The relationship between art and technology—wide-ranging, polarizing, and constantly fluctuating—is among the most influential factors throughout the course of human history. Certain periods of time witnessed art in a position of prominence; others featured technological advancement. Art and technology have always had a complementary and complicated relationship, but in 2012, this relationship has reached a pinnacle of complexity. In order to interpret the present or predict the future of these intertwined fields, however, one must first look to the past.
By the year 1492—which marks the European discovery of the Americas—Leonardo da Vinci had entered the twilight of his life, but more than 500 years later he is still considered by many to be the single most influential historical figure the world has seen. The reason for such a legacy can be found in the aforementioned relationship between art and technology: to this day he is considered the embodiment of their dualistic role for man. The European Renaissance—ranging (roughly) from the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries—is the period of time credited with man’s emergence from the Dark Ages; more importantly to the topic at hand, however, the Renaissance represents the first climax in the relationship between art and technology.
Man’s approach to technology (i.e., science and mathematics) prior to the Renaissance can be encapsulated by one inherent characteristic of the human race: fear of the unknown. In the sixteenth century, Nicolaus Copernicus provided the first proof of the heliocentric astronomical model, which proposed a solar system that revolves around the sun (rather than the earth); this radical concept was met with tremendous resistance, and the majority of the opposition originated from the Catholic Church. The Church was arguably the most powerful entity in the world at this time, and it strictly opposed any source of knowledge or truth outside its walls. The recently introduced and rapidly spreading scientific discipline, therefore, was considered an enemy of the Church. So while the Renaissance sparked the rise of technology, the prominence of art would continue for several more centuries.
Graphic design only became a profession in recent decades, but it nonetheless evokes the art/technology relationship from the time of Copernicus and da Vinci. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a field in which art and technology are better united. Graphic designers are artists, but they would not exist without modern technology.
Modern technological advancement—beginning in the twentieth century and exponentially increasing ever since—is unprecedented in both its rapidity and complexity. Cutting-edge technology is only cutting-edge for mere days or weeks, whereas in the past, a single advancement could define an entire generation or represent an evolutionary milestone (see: fire, wheel). The only constant today, it seems, has been mankind’s emphasis upon—and, in recent years, fetishism of—technology, to which art is a distant second. Maybe the Age of Technology will continue for centuries and art will be considered a luxury. We can’t know now, but we can be certain that the dynamics between art and technology, with mankind as the backdrop, will forever remain fluid and mysterious.
Art is no more important to man than technology, or vice versa. Creativity is neither better nor worse than logic. And a time period with more artistic innovation than technological is not inferior to its opposite. Developments in both fields, however, will prove to be infinitely relevant to the business world.
Is a marketing/communication company’s creative department involved in technology as much, if not more, than art? What does the future hold for the industry? What’s the next billion-dollar idea? Because of the way he was able to balance his interests in art and technology and thus excel at both, Leonardo da Vinci was able to theorize on concentrated solar power centuries before the invention of electricity and conceptualize a helicopter long before the steam engine was created. The potential is limitless for an individual, entity, or business that achieves such balance, harmony, and innovation between art and technology.
Author: Ryan O’Connell