Technology and its role in creative expression
Many argue that recent developments in electronic technology such as computers and videotape have enabled artists to vary their forms of expression. For example, video art can now achieve images whose effect is produced by “digitalization”: breaking up the picture using computerized information processing. Such new technologies create new ways of seeing and hearing by adding different dimensions to older forms, rather than replacing those forms. Consider Locale, a film about a modern dance company. The camera operator wore a SteadicamTM, an uncomplicated device that allows a camera to be mounted on a person so that the camera remains steady no matter how the operator moves. The SteadicamTM captures the dance in ways impossible with traditional mounts. Such new equipment also allows for the preservation of previously unrecordable aspects of performances, thus enriching archives.
By Contrast, others claim that technology subverts the artistic enterprise: that artistic efforts achieved with machines preempt human creativity, rather than being inspired by it. The originality of musical performance, for example, might suffer, as musicians would be deprived of the opportunity to spontaneously change pieces of music before live audiences. Some even worry that technology will eliminate live performance altogether; performances will be recorded for home viewing, abolishing the relationship between performer and audience. But these negative views assume both that technology poses an unprecedented challenge to the arts and that we are not committed enough to the artistic enterprise to preserve the live performance, assumptions that seem unnecessarily cynical. In fact, technology has traditionally assisted our capacity for creative expression and can refine our notions of any give art form.
For example, the portable camera and the snapshot were developed at the same time as the rise of impressionist painting in the nineteenth century. These photographic technologies encouraged a new appreciation. In addition, impressionist artists like Degas studied the elements of light and movement captured by instantaneous photography and used their new understanding of the way our perceptions distort reality to try to more accurately capture realty in their work. Since photos can capture the “moments” of a movement, such as a hand partially raised in a gesture of greeting, Impressionist artists were inspired to paint such moments in order to more effectively convey the quality of spontaneous human action. Photography freed artists from the preconception that a subject should be painted in a static, artificial entirety, and inspired them to capture the random and fragmentary qualities of our world. Finally, since photography preempted painting as the means of obtaining portraits, painters had more freedom to vary their subject matter, thus giving rise to the abstract creations characteristic of modern art.