Chicken or egg? Alison Hackett
Technology has been around since early humans began knocking flints off stones and turning them into tools around 2.6m years ago. Whereas the earliest artworks we know about are cave paintings. Experts have dated the oldest as between 35,000 and 73,000 years ago. So we can
safely say that technology predates art. Obvious when you think about it. Getting food into your belly and defending yourself from predators will take precedence over dreaming in your downtime (if you have it).
The evolution of our large complex brains enabled the development of all human endeavour: tools, culture, language. In writing this article I sit on that magnificent intersection: using my mind to think creatively, searching for English words in as sophisticated a way as I can, fingers
touching the keyboard converting thoughts to screen. And above it all the umbrella of technology: electricity, laptop, internet, ones, zeros, on-off switches. Here, my mind is just one tool of many.
Does technology change how a poet writes?
As a poet, I always start out handwriting — using the technology of a pencil and paper — to know the kernel of what I want to say, albeit in scribbles. Later, when I decide to make the poem public, I start to get ‘technical’ and put manners on it. Turn the form into a font. Delete a word, swap it for another (the Thesaurus is handy), see what that it looks like in a cold neutral unemotional text.
Swap fonts. Change line endings, make one stanza three stanzas. Save a couple of different versions. Leave it for a month. Come back and look again. Fresh eyes. Then, as a self-publisher (aren’t we all?) publish it as a blog or on social media. Cut.
Immediately after posting check it online and inevitably want to make small changes. Edit, republish, edit, republish, edit republish. My creativity interacts with the technology in real time as I try to ‘finish’ the work I have created. Eventually I need to let it go, accept it is good enough for publication, stop aspiring for a creative perfection that
Paul Valéry had it right. “A work is never completed except by some accident such as weariness, satisfaction, the need to deliver, or death: for, in relation to who or what is making it, it can only be one stage in a series of inner transformations.”
Digital photography replacing analogue art
Moving from poetry to image, in the modern world digital photography is ubiquitous. Global communication won’t be registered these days unless it is tagged with an image to tease us with our short attention spans. More, more, faster, faster. Click, click, click. It doesn’t make the photography any less creative, but it does mean a speeding up the
process. I miss the old analogue 35mm single reflex camera (a fabulous technology) with its softer feel where expression and nuance is valued over sharpness; messing with the depth of field, changing focus, aperture, thinking about light, feeling the weight of the camera against your face, having a gut instinct when a picture is going to be good.
In the 17th century artists aimed for the exact representation of their subjects with the help of lenses being developed at the time. It peaked in the magnificent artworks painted by Caravaggio et al. The advance from canvas to photograph was the beginning of the end as exact representation was no longer needed from an artist when a camera could do it so perfectly and so quickly.
Without paint in tubes, there would be no impressionism
In the same era another technology was patented which changed the practise of the artist: the collapsible metal tube for oil paint patented by John Rand in 1841. These tubes replaced the earlier technologies of breakable glass vials and leaky animal bladders. Suddenly, outdoor painting was possible. And so the creative practice of the artist changed. Less definition. Blurrier. An impression rather than a mirroring. As
Renoir observed, “without paint in tubes, there would be no impressionism.”
Now, in the 21st century, an illustrator hops between their pad and photoshop. Most will still brainstorm ideas with pencil and paper drawings first and later scan. Analogue to digital. Curves and lines converted to ones and zeros. But the feel of a human hand is
still intrinsic in the end design.
All technologies can be used for creativity or destruction or something in between. Understanding science is a vital first step. The next step is a business brain turning it into a product or service (a technology) that can be bought or sold. The things that are left, that cannot become technologized (if that is a word) are the things we will never lose.
Neither creative nor technological but the best of us: our shared humanity. Eating, loving, laughing, caring. Sharing food, feasting before we sleep. Looking someone in the eyes, just air and atoms between us, connecting in that oh-so-human way.
Do we have to go to the moon because we can? Once we know how to get there, perhaps getting there shouldn’t matter so much.
Alison Hackett is the director and founder of the Irish publishing house, 21st Century Renaissance, and author of The Visual Time Traveller, a creative collaboration between writer and designers which proposes a new way of learning and engaging with information. It was selected by an international jury for the Global Irish Design Challenge exhibitions of 2016 and 2017 in Dublin Castle and the National Design and Craft Gallery.
Her work has featured on the website of the Irish national broadcaster (RTE) as “poem of the day” and in numerous literary journals in Ireland, India, Australia, and the U.S. She has a B.A. in Mathematics and Economics from Trinity College Dublin. Alison and her husband enjoy sailing a classic wooden dinghy, a Water Wag, the oldest one-design dinghy in the world, created for racing in Dún Laoghaire Harbour over a hundred years ago.
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