Friday, 15 July 2011

thoughts on technology + artists

carving tools

I've just finished reading a very good essay about change and technology and the publishing industry by Christina Thompson (editor of the print version of the Harvard Review). It's in the current edition of my favourite journal, Meanjin which is still only really available as a print journal (and that's ok with me).

The essay was a great read because it raises lots of interesting questions about the skill set writers need now and for the future, skills you wouldn't usually associate with writing literature like the ability to use photoshop and design web pages. This is because the publishing industry is changing rapidly and the way writers interact with it is changing too. Thompson talks a lot about the need for writers to embrace the technological skills needed as it will enable them to have more control and therefore more say in their working lives. Things like being able to design a website rather than give it to someone else to do for you because if writers don't develop this skill they won't be able to maintain and update their web presence independently of a third party. And to not be able to do so is disempowering.

Even though the essay is about the publishing industry I think there are a lot of parallels that can be made in terms of technology and the future for artists/designers. Those of us who have an active web presence already have a whole lot of skills that creative folk wouldn't have had 10 years ago (and many still don't have today). A lot of us don't even think about the technological skills we have mastered in recent years. For example, I'm a printmaker (and a pretty low tech one at that as my area is relief printing) but because I've been interacting on the web for almost 6 years now I know how to maintain a blog on the two main blogging platforms out there (and a lot of bells and whistles that go with it like inserting videos and sound files), use image storing sites like flickr, maintain an online shop, set up and maintain a basic website, use twitter, use a digital camera, use photoshop, and the list goes on. My point is I didn't know any of this stuff up until 6 years ago. And it's not the skill set you would usually associate with a printmaker. But because I've chosen to interact online and have an active web presence I have accumulated these skills along the way and now people are seeing them as valuable, and some even as necessary (like Thompson) to work in our contemporary culture.

Interestingly, I now also use this skill set in my main income earning job. Up until recently these kinds of skills weren't really necessary there either but more and more in many different types of jobs it's becoming necessary to get across the technology that is very much a part of modern life in western societies.

And I think it's very important that artists and designer do this. It's a bit like the point Thompson makes in her essay about writers. "We also need to remind young would-be literary types that it's not going to be enough in the future simply to be good with words. If they want to be players in the world of publishing they had better become proficient in a few of these technologies so that they really understand how to take advantage of the changes that are taking place" (p 54). And so it is with artists and designers too. I have friends who are painters and continue to slog away interacting with the traditional gallery world. The disappointment and frustration is endless for them. I keep telling them they need to build a web presence and interact with others online. That it's not enough anymore to just do things the old way. That there's a whole world out there beyond the local gallery shows where people can see their work and where they can make valuable connections. I don't think they can appreciate the value in that just yet. But hopefully soon they will.

In the meantime those of us who are used to interacting online will continue to accumulate technological skills that will be useful in a whole range of contexts and will help us feel more connected to other artists and designers all over the world. Now that, in my mind, is very empowering.


  1. This is a really interesting discussion, and relates to one that I had with a friend recently. The discussion was basically that it is a shame that our world doesn't value creative talent and skill as much as it values something like, say, accounting. And by value I mean willing to pay good money to use that talent and skill.

    I think that this is part of the reason why creative people HAVE to develop these technological skills. If their creative abilities were valued more they would be able to pay someone to do these things (like an accountant/lawyer/etc probably does) and focus on their core work (probably what they would prefer to be doing in most cases).

  2. So true! But I think even if creatives can afford to ask a 3rd party to do some of the tech work for them it's important to be tuned into what the technology can offer and the way it is being used out there in the world. There is so much freedom in knowing that. And more (IMHO) in being actively part of it.

  3. I agree. It is empowering, and I think it's also a great way to find inspiration and connect with other creative people. If you don't know what you are doing online you are missing out on this whole other world.

  4. An interesting read.
    My route to printmaking (linocut) has come via 27 years in the publishing industry - first as a designer/artbuyer, then with my own studio as a designer/illustrator, more recently (and still today) as a supplier of high quality digital illustrations/maps/diagrams to studios workings on major publishing projects.
    My art school training covered book design and illustration the old fashioned way - a year into my first job my employer bought the in-house design studio its first Apple Mac - I knew I had to learn new skills fast or I would wave goodbye to a career in book design!

    So when I made the decision to spend an increasing section of my time working on my own designs - mainly linocuts - and to sell them via galleries, art fairs and the web, using my digital art/techie skills was natural. I scan sketches, work up ideas in photoshop, sketch final designs using my wacom tablet & pen, print out designs on my laser printer and transfer them onto lino blocks ... but then I love the cutting by hand, inking and hand pressing onto japanese papers (I don't use a press).

    I've had to ride out snide remarks from 'artists' hinting that I 'cheat' because I use a computer for my designs - why should a digital pen be different from a pencil when roughing out an idea? My Mac is an essential studio tool - I use my iMac along with a scanner and laserprinter for my digital illustration commissions; digital designs for cards; preparatory work for my block prints; reproductions of block print designs on cards; etc

    And, I use my web site/blog/facebook/twitter to connect with my customers.

    Still learning! in this fast changing world.


  5. Thanks for that insight into your skilling up of techie skills Celia! Sounds like you made the right move at the right time rather than holding onto the past. Must talk to you one day about your wacom tablet. I've got one but hardly use it (but would like to).

  6. Thanks Kylie for a great post. It's got me thinking. I have such a love/hate relationship with technology – and I'm a graphic designer! I use whatever feels right for the project at hand: paper, lino, screenprinting, wacom, pencil on paper, watercolour, illutrator. And now I blog. But sometimes I just feel like, enough! Enough of the endless learning. I have babies to look after, shopping to do, dinner to cook and there just aren't enough hours in the day. When I think about creating a website I just segue into a funk thinking what exactly do I show? My graphic design? My writing? Would that be the film scripts or art writing? See what I mean? I have no straight story. And maybe it doesn't matter but somehow it matters to me. If I saw that website I'd think: nutjob! x Anna

  7. Hey Anna, I totally get what you mean! (not the nutjob part though :) You could have a collection of stuff you do though. Why not?

    And yes, we only have so many hours in the day so it's sometimes hard to work out how to fit in all the learning. But the more you do something the quicker you get. So I guess we need to work out what to focus on for the moment.

  8. I could say so much. As a journalist who has made the transition from print to online and trains others to do so I find it both frustrating and inspiring to be at this point of my career at this point of industry upheaval. I agree re the crossover to other creative industries because I still see journalism as a craft, rather than a profession. If journalists thought more about their work as craft they may actually think about the tools required for their craft and better embrace online technologies because it is true, journalists DO need to learn how to use Photoshop and learn how to navigate other online tools such a live blogging, social media, even how to use an iPhone to record and file copy, shoot videos and edit videos. I advise interns to start a blog because what they learn in doing so is so practical when they sit down in front of a newsroom content management system.

    Hey, when do you fly for your basketweaving adventure? So keen to hear how it goes.

  9. Kate - thought you would agree with Thompson's points about writers and the publishing industry re skills needed.

    Off to Arnhem Land very soon!

  10. interesting!
    i find the extra learning to be hard to fit in time~wise overall, but have accepted it as a necessary and empowering step. after all, when i looked at the art world from the old way {7 years ago} i only saw dead ends for me!! now i see endless possibilities! i can't imagine life without the online connections!

  11. I so know what you mean Belinda!!