Art is a technology

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My interest is fundamentally practical: I want more art that is good.

So, by “practical”, what you mean is “completely subjective”?


If art is a technology, and immoral works are flawed, and morality is a technology, then Heinlein really is less competent than Scalzi! I’m glad I stumbled across this thing I can use.


without losing depth

Really now. I assume we are not talking about Emotional depth.

Thanks, Cory… I hadn’t come across these ideas yet, and really enjoyed reading them.

I thought the term “technology” had to do with hardware, not the end result of using the hardware?

This is a fascinating idea that Walter Benjamin explored in depth in his 1936 essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Writing about technological developments in painting, still photography, and later film, Benjamin observes:

One of the foremost tasks of art has always been the creation of a demand which could be fully satisfied only later. The history of every art form shows critical epochs in which a certain art form aspires to effects which could be fully obtained only with a changed technical standard, that is to say, in a new art form.

For Benjamin, with film,

changes of place and focus periodically assail the spectator. [. . . .] No sooner has his eye grasped a scene than it is already changed. It cannot be arrested. [. . . .] The spectator’s process of association in view of these images is indeed interrupted by their constant, sudden change. This constitutes the shock effect of the film, which, like all shocks, should be cushioned by heightened presence of mind.

In the next section, he continues,

The distracted person, too, can form habits. More, the ability to master certain tasks in a state of distraction proves that their solution has become a matter of habit. [. . . .] Reception in a state of distraction [. . .] finds in the film its true means of exercise. The film with its shock effect meets this mode of reception halfway [. . . .] by the fact that at the movies this position requires no attention. The public is an examiner, but an absent-minded one.

Benjamin situated this state of things within the contemporary rise of fascism and the deployment of mass art like film as a political tool. (A Jew, he later killed himself rather risk being caught by what he thought were pursuing Nazis.) So while critics like Thurston continue to ask what is “good,” I think that we should also not lose track of the political value and consequence of art–for example, looking at the “efficiency” of shows like Law and Order, what we gain and lose by such efficiency, and how the emphasis on efficient technological reproduction reflects on a show that worships the lawfulness and moral certitude of a state that has, since its inception, engaged in perpetual warfare on its citizens and on the working peoples of the world.


Benjamin’s work still rings true today.


I think she’s confabulated the techniques that go into art, with the art itself. TV and movies are a combination of many kinds of art, from makeup to videography,costuming,special effects, and,um,acting. Each of these disciplines have their techniques and their subjective artistry, and those have their own fashions that come and go. By lumping it all into one thing called “technology” she invokes a nice linear scale of evolution, always moving dorward and up, never hitting dead ends. Clever, and wrong.


Okay. Because it’s hard for me to see the “art” in editing a film, for instance. To me, it takes lots and lots of skill; I’m lousy at doing it on a computer, but using a Moviola is closer to creating a work of art because I’m physically touching the film; my “touch” would literally be on it. The end product, however, whether edited on a PC or a Moviola, can be art, depending who’s looking at it and what their aesthetic standards are.

Yes, there really isn’t anything that has a nice linear scale of evolution, is there? For one thing, if there were, the history-book-writing industry would slow to a crawl. :slight_smile:

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This person talks about art in terms of ‘efficiency’ as if its an (or THE) objective measure of artistic quality. I don’t think she knows or cares much about emotional or conceptual depth in artwork.


I don’t think that art and skill need to be mutually exclusive. Art still takes some skill and practice.

Actually, Evan Eisenberg wrote a book about how sound recording made a new kind of art, distinct from live performance of music:

This would fit nicely in the above argument about art as a technology, I think. He argues that recording technologies allows you to do distinct things with music that you can’t do without those technologies. There are entire genres of music that depend on the ability to record and playback sound.

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Oh, certainly it does take some skill to create art; not necessarily a lot, depending on what one wishes to create or convey.

Maybe I’m confused by “technology”/“technique”. I tend to do things in hard copy (drawing a picture with a pencil, for example) rather than using software (drawing a picture on my PC). I’m more skilled at the former than I am at the latter.

And if I’m making sense to anyone besides myself (and I’m kind of iffy on that, LOL), please let me know.

PS: I love the intelligent discourse here!

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I’d say that technology creates new artistic skill sets. That doesn’t necessarily invalidate older ones, but it can move the possibilities along, in what is possible in art.

You’re making sense!

We love that you’re part of the intelligent discourse here!

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I’m not sure I’d say it creates them - it makes them possible, for sure. Take film, for example: early examples tended to follow stage conventions. That is maybe not the best, most idiomatic use of the medium, but it is perfectly feasible. If no one feels the need to push the boundaries of existing notions of technique, they won’t be pushed. (With artists, that is admittedly a very faint chance. :wink: )

Myself, I found it very difficult to get at what the author of the article was intending, and I think that confusion stems from the author’s confusion of technique and technology. New media are new technology, but, within a medium, new techniques (after a period of consolidation) are surprisingly few and far between.

What generally tends to happen is a new combination of techniques: for instance, you won’t understand Webern’s music very well if you don’t understand the contribution of techniques from ars subtilior (“colour”, isorhythm) to his music, and their combination with post-Romantic chromaticism (and post-Romantic chromaticism has points of similarity to music by people like Gesualdo).

The reason, though, that I’d hesitate to call these techniques technology is that they don’t necessarily give the same outputs for the same inputs, because peers using them don’t use them the same way, not even for similar materials - their understanding of the materials is different.


The author of that article is a hopeless case. As soon as you start conflating efficiency with quality in art, you’re done. You’ve lost the thread entirely. Return to kindergarten and stick your hands in some paint until you realize what you’ve said.

Also, yeah: “I want more art that is good.” Great that we have them for a measuring stick!


One example of a nice, linear scale of development, might be sound recording, a basic technical skill that (you’d think) is pretty transparent to the actor’s performance. The first talkies had people talking into hidden microphones on set, it looks kludgy as hell to modern audiences. But the fancy THX sound format has made the sound recording process a real finicky drog, and some directors miss the more primitive process that let them get on with the shooting.

On the other side of things, we’ve got the color balance process thats gone way to far in the orange/blue direction. When that fad wears out, it’ll be obvious that a film was made in this decade.

When dicussing art, “always” and “never” dont make a lot of sense.

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“Technology Writer Writes About Art, Says It’s Technology”

When you’ve got a hammer in your hand, everything looks like a nail. I have the same beef with Paul Graham’s book “Hackers and Painters”: broad, efficiency-based comparative statements that ultimately do nothing more than valorize each discipline by the other (taking the positive attributes from art and applying them to technology and vice versa).

In short: fuck technology writers.

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