Technology vs Art

April 14, 2016
The Next Rembrandt
The Next Rembrandt

In the last two weeks it seems one can hardly read an arts article in the newspaper without the relationship between art and technology coming up. It manifests itself in two primary ways – one is examining how technology and science are pushing the boundaries of artistic practice, either challenging the artist to produce bigger, bolder, ‘better’ art, enabling the recreation of lost or stolen master works, or by removing the need for the artist altogether. The second, which I won’t explore in depth here, is how technology, particularly social media, is opening up the art market to more artists than ever before.


Technology, science, and mathematics are often seen as incompatible with artistic practice, the manifestation of emotion, human intellect and creativity. However, when you look a little deeper you can see that the methodical, logical and mathematical have long been a source of inspiration or a tool for artists to create with – look at the geometric works of Bridget Riley; Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, in fact Leonardo Da Vinci himself, both an artist and a scientist.


What do you think? Can art and technology exist in harmony together?


Consider the recently unveiled ‘new Rembrandt’. This portrait was created by a team of scientists, engineers, and art historians. Seemingly the relationship between technology and art is a productive one and certainly the final creation is a striking work. The work in question is the result of pioneering technology that has analysed other portraits created by Rembrandt himself. Through examining certain elements of other portraits by Rembrandt – where should the face be pointing? Does the sitter wear a hat? What is his clothing like? Is the sitter male or female? – a computer program was able to determine what makes an ‘average’ Rembrandt. Using 3-D printing technology the latest ‘Rembrandt’ was created. However, at first glance the work does indeed resemble a work by the Dutch master himself but, as Peter Schjeldahl writes in the New Yorker, ‘The sitter has a sparkle of personality but utterly lacks the personhood-the being-ness- the never eluded Rembrandt.’


This made me think – what is it that makes a great work of art great? Is it the composition, subject matter, the hand of the artist himself, the context in which the work was produced, or a combination of all these things? In addition, whilst the faux Rembrandt will never be of the same value as an authentic Rembrandt, are works created in this way value-less?


In December 2015 it was reported that, 50 years after it was stolen from a church in Sicily, a masterpiece by Carvaggio was brought back to life using cutting-edge technology paired with expert art historical knowledge. Again, whilst this work will not hold the same value as an original Caravaggio, it has significant cultural and historical value as it recreates a work that would otherwise have never been seen again, thus adding to the understanding of the artist.


These are but two examples of where technology and art are interacting – this does not even take into account the impact 3-D printers may or may not be having on sculptural practice, or how technology affects alternative methods or artistic production (such as video art, performance art, light art etc). Exploring this requires further research. However, what has become apparent is that technology will only ever be able to mimick the hand of the artist, never completely replace it, and even if it could replace the hand of the artist, is it not the human input that we value?


Google appear to be having a good crack at answering this question with their latest development Deep Dream -


Watch this space. 

About the author

Lucy Barry


Regarding the subject matter addressed here, this write up is enlightening. Thanks to the author.

21 August 2020

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