Topic 6 – Art and Technology

There are no notes or reading on Cloud for this topic.  My notes and notes on my reading follow.

Five paragraphs on the history of painting

Artists have always used the technology available to them in their times.  For example, the earliest known paintings (rock art) were made by using the tools available to gouge or etch engrave (petroglyphs) or with paint or pigment (pictographs).  Some used a combination of these two techniques (painted petroglyphs).  Tools were used to create early sculptures and artifacts (the earliest known tools pre-date modern humans and are around 3.3 million years old). Five hundred thousand years ago artifacts  show signs of artistic endeavour.  (These were probably the product of Homo Erectus. )

If one narrows down the use of technology to a single medium – paint – one finds a progression with artists and artisans experimenting to create new mediums (medium – the vehicle which liquifies and binds the pigment), researching new colours and quickly taking up the new innovations available.  Colour in the earliest rock art was powdered rock and stone, ash and charcoal, and blood with the medium of water (spit) or fat.  Pigments were applied with hands, sticks and animal hair or plant brushes, feathers and by spraying (blowing paint through hollow bones or directly from the mouth).

Later, artists experimented with other media to bind pigments – oils, sap, wax (encaustic) and egg yolk (egg tempura).  Oil quickly replaced egg tempera for Rennaissance artists, with its possibilities for glowing colour and slow drying properties.5  Artists experimented with colour making, finding natural substances which would yield dyes of different colours.  The colour properties of chemicals were also explored – often with toxic salts of substances like lead and other toxic metals (e.g.  cadmium salts to make cadmium red and yellow).  Specific dyes were made from animal and vegetable matter.  Mixing of these did not always yield the desired colour as chemical inter-reactions were common.  Many pigments were susceptible to light and time.

The colour blue was very valued in ancient times.  Blue pigment was made by grinding lapis lazuli (a semi-precious stone).  This became known as ultramarine as its main source country is Afghanistan – over the sea from western Europe.1  Purple dye came from the Murex cone shell.  As 12,000 shells were needed to yield 1.5 grams of pure dye, this colour was rare and very hard to obtain. These colours were therefore extemely expensive.  Thus, in renaissance art, purple became associated with royalty and blue used for the robes of the virgin in art work.  Indigo blue is a plant based dye, the production of which is quite complex.  However, this dye was cheaper – the name ‘indigo’ comes from its source of origin – India, though the same dye can be made in northern Europe from the plant glastum (woad).

Nowadays, with the chance discovery by William Perkins in the early 20th century of aniline dyes (the first colour being an intense purple), organic chemistry has yielded a vast array of stable colours of all hues.  New colours are appearing as pigments, but, perhaps the greatest colour innovation of the 20th and 21st centuries is non-dye based.  The use of dyes and paint to make colour, despite these advances, can only produce a limited number of hues.  However, when pure light is used,(4) all nuances of hue and depth be obtained.  There is no limit to the number of colours that can be ‘mixed’.  This technique leads artists to use the new technology of the screen, and mixing of light to make digital paintings.  Specific computer technologies have been developed to support this.  Primitive programs like MS Paint have led to complex applications for fine artists, architects, graphic designers, and photographers.

Photography:  the death of painting?

Artists use the technology available to assist with their work.  Thus, early artists used drafting tools, like rulers, compasses and set squares, scale grids and increasingly sophisticated drawing implements.  Artificial lights were used to enhance natural light on subjects, and for work light.  Artists used other properties of light – with the use of mirrors (e.g. to make self-portraits) and shiny surfaces – e.g. lustre glazes on pottery and varnishes on paintings.  The Camera Obscura (a device to project an image of a scene or object clearly into a dark box) was used by artists to help draft paintings.  One such artist was probably the painter VermeerDavid Hockney’s analysis has led to the theory that “using a camera obscura with a primitive lens would produce halation, which would explain the sparkling pearly highlights often found in Vermeer’s paintings”.2

However, not all users of the camera obscura were artists.  Inventors tried to make a machine that would use the camera obscura to make a permanent mechanical or chemical impression of a scene.  This led to the development of photography, which quickly developed throughout the 19th and 20th centuries from vague images taking hours to produce, to moving pictures and colour photography, to the highly sophisticated 3-D imagery and the virtual visual world of today.  Joseph Nicéphore Niépce’s View from the Window at Le Gras. 1826 or 1827. Photo by J. Paul Getty Museum.

Paul Delaroche is credited as stating, when confronted with a selection of daguerreotype images in around 1839, “From today, painting is dead.”

However, painters took to the new medium and used it as an aid in their art, and an enhancement of it.  Whereas earlier, drafting was achieved by grids, measurement etc. now artists could use photographs as aids to memory, and for accuracy.  For example, Gustav Courbet commissioned photographs of the landscape around Ornan, and portraits of those depicted for his work “A funeral at Ornan”.  He also had a set of nude photographs for reference within his studio.3

Many early photographers were also artists, and this crossover from one medium to another led the way for the innovations of the twentieth century.  Artists began to incorporated other media into their paintings, producing collages and multimedia compositions.

Dadaist Man Ray pushed photography further, developing new techniques of photogram and making use of deliberate solarisation in photographs.

man ray solarised nude 1941:
Man Ray, Solarised Nude, 1941: Image source:

Man Ray, Rayograph, 1926 Image source:

Man Ray’s friend and contemporary Marcel Duchamps’ introduction of furniture, household objects and even bicycle wheels and urinals into the gallery setting as ‘readymades’ finally led to the belief that art is whatever an artist defines it to be.

Marcel Duchamp, Bicycle Wheel, 1951 (third version after lost original of 1913): Image source:

As the twentieth century progressed the line between fine art, commercial art and decorative art was increasingly blurred.

Art moves away from artifact

By the 1950s, with abstraction at its height, artists began a further wave of experimentation.  By the 1970s post-modernism, with its base belief that all art is derivative and there is nothing truly new in art led to conceptualism, and the increasing use of multiple media in large scale art works. Visual art increasingly incorporated other art forms, with works including text, sound and the other senses.  Art became something that was not just for passive experience, but for an active immersion.

Barbara Kruger, Installation, 2011, Image source:

Moma – ‘Poo machine’, (This art work assails the sense of smell as much as vision) – Image source:;660;7;70;0.jpg

David Cross, Drift, 2012 Image source:×500.jpg

David Cross is a Melbourne artist and academic whose work centres on participation.  Drift, 2012, was part of an exhibition in Sydney’s CBD titled We Make This City.

As ever, artists used the innovations in technology available to them.  One example of a participatory online art experience is the Inside Out project.

Mountain to Mouth, a biennial extreme arts event is held in Geelong.  Hundreds of artists collaborate to make twelve interactive pop-up installations and three performance pieces along the route of an 80km walk.  The walk is a procession taking 24 hours, with the participants pausing at the various art stations en route to walk the installations.

1. Gage, John, Colour in Art, Thames and Hudson, World of Art Series, London, 2006, p. 111.

Işık, Vildan vldnsk gmail com (2015), ‘From 1960’s to Today the Use of Nature, Body & Technology in Art: Changes in Artistic Spaces’, Online Journal of Art & Design, 3 (1), 35-47.

Abstract (p.35)

Many art movements and art forms which have emerged since 1960’s up to the present have brought along significant changes by using nature, body and technology in a very different understanding and form. In this study, changes regarding artistic space are observed through examples from Robert Morris, Robert Whitman, Dennis Oppenheim, Robert Smithson, Michael Heizer, Walter De Maria, Sophie Ristelhueber, Andy Goldsworthy, Mark Dion, Orlan, Al Razutis, Alexander and Georges Dyens. Depending on also the diversity of material, artistic spaces, as production and exhibition areas, have changed the spatial perception by changing and increasing.

The article focuses on the work of American artists.

Categorises modern art works into:  Land art, environmental art, process art,
installation, body art, performance, interactive art, video art, light art, computer art,
internet art and holographic art (this is not an exclusive list).

Land art:  Robert Smithson e.g. Spiral Jetty, 1970

Michael Heizer, e.g. Double Negative, 1968-70, and City, 1990s

Body Art:  Orlan, Carnival Art-‘Operation Teatre’ 1990s Orlan, Carnal Art, 1990s, Image source:

Holographic art:  Alexander, e.g. Horrors of War, 1988,

George Dyens, Vertigo Terrae, 1994,

Other artists cited:  Sophie Ristelheuber, Robert Morris, Mark Dion, Dennis Oppenheim, Walter de Maria, Andy Goldsworthy, Al Ratzus and Alexander and Georges Dyens.


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