction for the site is our bi weekly webcomic about a family of supervillains.

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