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Can We Reunite Art and Technology?

Using Cultural Ecology 2017 to speculate on nine questions about the future of life in the Anthropocene. Question #5: Can We Reunite Art and Technology?

The two readings are

  • Tim Ingold, “Of string bags and birds’ nests: Skill and the construction of artefacts” (349-361) in The Perception of the Environment
  • Anna Tsing pp.121-178 in The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins

What do you mean, “reunite”?

For most of us today, the question of “can we reunite art and technology?” seems strange. “Art” and “technology” seem “somehow opposed, as though drawn from fields of human endeavour that are in certain respects antithetical” (Ingold 2000:349). However, Ingold insists this division is a relatively recent outcome of processes in the last two centuries. Additionally, and perhaps surprisingly:

Etymologically, “art” is derived from the Latin artem or ars, while “technology” was formed upon the stem of the classical Greek tekhnē. Originally, tekhnē and ars meant much the same thing, namely skill of the kind associated with craftsmanship. The words were used, respectively in Greek and Roman society, to describe every kind of activity involving the manufacture of durable objects by people who depended on such work for a living, from the painter to the cobbler, from the temple architect to the builder of pigsties. . . .

The decisive break, according to Raymond Williams, came in the England of the late eighteenth century, with the exclusion of engravers from the newly formed Royal Academy, which was reserved for practitioners of the ‘fine’ arts of painting, drawing, and sculpture (Williams 1976: 33). It was, of course, symptomatic of a general tendency to distinguish intellectual from manual labour, along the common axis of a more fundamental series of oppositions between mind and body, creativity and repetition, and freedom and determination. But the more that “art” came to be associated with the allegedly higher human faculties of creativity and imagination, the more its residual connotations of useful but nevertheless habitual bodily skills were swallowed up by the notion of technology. . . .

The source of the problem, in my view, lies not in the concept of art, nor in that of technology, but in the dichotomy between them. (349-351)

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  • Emma Leavell

    “Of string bags and birds’ nests”
    Usually, in this century, technology and art are separated into different categories of profession. When I think of art, I think of expression of someone’s feelings and dispositions as well as being able to express these things on a certain platform. Modern art and signature artists like Andy Warhol have changed how ‘good’ the craftsman of the piece is. Now, in modern art, the meaning or reasoning is sometimes more important than the beauty of it. However, Ingold’s point of this chapter is to diminish the idea that art and technology are separate. After the reading and example of girls making a string bag, these two can be viewed as one-in-the-same. When an skilled artist (in terms of intricacy) starts a painting, he/she has finessed the movement of hand, how the medium will appear on a canvas. They have done this through first, their mind’s eye, then through practice, eventually leading to master the art. This can be applied to any art, not just painting. When we see someone making a tool or object that isn’t for the intention of being art, we call it technology. However, this action requires the same kind of dexterity, practice, and understanding of one’s surroundings as does art require. An artist understands and must practice with what their current environment has given them. Just as one can master a string bag through practice and learning, so must a painter/artist (353). In each example, the craftsman puts their hands into use. Therefore, to summarize Ingold’s argument, technology and art can unite in anthropology and in ecology.

  • Nadja

    Can We Reunite Art and Technology?
    In chapter nineteen, Ingold discusses the meanings of art and technology. He begins the chapter by explaining how art and technology use to be strongly opposed during modern times. Even though they may seem to have two different meanings, Ingold explains how they intertwine. “These distinctions can be multiplied almost indefinitely, but they are all driven by the same logic, which is one that carves out a space for human freedom and subjectivity in a world governed by objective necessity” (pg. 350). So even though technology is established in advanced, and art is suppose to be natural and spontaneous, they both help to encourage creativity and to develop your imagination.

  • Mary Buntrock

    In Ingold’s chapter regarding art and technology he touches on the idea of how skill is applied to both ideas. From there he branches into the idea of what makes an innate skill and what can be considered an acquired skill. He compares the string bags of the Telefol girls to the nests of male weaverbirds. It appears even to the reluctant observers, that much like Telefol girls making the string bags, the male weaverbird must learn by judgement “rather than a programme of instruction” (360). The birds learn through mimicry until they are able to properly make a nest. It is with this that Ingold is forced to conclude that even he does not know how human skills differ from those of animals. But he is able to conclude that while human and animal skills may be harder to differentiate than expected, there is still a divide between human skills that are innate and those that are acquired. His example of speech shows that while learning speech may be an acquired skill, gathering meaning from it seems to be more of an innate one.

  • Jessica Wilson

    Ingold’s chapter discusses art and technology and the meanings behind the two seemingly opposed fields. He goes on to describe that as time progressed, it has become evident that the two are not at all opposing forces and that they do in fact overlap with each other. Ingold says that both art and technology are “driven by the same logic” (p. 350) because they both require human creativity and inspiration. In other words, the use of the object being made does not change the fact that both the art form and the technological advancement were born in the mind and defined by human consciousness.

  • Meagan Wright

    By understanding the five dimensions of skill, we will be able to unite both art and technology. These five dimensions of skill as said by Ingold first on page 352, “what it means to say that practice is a form of use, of tools and of the body, It is that skill cannot be regarded simply as a technique of the body, whatever practitioners do to things is grounded in an attentive, perceptual involvement with them, or in other words, that they watch and feel as they work, If, as Bernstein contended, skilled practice cannot be reduced to a formula, then it cannot be through the transmission of formulae that skills are passed from generation to generation and lastly, what we mean by making things”. In other words, (i think) is to view art and technology as it works together simultaneously, in that to make art you need technology, to have technology you have art.

  • Sean Tucker

    Can we Reunite art and technology?
    On Page 351 in Ingold, he writes that “technology works, art signifies: technical action is aimed to produce results in a mechanically determined way, whereas the purpose of art is to communicate ideas”. Coming from this angle in the modern day, it would be difficult to reunite technology and art. Since technology is developed to make life easier and to produce product on a massive scale in a short amount of time, and the purposes of art is to make people think. Since things are mass produced they loses the idea of being a novelty, which some see as an important aspect of art. Another important part of what makes art, art is the notion of skill involved in making said art. Since technology can make things on a massive scale independent from humans, there is no longer the need for a craftsmen. However technology can be used to create art. Art that both require skills and contains the scene of novelty. For example game designers can use technology to create procedurally generated universes with artistic planets that are designed by artiest, but are procedurally generated so each planet is unique to every player giving the scene of novelty. The skills required to make this type of game possible is extremely high. Coding a game world is like making a plate out of clay. It requires skill to make it and technology cannot make it alone without the craftsmen ship of men. Although I think it’s quite difficult to reunite art and technology. I do not think that is impossible, in fact it might even be difficult in some cases to separate the two.

  • Allyson Quirk

    To describe the division between art and technology, Ingold states how “technology works; art signifies: technical action is aimed to produce results in a mechanically determined way, whereas the purpose of art is to communicate ideas” (351). I agree with this statement, differentiating technology and art. Technology is more of a tool, whereas art is more of an expression. In my opinion, technology and art can be intermingled, but not always, therefore, allowing a distinction whilst having the option to keep them together. I agree with Meagan’s statement below where she says if you have technology you need art, and to make art you need technology. The two can work together hand in hand as partners, especially in the modern world of art (graphic design, 3d printing, etc.)

  • Madison Turcotte

    In Tsing, she makes it clear how she feels about technology and capitalism. She mentions how most of our commodities today “journey in and out of capitalist formations” (134). She tells us to think about our cell phones and how the people who acquire the products used to produce our cell phones (or most of our technology for that matter) how they “scramble into dark holes without thought of wages or benefits” searching for the materials used in the production of our technology. Then she goes on to say that our technology, computers she mentions specifically, are “burned for potential components” and “finish their lives in salvage operations for the making of other commodities” (134). It is clear that Tsing believes that technology really doesn’t have a significant value to people, only for the short life they live are they of any use to us. Earlier in the reading, Tsing talked about the exchange of necklaces and arm shells made by Melanesians and how these were highly valued in their society. They are given as gifts and create “relations and reputations” (122). In kula, “things are extensions of person and person are extensions of things” meaning that these valuables are known for the personal relations they create and, in turn, people are known through their gifts (122). This system is divided into “gift economies” and “commodity economies”, each one having its own logic for making values (122). This then could be interpreted as Tsing thinking that for some socieites, reuniting art and technology might not happen. The divide between things of actual value such as art (the necklaces and arm shells for example) and technology might be too far gone to bring them together. Technology is only valuable to us until it breaks, whereas art can create things such as social relationships which could last a lifetime.

  • Marley Vil

    Can we reunite art and technology?
    I believe that Ingold thinks in modern society that we cannot reunite art and technology because they have become two different ideas. “The division between art and technology, as it has come to be institutionalized in modern society, has affected anthropology as much as any other field of inquiry. Until fairly recently, the literature anthropology of art and in the anthropology of technology remained completely isolated from one other. Technology was located within the sphere of ecological, mediating the material relations between human populations and their environment. On the other hand, art, along with such forms as myth and ritual, is supposed to comprise the patterns on the walls the world of sensory experience as it refracted through the filters and lenses of the cultural imagination (350-351).

  • via Jasmin:
    Can we reunite art and technology?
    I believe that it is very possible to reunite the two things even though Ingold believes that they have become to separate notions. Sean mentions the quote where Ingold says “technology works, art signifies:technical action is aimed to produce results in a mechanically determined way, whereas the purpose of art is to communicate ideas” (351,Ingold). I have to disagree with Ingold here because I believe that art can be used for more than communicating ideas and technology can be used in with art to communicate idea and vice versa.

  • Safay Johnson

    Can we reunite art and technology?

    Based on the information presented in chapter nineteen, I do not believe that art and technology can be reunited in modern society. According to Ingold ” …technology works; art signifies: technical action is aimed to produce results in a mechanically determined way, whereas the purpose of art is to communicate ideas. In short art has been split from technology along lines of an opposition between the mental and the material” (351). Based on Ingold’s statement, it would be difficult for art and technology to reunite because it has already been strongly divided. While technology is able to stand as a factor of cultural form, art serves for “cultural imagination.” Even within the discipline the two have been used in different ways. The anthropology of technology has not yet “gained its respect” as a subfield while the anthropology of art has a “secure place in the discipline” (351). Art and technology have long been separated to the point that they both have their own subfield within anthropology, reuniting them at this point seems impossible.

  • Otelia

    Art and technology (Ars and Tekhne) in ancient Greek based to refer to the manufacturing of functional objects (Ingold: 349), but soon we began to divide the two by technique and skill required in the making of the object. “A player may be perfect in technique, and yet have neither soul or intelligence” (Grove in Ingold: 349). It was a matter of imagination and creativity verses technique. Craft became seen purely as mechanical while art was seen as something that involved intellect and creativity, this is where the two began to diverge. “Skill cannot be regarded simply as a technique of the body” (Ingold:352). One does not need skill in order to accomplish certain things, skill is shaped by our environment and how we grow.