Who is the real creator - artist or technologist?

22 October 2014

This week online editor Emily Gosling looks at who can really claim authorship of artworks created using technology designed by someone else. Who can really take the credit for art that might not be possible without the tech know-how of others?

Gazing over Sigmar Polke’s glorious raster images at the Tate Modern retrospective recently, I found my mind wandering. “Those are fabulous paintings, Sigmar”, I thought. “But I guess we should really see it as, in part, a collaboration between you, the photographer whose image you pinched out a magazine, and whichever tunic-clad fellow invented oil paint back in the 12th century”.

Of course I didn’t really think that. But when it comes to digital-based art, it seems the extent of the artist or designer as sole creator of a piece is less clear.

Last weekend I was discussing this idea of authorship on a panel at Kinetica Art Fair, speaking with artists Barry Hale of Threshold Studios, Beck Smith and Pete Barber of Stylus and AV-composer Dr Bret Battey. Each panelist uses a range of technologies for their practise, or in the case of Bret, creates their own.

All agreed that while the artist’s ego exists, in an age where it’s rarer to find a designer or artist who works in a solely analogue capacity than one who uses digital technologies, the notion of the definitive creator is becoming blurred.

While it would be daft for everyone who uses Illustrator to credit the software developers for their final designs, the water becomes murkier when specific developments like Kinect or Oculus Rift come into play in installations, such as Skullmappings virtual trip down the river styx, for instance, or Seoul based artists Teo Park’s , May the Force be With You

Would the artist’s work be possible without the people that made the tech? No. But then the piece wouldn’t exist without the artist’s vision. Who, then, can take the credit for the final outcome?

In artist Jon Ippolito’s essay The Art of Misuse, he looks at using technologies created by others for art as “managing technology”, making a distinction between that harnessing (not to mention creating) of technology and creativity.

He says: “While managing technology is a valuable skill, its not the same as creativity – a composer who uses a car to drive to a concert is managing technology. But when Laurie Anderson composed a drive-in concert of motorists beeping car horns she was being creative”. [In 1972 Laurie composed Automotive, a symphony of car horns and slamming car doors]

I would extend that distinction of “manager” to encompass the idea of the creator of that technology, too: in designing software or hardware, the creator is putting something functional out into the world. When the artist takes that into their hands to realise a project, which may have no function other than that of any other artwork be it a painting, sculpture, or performance; they are the ones “being creative”.

Artists are increasingly driving technological developments as their practise finds challenges, problems or ways to evolve existing platforms that puts them in a temporary role of innovator, as well as creative. So while there’s no doubt that everyone should be duly created for their role in realising a video, installation or any other final piece, for me, in the art world, it’s the idea that makes the author; not their tools.

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Emily Gosling

Emily joined It’s Nice That as Online Editor in the summer of 2014 after four years at Design Week. She is particularly interested in graphic design, branding and music. After working It's Nice That as both Online Editor and Deputy Editor, Emily left the company in 2016.

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