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Summer 2003 Vol. 3 No. 2

Table of Contents

Art and Technology

A New Approach to an Old Unity


Just as Renaissance Florence provided the conditions for extraordinary artistic and scientific creativity, present-day society needs to cultivate the partnership between information technology and creative practices.

Pairing science and technology with creative practices occurred long before the famous Bauhaus school coined the slogan, "art and technology, a new unity." In 19th-century France, for instance, the collaboration between an inventor and a painter of sets for the opera led to the creation of the first daguerreotype, a step that would be key to the emerging field of photography.

This century is presented with the challenges of matching computer science with the arts and design. Known as information technology and creative practices (ITCP), this domain has already opened up new possibilities in architecture and product design, film and music, and in the creation of video games.

An essential component of supporting ITCP work is developing an environment that fosters collaboration and provides incentives to create and support the tools, skills, and venues for such work. A new report from the National Research Council calls for a coordinated effort to encourage the collaboration needed for ITCP to flourish.

Work in ITCP challenges the boundaries of traditional disciplines as a growing number of artists and designers become hardware developers or skilled programmers and computer scientists engage seriously in the arts or design. Significant work is also produced by cross-disciplinary partnerships between artists or designers and computer scientists.

But an imbalance exists. To date, artists and designers have made greater efforts to learn relevant IT practices than computer professionals have made to adopt the arts and design. Developing a background in IT has influenced the arts and changed design methods and production. Industrial design has been recreated by computer software, leading to mass-produced but one-of-a-kind products. Digital modeling based on computer-aided design enables architects to work with complex curved surfaces and other elements that would have been much more difficult or impossible in the days of drafting. Artists and designers trained in IT have also provided unexpected insights into software and programming.

Computer scientists, on the other hand, are pursuing ITCP work to a lesser degree than their artistic and designing counterparts. The computer sciences culture seems to discourage ITCP and there are few social or economic incentives to become proficient in both IT and arts and design.

Educational institutions are central to the future of ITCP. Colleges and departments of art or design have generally embraced information technology as a new tool, but ITCP needs to be further encouraged to examine how it may enable new forms of creativity. Computer science departments must undergo a change in attitude toward ITCP, and an increase in institutional support would help establish ITCP's credibility and reward those who enter the field.

Capitalizing on opportunities in ITCP will require more support from cultural organizations, government, and industry. "Studio-laboratories," which combine the artist's studio with the scientist's laboratory, are present in universities and industry. But while government-backed ITCP centers exist in Canada and Europe, and are emerging in Australia and Asia, the United States is lagging behind.

Much important ITCP work occurs in independent architectural design, product design, graphic design, and music and video production houses, but individuals often are limited by small budgets and lack of the necessary expertise. The costs associated with such work can be high, and major funding is needed in both the public and private sectors. Advancing ITCP will require new approaches to funding, not only allocating funding to support work in established and recognized areas of IT and the arts and design, but also fostering collaborations that open up new areas of ITCP.   -- Jennifer Burris

Beyond Productivity: Information Technology, Innovation, and Creativity. Committee on Information Technology and Creativity, Computer Science and Telecommunications Board, Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences (2003, 268 pp.; ISBN 0-309-08868-2; available from the National Academies Press, tel. 1-800-624-6242; $35.00 plus $4.50 shipping for single copies).

The committee was chaired by William J. Mitchell, professor and dean of the School of Architecture and Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge. The study was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.

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Copyright 2003 by the National Academy of Sciences