As the art world learns from the pandemic, tech brands can help pave the way forward
The pandemic has forced the arts to fundamentally rethink many of its ways. Brands can help, but it’ll mean greater trust and more open collaboration.
- Steve Milton
- 18 June 2021
This pandemic has, like it or not, catapulted us into the future – Zoom meetings, virtual concerts and fashion shows, home offices, Instagram Live DJ sessions, and countless other adaptations.
In the arts, this has meant a full embrace of the digital. Arts institutions and organisations have done a commendable job thinking about how to creatively reach and engage audiences during the pandemic. Disciplines including fashion, art, music and so on have had to do last minute modernisations, adapting to a reality where all the people usually at shows, visiting galleries or otherwise, are now at home experiencing the arts via digital platforms.
Research says that many of these behavioural shifts may be here to stay, not just with a focus on the digital, but technology more broadly. The question becomes, how will tech companies sustain these needs in the short term while add real value to culture in the long term?
Fortunately for the arts, tech brands could prove to be dynamic partners in tackling the current issues plaguing the industry – from new mediums of expression, to access at a time when our lives are increasingly digital. There is opportunity for all of us to help change the game across the art landscape. The right kinds of tech can provide institutions with new and exciting ways of engaging with their craft, in turn, artists are clearly interested in learning about these tools tool: how they can use them, and what is their potential.
In today’s world where a brand is not just a logo, but an experience, there is a mutually beneficial opportunity for tech brands to help usher in a new era of art experience. But everything hinges on both sides thinking of this not as a transaction, but a mutually beneficial collaboration. To that end, both parties must nurture that relationship through transparency, empathy, and trust. There's two sides, and therefore two needs. For brands, they need to ensure that there is a product truth and a good brand story to tell. For the art world, it all comes down to fulfilling the needs of the artist, museum, or institution while preserving the integrity of the art and the medium itself.
But this isn’t new. In fact, the root word tékhnē, which is borrowed from Greek to mean ‘art’ or ‘skill,’ helps illuminate a long history of a symbiotic relationship between the arts and technology sectors. Throughout history, various technology industries have supported progress in the arts while creative needs led to advancements in these technologies too. 16th century European composers embraced Gutenberg’s printing press and revolutionised how music was created and performed. In the 18th century, Bach worked closely with organ builders to advance the instrument with the latest technology of the time. In the 19th century, the camera revolutionised our very definition of visual art by creating a new medium for artists to work with. And not long after, with the advent of recording, Louis Armstrong was among the first to embrace the technology, democratising the sound of jazz. Then in the latter part of the 20th century, we saw collaborations such as Bell Labs’ and Robert Rauschenberg which helped produce some of the most ambitious works of the time.
Today’s landscape offers new and promising opportunities to continue on in this tradition. Google’s Arts and Culture program, which has now become a 501c3 itself, is becoming an important player across the arts landscape. Staying true to the company’s promise of “organising the world's information to make it universally accessible and useful” they are, among other things, partnering with arts organisations around the world to create deeper, relevant and tech-enabled connections to arts culture. Also AR standout Magic Leap, which worked hand-in-hand for years with many artists and musicians to create experiences on their platform that pushed the technology as well as inspired musicians and artists to think and create in new ways.
Then there’s projects like the Sol LeWitt app, which we developed with his estate and Microsoft. The app uses AI technology to enable users to explore LeWitt’s most famous works and even scan images of LeWitt’s wall drawings into the application and learn details about the pieces at select institutions and public sites across the world. This is an evergreen creation, allowing it to continue to grow to include any image of LeWitt’s around the globe.
Examples of true collaborations like these need to be more commonplace. In fact, our pandemic-fuelled growing embrace of the digital means the arts are already well behind the times. In the same way that advanced tech has helped artists communicate and express ideas in new ways, it can also help the arts place their work in a fresh and exciting context. The pandemic has only escalated an interest in this, as it offers an opportunity for music, art, fashion and more to find new ways to create and consume.
By becoming more technologically savvy, artists and institutions can connect with their audiences in deeper, more intimate ways; establishing that connection is critical to their success. And it’s barely scratching the surface of ways we can use technology to archive, maintain and support the great art (and artists) of the world.
Listen: Sol LeWitt app for Microsoft, with Lindsay Aveilhé (Copyright © Microsoft and the Sol LeWitt estate, 2021)
About the Author
Steve Milton is the co-founder of the experience innovation and design agency, Ada, as well as co-founder of sonic branding agency Listen, and Undercurrent, a new platform intersecting music and art. He studied at the New England Conservatory of Music and has worked on installations with the likes of Childish Gambino, Bjork and Brian Eno.