The Partnership Between Art and Tech

A machine drawing a painting.

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It’s no surprise that in the digital age, art and technology are increasingly combining in new ways. Everything from art created via audience participation to the literal use of new tech—computers, cell phones, digital data, and more—is changing the definition of art and how it’s presented.

PNCA grad Angélica Maria Millán Lazon‘s Engendradxs, for example, uses a combination of traditional and more modern technology. By combining fabrics, photographs, and smartphone videos, the presentation gives voice to several generations of women in Millán Lazon’s family. The installation was shown at the Williamson | Knight Gallery in April and at PNCA’s exhibit of MFA projects in June.

But the intersection of art and technology started long before Millán Lazon’s smartphones—and in many cases, it’s been even more elaborate. At London’s “Digital Revolution” show back in 2014, a series of artists displayed projects incorporating everything from audience interaction, lasers, pollution data, and robotics.

Umbrellium’s “Assemblance,” for example, used computer-controlled lasers to create ever-changing light displays based on audience movement and interactions. Visitors literally left trails of light in their wake, thanks to custom-created camera tracking, audio, smoke machines, projectors, computers, and more. For added interest: the audience could create light shows on their own, but if they interacted together as a group, the result was stronger, more resilient, and more sophisticated.

Another part of “Digital Revolution,” brought to you by Russian mixed media artist Dmitry Morozov, relied on a contraption of Morozov’s design that “sniffed out” pollutants like carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and methane from the streets of Moscow. By inputting the data into a computer program called Arduino, the resulting data was transformed into shapes and colors—a surprisingly colorful movie of pollution.

Experimentation with technology and art continues today as well. During this year’s New York Art Week, The Verge reported on several particularly interesting installations from Chris Dorland and Jacolby Satterwhite, respectively.

Dorland’s work focused on the creation of video of his own painting, as well as images from a spinal reconstruction website. “The underlying idea,” Dorland told The Verge, “is how technology sees the world and how we see things and how the lens records the world we live in. What happens when you put a Cadillac ad in front of a machine that doesn’t care about the content? It’s reading the information and recording it.”

Satterwhite’s offering had more of a direct correlation with his own family history—not unlike Millán Lazon’s Engendradxs. Going through thousands of his mother’s drawings from the 90s, Satterwhite traced anywhere from ten to fifteen of them and composited them together using 3D animation. “Basically I collect disparate archives and synthesize them together to make incongruent sources and to build a harmonious narrative,” Satterwhite explained.

As our understanding of technology increases—and as artists continue to get more inventive—we’re likely to see even more unusual and innovate combinations of art and technology.

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Taking the MFA to the Next Level

A young, female college student painting in a studio.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Art school isn’t just about traditional visual art anymore. Increasingly, MFA programs and the resulting art pieces include multidisciplinary fields of study, whether it’s combining different artistic mediums into one piece or taking student design out into the community to make a difference.

Several prime examples come from the Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA), whose students recently exhibited their work on a three-part show divided into visual studies, print media, and collaborative design. In fact, most of the pieces featured mixed media. Angélica Maria Millán Lazon’s Engendradxs is made up of portraits of the artist’s aunt and grandmother, as well as smartphones mounted on the wall playing videos. Meanwhile, Aruni Dharmakirthi’s Fissures of the In-Between features triptychs, textiles, and movement through the physical space of the exhibit.

On the other side of the country, the School of Visual Arts in New York is ground zero for innovative productions like Aya Rodriguez-Izumi’s 121212. The piece uses video, performance, and installation to tell the story of a day in the life of Lynnese Page, focusing on her daily rituals.

But it’s not just a matter of mixed media. MFA programs themselves are expanding to include the broader study of how art impacts the community around it. PNCA’s MFA in Collaborative Design focuses on getting students out into the world to collaborate with businesses, government, and nonprofit organizations looking for design solutions.

Back at SVA, students can choose from both a traditional MFA in Fine Arts and an MFA in Art Practice, which its chairman, David Ross, describes as being for “artists working in more hybrid areas, incorporating a number of different media or selecting the particular medium based on what they are trying to accomplish at a given time.”

Even MIT, traditionally known more for tech than for art, is jumping on the bandwagon when it comes to this kind of innovation. Its Master of Science in Visual Studies program focuses on “the development of artistic practices that challenge traditional genres as well as the limits of the gallery/museum context.”

Other schools with offerings focusing on art and design in the community include the Herron School of Art and Design at Indiana University, the Maryland Institute College of Art, the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, and the Carnegie Mellon University School of Art.

While studio art will always have its place, MFA programs are increasingly going beyond tradition to offer programs that contextualize art within the communities that need it. From mixed media productions to programs focusing on community engagement, it’s a brave new world when it comes to arts education.