Can We Reunite Art and Technology?
In Cultural Ecology 2017 we speculated on the future of life in the Anthropocene: Can We Reunite Art and Technology?
- Tim Ingold, “Of string bags and birds’ nests: Skill and the construction of artefacts” (349-361) in The Perception of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill
- 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)
Updates on Reuniting Art & Technology
- 2020: Note that I revisited the Ingold chapter in my Cultural Ecology 2020 course for a class titled Nests.
- 2018:Thomas Hylland Eriksen’s lecture on Overheating is useful:
When we start to look for solutions, we first have to realise that the loss of control is a result of overheating: ungoverned, accelerated, large-scale change. In the search for alternatives, the first priority is to look for ways to slow down and cool down. A cooler world, both in a literal and a metaphorical sense, would by default be slower, less materially affluent and less prolific than the one we currently inhabit. But it would also be more decentralised and diverse than the consumerist world we live in today. This would require scaling down in a number of areas, to help regain local control and autonomy; happiness over consumption, responsibility over wanton destruction–but we need to be realistic. Small may be beautiful, but in an interconnected world of more than seven billion humans it is not always possible. Yet, as a rule of thumb, I would say: In political decision-making and the economy, cool down, scale down and slow down whenever you can, but without losing one of our greatest collective achievements, namely an inclusive humanism where all lives matter. (And see the book Overheating: An Anthropology of Accelerated Change)
- 2017: See What can Anthro do? …. Discuss the Future Relationship of Design, Technology and its Human Creators:
To build a more sustainable, ethical, and effective technological future for ourselves we have to shed many of these older ways to thinking and reassess our relationship with technology. This talk offers an alternative perspective on our relationship with the tools we build and explains how we are missing many opportunities for positive transformation by remaining stuck in outdated assumptions about what technology is, what it can do, and what it should do as we design a new future for ourselves.
To cite: Antrosio, Jason. 2017. “Can We Reunite Art and Technology? Toward an Anthropology of Skill.” Living Anthropologically website, https://www.livinganthropologically.com/cultural-ecology-2017/can-we-reunite-art-and-technology/. First posted 22 April 2017. Revised 15 April 2020.