How has technology influenced the arts?
April 16, 2012 8:48 AM   Subscribe

Can you recommend historical examples of technology influencing the creative process?

I'm a graphic design student, and I'm working on a thesis about the influence of technology on art & design practice. I'm hunting for historical examples of writers, artists, or designers whose work has been clearly influenced by a particular tool or technology.

Things like the story of Nietzsche and the skrivekugle, Charles Bukowski and the computer, or Nabokov and index cards.

These are all writers, but I'm hoping to find examples from other creative disciplines. Can you help, lazyweb?
posted by brother to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Music has always been inventing new instruments and new ways of making music -- look at the Roland 303 for example.
posted by empath at 8:52 AM on April 16, 2012

Umm. The printing press.

Read Adrian Johns' The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making for an excellent, in-depth look at the way the advent of the printing press was involved in the creation of the modern academic community. Science, yes, but also things like theology, literature, and history.
posted by valkyryn at 8:57 AM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Even earlier than electronic instruments, pieces written for natural horn occasionally required long rests in which the horn players would change tuning crooks. Piano solos in jazz music before electronic amplification required the rest of the band to get really quiet.
posted by mkb at 8:59 AM on April 16, 2012

Painting in general, and the Impressionists in particular, changing practice due to widespread availability of commercial paint in tubes.
posted by newmoistness at 9:01 AM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, Laurie Anderson is a poster child for tech's influence on music.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 9:04 AM on April 16, 2012

I read somewhere how the invention of photography freed painters from the burden of having to slavishly reproduce reality, but I can't remember where this would have been.

The creation of the modern recording studio certainly changed music drastically.
posted by mkb at 9:07 AM on April 16, 2012

Richard Powers "writes" via voice dictation software. He has a strange setup: he projects the text onto a huge wall. "I'm like a guitarist who wants to play in a different style, one with very fast action, one with nylon strings,'' he said during an interview at his cozy clapboard home in this quiet university town. ''Each arrangement produces a different physical relationship to the medium.''
posted by mattbucher at 9:08 AM on April 16, 2012

Mark Twain was one of the first authors to adopt the typewriter.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 9:09 AM on April 16, 2012

You could look at the use of steel, and then plastics/acrylic in early 20th century sculpture.
posted by sleepy boy at 9:11 AM on April 16, 2012

Two off the top of my head:

The 2007 exhibition (more) and book Moving Pictures: American Art and Early Film, 1880-1910 detail the influence of film and related technologies on George Bellows, Childe Hassam, Thomas Eakins, and other artists.

V. Vale recently made some interesting comments (starting @2:20) about the influence of cheap photocopying and portable tape recorders on the seminal Search and Destroy zine, and on the documenting of early punk.
posted by ryanshepard at 9:42 AM on April 16, 2012

The Camera obscura's possible influence on the Dutch masters is interesting. Is the Swiss modular grid system is a tool?
posted by jade east at 10:05 AM on April 16, 2012

Does the invention of the Vari-lite and its adoption by Rock and or Roll count?
It changed light shows forever, and essentially drove the creation of the stadium show.
posted by Gungho at 10:22 AM on April 16, 2012

I can't provide any cites, but contemporary basketball shoes have been inarguably influenced by 3D modeling software.
posted by rhizome at 10:33 AM on April 16, 2012

Picasso and Photography: The Dark Mirror by Anne Baldassari is a really spectacular examination of this.
posted by newmoistness at 10:41 AM on April 16, 2012

I've just started playing electric guitar, and it astounds me how much control over timbre you can have with an electric instrument. Guitarists spend years perfecting their tone, which can include the guitar itself, strings, pickups, pickup heights, wiring schemes, etc., as well as the signal path itself, which includes effects pedals and stomp boxes, amps, microphone placement, EQ parameters, etc. And what's more, some musical techniques only sound good with a certain combination of these parameters. For instance, power chords only really work when you're using distortion, and artificial harmonics sound very quiet unless you're boosting the gain. Both are extremely common techniques in rock music today.

Another example in popular music: the microphone allowed singers to sing quietly instead of yelling at the top of their lungs, creating "crooning" and eventually becoming one of the most common styles of vocal performance.

For an older example, Beethoven and the metronome share an interesting history.
posted by archagon at 4:25 PM on April 16, 2012

Animation is another great medium for this. John Lasseter and his team at Pixar took the traditional principles of hand-drawn animation and applied them to computer graphics, creating the CGI look we're so familiar with today.

Hand-drawn animation itself was impossible before movies were invented.

And cinema was impossible before the invention of photography. So you could say that the majority of visual art today was only made possible through the inventions of Daguerre and others in the 19th century.
posted by archagon at 4:35 PM on April 16, 2012

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