Art is technology infused with human creativity.
And as technology relentlessly advances the possibilities of art, artists and those that interact and participate with art are greater than ever.
It is no longer a fission of left brain (science) versus right brain (art) but their fusion that will be the future.
From the earliest discoveries of fire to modern computing devices and cloud-based software, humans have bent and leveraged technology in creative ways to express themselves and connect with each other and the wider world.
Fire did not just keep us warm, enabled the cooking of food and forging of new tools but it also let people turn clay into hardened ceramic pots and vases, useful for carrying and storing food, water, or other items which were then shaped and decorated in ways beyond their functional use.
Today like never before technology is enabling artistic and creative endeavors by a) fueling new art forms, b) enabling far more people with a variety of tools to express themselves creatively and c) scaling the ability to share, display and connect with potential audiences and patrons.
Today photographs are the most widely created and distributed art form.
They have been turbocharged by camera phones bursting with mega pixels and magical software. The ensuing images are then scaled and distributed via social media feeds algorithmically optimized to maximize engagement.
A long way from Ansel Adams and the stationary bulky camera but also a significant distance from a portable film Leica used by the great photojournalists and creative photographers in the latter half of the 20th Century.
Some folks pine for the days of old.
They need not pine since they can use a medium or very large format camera loaded with black and white film and wait for the ideal moment. But their efforts will pale in comparison to someone using a modern digital Leica Q2 or M10 or even an iPhone12 Pro Max and then tuning the result in Adobe Lightroom.
The aforementioned Ansel Adams himself spent hours optimizing photographs in the dark room and were he alive today would probably be an expert at Photoshop!
While technology enables the possibility and potential of artists it does not necessarily make an artist. Similarly, the refusal to leverage modern possibilities and hold to traditional ways does not cause one to be a more “genuine artist”.
It is in film industry that we often encounter the battle between “the way it was and should be” be versus the future.
Not only is the movie theater increasingly a container of the past but the two-to-three- hour film itself is just one way of modern film expression.
A case can be made that in today’s streaming eco-system artists working in film have far greater ways of expressing and creating their art then when they were limited to movie and television studios of the past. Why be constrained to three hours when the better idea maybe a series (Queens Gambit was originally a movie idea)? Why be limited to what can fit in the few theatres or is curated by some mysterious coven of coastal “taste makers” when a world of possibilities can be sampled and global audiences reached via a Netflix, Acorn, Eros, Criterion and much more?
The ability to determine how to release (weekly, all at one time, in phases) one’s work, the global scale of audiences reached, the creative freedom and new economic possibilities have made streaming television the new high art form of film versus the movies.
Most theatrical movies are now commercials for the eco-system of spinoffs and merchandise that follows. And many of the truly artistic films which may be more edgy, risky and artistic movies from Roma to The Irishman to One Night in Miami are now funded and launched by the streaming channels. They are not crushing but unleashing creativity like never before on a global scale.
A reason “The Mandalorian” on Disney+ has resonated so well is the fact that it has the space to build its world and story versus being Star Wars 10: The Emergence of Yoda.
Not surprisingly, talent is rushing to streaming and companies like Disney while verbally mollifying and blowing kisses to the theatrical industry, are betting their company on streaming.
With larger and cheaper OLED screens, audio spatial software bringing surround sound to headphones and improvements in discovery, every technology advance in film is taking place in personal and home viewing spaces.
Theaters only advancements as they copy Alamo Draft House will increasingly be to morph into restaurants and bars to socialize and go out on date night with a film on the side.
While there is a recent resurgence in vinyl among the diehard aficionados the future of music is streaming.
Most of joy of vinyl is in the ritual rather than the result. There is a certain joy in placing vinyl on a turntable, perusing the liner notes and accompanying art that the physical format enables. Then there is the romanticizing of the crackling hiss of mechanical impurity brought to life by the scratches that is all about a memory and a story. A memory and story separate from the “warmth” of the music that only vinyl can supposedly re-create.
The great American audio gear firm, McIntosh, with its old-fashioned transistor quality has seen the future and has been releasing their wonderful gear with its glowing green dials optimized for headphones connected to digital music.
Streaming music via Tidal (much higher quality than Spotify), with a great pair of headphones and digital amp is absolutely stunning.
The benefits of streaming not only include the convenience, catalog depth and curation (both software enabled and curated by other subscribers) but increasingly the curation and community provided by artists and emerging artists.
The other area of great advance in music is in automobiles. Today it is very likely that the best sound system most people have is in their cars. The major audio companies now combine hardware and software design working in tandem with the auto manufacturers as the cars are being designed (McIntosh has partnered with Jeep). The new Mercedes S Class has speakers in seats that vibrate to music at certain software settings to create a 4 D sound experience!
To understand the power of how modern technology can unleash and enable music check out Digital Concert Hall of the Berlin Philharmonic which among other things has one of the best user interfaces and discovery engines I have interacted with. Any company waxing poetic about “Brand Experiences” should check them out (unfortunately most of the functionality requires a subscription which I would highly recommend even if for just a month to truly understand what is possible)
What makes the Digital Concert Hall amazing is that when the new physical orchestra hall was constructed in Berlin it was built not just to optimize sound for the live audience but to record high quality audio and video from multiple angles for home subscribers and streaming audiences. As a result, you feel you are sitting in the orchestra and watching and hearing the music in ways that enable a new level of appreciation.
They built and anticipated for a global and digital and a new demographic future where the next generation of concert subscribers might wish to engage on demand from home and that home maybe in Japan or India and not in Berlin.
Because of their foresight, the Berlin Philharmonic continues to perform all through the challenges of Covid-19 for the world and their subscribers even though they are playing to an empty orchestra hall.
And for the aspiring Mozarts and Dylan’s of the world there are new ways to learn instruments and much more. For instance to understand the depth of what is possible if you wish to learn (or teach) guitar take a look at Truefire Studios.
4. The Written Word
Before photography, film and recorded music came the word and its most popular containers the broadsheet newspaper and the bound book. Both remain with one (the physical newspaper) in deep decline while the other (physical book) continues to grow and prosper.
The broadsheet after being continuously diminished in its size and heft has been increasingly replaced by its digital manifestation while the book has been complemented rather than be replaced by its audible and electronic representations.
Why has the vinyl of reading, the humble book, continued to grow? Is it because the form allows for disconnection so one can immerse in a world of imagination and the focus of deep learning? Or is the ability to underline sentences and scribble in the margins arguing or agreeing with the author something difficult to replicate in a digital format? Or is it that when you are reading a book in many cases you are both everywhere and nowhere and the silence of print is particularly enabling to this reverie? Or it just might be books make great artifacts to decorate a room or office or signal learnedness and taste?
While the book prospers the written word has also burst out its containers of the past with new formats including blogging platforms like Wordpress and Medium or newsletter publishing from Substack, Scrollstack and others.
These are some of the on ramps for emerging talent and off ramps for established talent to and from the world of newspapers, magazines and books.
The world’s greatest Museums are no longer in Paris, New York, Chicago, London or Florence. They are in the Cloud and probably best portal into the amazing world is Google Art and Culture Page (Openculture.org is another great portal)
Here, the full power of modern technology to support, promote and celebrate art and culture is in full display. Walk through museums, get microscopic looks in high definition to a small part of a painting, rotate and move sculptures and much more.
Travel across the world doing deep dives into the landscapes outside museums, the interiors of the museum and all the art that lives there.
Yes, they do not replace a visit to a museum.
They may have surpassed the museum!
And for most of the world it will be the only way they get to a museum.
6. Mongrel Media.
Digital is like hydrochloric acid.
It burns through constraining containers.
This is true in business and art.
Podcasts:Take the intimacy of the written word and marry it with digital sound and the access of cloud-based delivery and you have a wonderful recent form called the podcast.
TikTok: Take modern AI, the ubiquity of the mobile phone and combine it with the creativity of people and you have a fast growing, highly addictive, new content form called TikTok.
New York Times Digital: Take world class journalists and photographers and combine them with digital artists, software experts and remove the constraint of space or being limited to the printed word and you have New York Times Digital.
Gaming: Take hardware, software, film, music and story telling and fuse them and you get the 165 billion dollar gaming industry which is larger than the film, music and publishing businesses combined. Starting on low powered consoles it has spread to hand held consoles, cloud based delivery, mobile phones, consoles with the power of super computers and much more.
Jimmy Nelson’s Homage to Humanity: Take a world class photographer who goes miles into the wilderness to photograph our disappearing heritage with heavy large format cameras and combine him with a nine person crack digital team and you have a mix of book, video, music, and virtual reality (leveraging enclosed cardboard glasses) that take a book to where no book could go, and you to places you did not know existed while creating art that refuses to accept limits. Explore here: https://www.jimmynelson.com/homagetohumanity
The future does not fit in the containers of the past.
The pipes to the future are laid by modern hardware and software plumbing.
But it is the human connections and art and meaning that this plumbing enables that makes life worth living.
Let us not fixate so much on the plumbing that we forget the poetry.
Photographs by Jimmy Nelson
Rishad Tobaccowala (@rishad) is the author of the bestselling “Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data” published by HarperCollins globally in January 2020. It has been described as an “operating manual” for managing people, teams and careers in the age we live in and The Economist Magazine called it perhaps the best recent book on Stakeholder Capitalism. Business and Strategy named it among the best business books of the year and the best book on Marketing in 2020. Rishad is also a speaker, teacher and advisor who helps people think, feel and see differently about how to grow their companies, their teams and themselves. More at https://rishadtobaccowala.com/