Lauren Jones
Technologies and Art

If we can learn anything from the work “Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering Lost Techniques of the Old Master” by artist David Hockney, it is this: The world of art, as we know it, has been shaped by the lens of those who came before us. From artistic genres and styles to the vocabulary with which we use to describe and define said styles, the history of art has grown organically from one movement burgeoning onto the next.

What, then, does the effect of technology have on old practices and pieces? What directions will technology take art in the future? How are museums and the art world in general handling the effects of technology on society as a whole? These questions are explored in the following essay, focusing on controversial rediscoveries of past art, the work of Dutch Old Masters and Raphael Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, and the resulting public’s reaction. This paper then turns to look at the process by which everyday citizens have become so involved in the art world today, starting with the Pop Art movement and culminating in the present Web-based society. Lastly, this study looks to the steps museums are taking in an attempt to reach their newly appointed, tech-savvy audiences in the form of mobile apps.

I. The Art of the Past

Art, throughout its history, has always represented the ideals of the civilization from which it derives. Over time, it shows us who we were, who we are at present, and how far we have come. In earlier civilizations, such as those in Meso-America and Egypt, the practice and purpose of art was to record and legitimize the rule of those in power. Using the tools and materials of the generations which came before them so as to create highly stylized figures and a standardized alphabet of symbols, artists were able to convey the strength and prowess of the great societies for which they lived and served.

As time advanced and industrial revolutions brought about new materials, trade routes, and densely populated cities, new technologies irrevocably changed the practice and scope of art. For example, David Hockney’s work in “Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering Lost Techniques of the Old Master” focuses on the invention of the Camera Obscura and the resulting effects that can be seen clearly in a variety of artist’s work, ranging from Vermeer to Van Eyck. Hockney asserts that the stylized view from the Camera Obscura produces specific patterns of clarity in areas of detailing and shadowing, all of which has been thought, by art historians of the past, to indicate a particular aesthetic preference in painting; however, as scientists today point out, the techniques employed for this particular time period and geographical location of artists was, in actuality, the results of technology. In other words, the artists did not paint the way they did because of choice, they were simply replicating the image as it appeared through the lens of the Camera Obscura.

To say the least, the revelations amongst art scholars and historians concerning this new information is dramatic – and, for good reason! Indeed, what once may have been classified as a characteristic indicative of a particular style of art (such as a specific format for shading or showing depth) are now proven to be the simple side effects of technology (and the limitations, therein)! These characteristics and elements of various artistic periods have been given a specific terminology by art historians over the years and have been appropriated to a variety of art theories. These art theories and movements are taught to novices and art experts around the world and exist as the groundwork for all of the resulting art movements. However, when these guidelines and modules are questioned or revoked, as is with the aforementioned Hockley documentary, the building blocks on which all art stands shifts – and, in so doing, alters the theories of art that follow it.

Revelations (or upheavals) in the art world such as this are becoming more and more common with the advancement of various technologies. Another example lies in the cleaning of the timeless frescoes in the Vatican. Michelangelo’s images are well known in both high and low culture thanks to the reproduction of these images in various films, advertisements, consumer products, the Internet etc. After finally developing the proper tools to clean said frescoes, when art historian’s unveiled the new images, the once familiar frescoes appeared altered and changed – the general public preferred the older, incorrect hues. The History Channel, in an attempt to capture the heat and drama of the moment, created a series of work entitled “Museum Secrets" episode "Blood & Grafitti” in which this very occurrence was discussed on television and re-aired online. The History Channel focuses on the patchy nature of the brushstrokes made by Michelangelo and weaves together a tale of conspiracy casting characters such as Martin Luther into a web of scandal and deceit. This paper will not delve more into the story line of the television series but, rather, would like to look more closely at the effects of cleaning the frescoes on the general populace.

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Why was the unveiling of the new frescoes so controversial to the public? Why did Hockney receive such flack for his discoveries with Old Masters? And, most importantly, why are art historians and museums giving the general public such a voice in the subject? Technology is proving to be both a curse and a blessing for those of the art world. It seems that the future of art depends solely on the ways in which artists, historians and critics alike handle the new innovations and discoveries being made as a result of technology, and the effects that it has on the public.

II. A New Audience

Arthur Danto describes the period following Pop Art in the 1980s as the “death of art.” Not so much a death as in the complete end of something, but more so in the light that Art is in a state of reinvention. One might go as a far as to say that Art is consistently reinventing itself, running parallel with the ever-evolving human race. At this particular juncture in time, thanks to various technological advancements within the past few decades, the art world has been thrown into a bit of a maelstrom – the audience has shifted.
The effects of Pop Art on the world were great. Through the utilization of current advancing technological innovations, Pop artists were able to bring to life the beauty and frivolity in modern life. The mixing of high and low culture in the art world was not only sustained by the images, but by the denunciation of the rules of Art, as a whole. Using machines and the objects they produce, Pop artists were able to turn the ideals of a learned, classically trained artist on its head and put Art in the hands of the populace. Whether it was their intention or not, the message we can derive from this period of art is that anyone can make and appreciate art.

By the 1990s, the Internet and portable electronic devices became more and more engrained into the lives of everyday citizens. Communication, education, business, consumption, etc. have all expanded on a global scale thanks to the reception of the Internet. As a result, thanks to mass media in particular, the general populace has become more and more involved in the world of high culture art - whether this is a good or a bad thing, only time will tell.

Thanks widely to the capabilities of the Internet, Contemporary Art represents a style of art that appeals, even more so than its predecessors, to its constituency. Indeed, more than ever before, art has found a way to connect with the everyday citizens of people around the world. Through YouTube, various social media such as Facebook and Twitter, Pinterest, and a multitude of other online resources, audiences worldwide are able to interact with art (of both high and low culture) within a more intimate fashion.
Not only are people more easily able to view and see art, they are better equipped with the capabilities to comment on and dictate popular art. Personal blogs, comment sections on such news syndications as The New York Times and Gawker all enable the voices of millions to be heard, regardless of stature or qualifications. The Internet presents an even platform in which anyone from anywhere at anytime can post their positions or opinions on topics regardless of experience or qualifications. On the Internet, in essence, everyone is a critic. In this way, in the world of Art, the stakes have never been higher.

As an art history scholar and a museum professional, I find this a bit curious and liberating at the same time. Yes, it is important for communities to feel involved with art. Art if made by and for the people, regardless of high or low culture. However, in matters of cleaning frescoes or placement of objects in exhibitions, the general populace hasn’t a right to an opinion – it is not their job or their expertise. Audiences should feel more than obliged to like, tweet, or pin pages of artists online where their opinions are accepted by their peers. Online comments, in essence, should stay online.

Overall, as a result of the Internet, this new online audience poses a strong force in the world of art. There are different protocols, social norms, and vocabulary utilized on the Internet – it is a social structure unto itself. So, how are museums reacting to this new audience? They are enabling them.

III. Museum’s Response to New Audience

How are museums reacting to this new audience? They are enabling them. Calling upon the use of common-held technologies in today’s society, museums appoint the viewers with the power to analyze and create art inspired by pieces within its collection. Indeed, in addition to providing a slew of online resources which, in some cases, house the vast majority of a museum’s collection, art institution’s encourage visitor’s to make art a part of viewer’s everyday life. Museums provide various social media outlets online that allow audiences to follow the latest in exhibition and programming news. The most intriguing aspect about these sites is that they permeate the idea that museums welcome the opinions of non-museum personnel on the inner workings of the institution. How much the museum is actually affected by these outsider comments is not the focus of this paper; the main point here is this: museums are using technology in order to promote and foster relationships between the community and the art itself.

http://www.moma.org/explore/mobile/iphoneapp

Over the past years, museums have begun to incorporate the latest in smart phone technologies into the gallery spaces. Smart Phone codes are now accessible onsite and prompt viewers to download the insider information provided in said application. Some smart phone apps, such as the Denver Art Museum’s DAM Scout, provide interactive features that inspire viewers to look at art from alternate artistic avenues such as music, comedy, etc. Some apps even permit visitors to leave their own personal comments on tagged artworks – permeating an environment of open dialogue and conversation between art and museum-goers.


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In essence, the museums, nowadays, with the advancements in technology, are encouraging visitors, even those with no artistic background, to leave comments and opinions concerning the art both onsite and online. Instead of ignoring or fighting the force of the Internet, museums have begun to embrace the medium.

The overall effects of mass media and technologies, ie. Blogging, infinite social media sites, Twiiter and Tumblr feeds, etc. make it easy for outsiders to come in contact with the museums wares on a daily basis (making the Andre Malraux Musee Imaginaire all the more poignant and true today). Thus, a feeling of communal ownership and pride begins to surround the museum and the art, or so most museum professionals would hope. The only thing museums will have to be wary of, as the studies with David Hockney and Michelangelo’s frescoes prove, is that when an institution puts its collections in the hands of the people via Internet and mobile devices, said museum had better be prepared for its consequences: a more vocal, wider and highly involved audience.

IV. Conclusions

Arthur Danto in his work entitled “After the End of Art” describes the current status of Art as one in flux. He asserts that by the 1980’s, everything in art, as we had known it, had been done before. There were no new territories to discover in sculpture, no new paths to pave in painting. Therefore, in contemporary art, artists are focusing on technology.

Indeed, in an advancingly technology-centered society, Art has found a new way to represent culture as a whole; and, through this new media, artists have also found themselves a new kind of audience. An audience that is equipped with the vast expanse of knowledge and infinite images from the Internet. Online Resources also pose as a viable platform for said audience to express themselves in areas where their voices would otherwise go unnoticed. Museums today are furthering the prowess of said Internet-based/capable community with the innovation of mobile apps. Museum-goers in modernity have at their fingertips resources only available to scholars and museum professionals of the past. And, thanks to the invention of web-based programming and mobile devices, visitors now have the ability to leave comments online pertaining to specific artworks in the museum and their opinions on the institution itself. The voice of the viewer has never been so well-received or powerful in museums - museums and artists alike had better prepare themselves for their new audience.

As a whole, in the past, scholars have looked more towards the identity of the artist or a particular school, salon, or guild as the basis of artistic style and technique. Nowadays, thanks to technology, art historians must also take into accounts the limitations and capabilities as provided by various technological innovations when discussing method, terminology, and subject matter.

Art is every-changing, as culture is ever-changing. I look forward to see what the future holds in museums and the world of art.

Works Cited:
Alloway, Lawrence. "The Arts and the Mass Media." Architectural Design & Construction, February 1958.

"Blood & Graffiti." Museum Secrets. The History Channel, n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2012. <http://www.museumsecrets.tv/dossier.php?o=94>.

"Blood & Graffiti." Museum Secrets. The History Channel, n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2012. <http://www.museumsecrets.tv/index.php

D'emilio, Frances. "Decades-Long Restoration of Raphael Frescoes Almost Completed."The Seattle Times [Vatican City] 27 Aug. 2007: n. pag. Web. 10 Dec. 2012. <http://seattletimes.com/html/thearts/2003853358_webraphael27.html

Danto, Arthur. "Modern, Postmodern, and Contemporary," From After the End of Art (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1997): Chap. 1, pp. 3-19.

Danto, Arthur. "The Transfiguration of the Commonplace.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Volume 33, Issue 2 (Winter 1974), 139-148.

Double Encore. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Dec. 2012. <http://www.doubleencore.com/dam_scout/>.

Foster, Hal. "On the First Pop Age." New Left Review 19, January-February 2003.

Hamilton, Richard. “Letter to Peter and Alison Smithson.”16 January 1957. Warholstars, 2 December 2012. <http://www.warholstars.org/warhol/warhol1/ andy/warhol/articles/popart/hamilton.html>.

Hess, Thomas B. “Pop and Public.” Art News, November 1963. Vangobot 7 December 2012. http://popartmachine.com/masters/article/690.

Honnef, Klaus. Pop Art. New York: Taschen, 2004. Google. Web. 7 Dec. 2012. <http://books.google.com/books?id=KRtCl1nFSV8C&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false>.

Irvine, Martine. "Malraux and the Musée Imaginaire: Mediation, Image, and Institution in Benjamin and Malraux." Malraux: Imaginary Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Dec. 2012.

Irvine, Martin. "Statement, Representation, Reference, Sign, Image." Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. 2 Oct. 2012. Lecture

Irvine, Martin. “Pop and Appropriation Art and the Encyclopedia.” Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. 23 Oct. 2012. Lecture

Lieberman, Paul. "David Hockney Claims Many Famous Paintings Were Traced Using Camera-like Devices." Los Angeles Times [New York] Dec. 2011: n. pag. Web.

Lowery, Rebecca. “The Warhol Effect: A Timeline.” The Metropolitan Museum. 2012. 7 December 2012. http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2012/steins-collect/~/media/Files/Exhibitions/WarholTimeline.pdf

Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering Lost Techniques of the Old Masters. Perf. David Hockney. BBC, 2003. DVD.

Images and Links:
http://www.denverartmuseum.org/see-do-dam/dam-scout
http://www.doubleencore.com/dam_scout/
http://www.moma.org/explore/mobile/iphoneapp
http://www.moma.org/explore/mobile/index
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Restoration_of_the_Sistine_Chapel_frescoes